BY BRENDA VONGOVA
In Hollywood, the script is the blueprint, the original property, of every film production. According to Hollywood studio executive, Irving Thalberg, “The most important part in filmmaking is played by the writers.” However, he added, “We must do everything in our power to keep them from finding out.” The 2007 Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike November 5th, 2007 against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). WGA is a labor union in that represents American writers for movies, television and radio, while AMPTP is an organization that represents Hollywood producers
WGA outlines the minimum compensation a screenwriter must receive for an original screenplay or treatment and also performs legal services that writers oftentimes cannot afford to do on their own. The WGA has been picketing major studios in Los Angeles and New York in hopes of bringing about a fair negotiation with companies. Writers of the WGA strike are demanding residuals, profits made from subsequent airings or purchases, for new media. In other words, they are requesting compensation for distribution of their Hollywood content in new media channels such as the Internet, streaming, video on-demand, and cable and satellite television.
According to Californian Governor and former film actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the strike “has a tremendous economic impact on [the] state.” He is negotiating with both the WGA and the AMPTP. The strike affects not only the Hollywood writers and literary agents, but has also placed a drastic halt on Hollywood film production, since many writer-producers have joined the writers at the picket lines. The halt on production has resulted in the firing of lower-level employees from many entertainment companies.
The current state of negotiations is that the WGA has requested increased compensation that would cost production companies a reasonable and affordable $151 million over three years. For example, the WGA offer would cost Warner Bros. $11.2 million per year, Sony $1.68 million per year, Disney $6.25 million per year, Paramount $4.66 million per year, CBS $4.66 million per year, Fox $6.04 million per year, NBC/Universal $7.44 million per year, and MGM only $320,000 per year.
Considering the fact that the Disney production of Enchanted made $34.4 million on opening weekend in the US, the total WGA proposal of approximately $32 million total is worth pennies to studios.
Meanwhile, how does a studio executive embrace life without American writers? Hollywood producer Mark Gill (March of the Penguins, Good Night Good Luck), is looking abroad at foreign scripts. Other Hollywood producers are looking more at non-union films and filming in foreign countries.
Brenda Vongova is the Film Chair of the Arts and Literature Law Society of the Harvard Law School.