By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
West Coast WGA president and negotiator Wells is also the millionaire executive producer of such hit TV shows as ER, Third Watch and The West Wing. The WGA west's executive director, John McLean, worked for CBS for 25 years, 18 of them as its West Coast vice president for industrial relations, during which time he negotiated more than 500 contracts for management. Robert Hadl, the union's negotiating consultant, was Wasserman's senior vice president at MCA and also sat many times on management's side of the bargaining table. And Brian Walton, who led the WGA talks in 1988 and is presently preparing to negotiate for SAG, recently engineered the consolidation of two producers unions into one stronger unit.
In the war of words and images that will break out in the event of a strike, it will be crucial for the writers to show they are not merely lower-salaried tycoons and that their demands have ramifications for everyone in Hollywood.
"The more power the writers gain," says historian Horne, "the more power there will eventually be for other workers below the line."
V. CREATIVE RIGHTS:
"LIKE FISHING WITH
From the courtyard in the rear of the Story Department a two-ton truck emerged . . . "Do you see what it's loaded with?" he asked. "Scripts." He shook his head. "Taking them to the incinerator. Which is where they belong. A million dollars worth of literature."
--Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence
When you talk to Guild people about their demands for increased creative rights, they are likely to say, "We are changing the culture of Hollywood." This phrase, coined by John Wells, has become a rallying cry for writers striving to become full partners in the collaborative process of filmmaking. In the long run, the creative-rights proposals to win professional respect may prove to be the most revolutionary demands heard in Hollywood since SAG won its 1960 strike to have actors paid residuals for movies aired on TV.
In film, only a few select writers participate in "table readings" of scripts with the cast, consult with the director on the set, and attend premieres and press junkets -- and only at the director's largesse. In television, however, where directors are likely to be hired on to temporarily join a permanent team of writers and designers, such courtesies are the norm. The WGA goal, according to screenwriter Howard A. Rodman (Joe Gould's Secret, Rollerball), is to bring the writers' presence into parity with their television counterparts. "If you've ever been in the position of spending all day on the phone trying to get a pair of tickets to the premiere of a film you wrote, you'll know why we want these changes -- there's no sport in whining about it. In a world where the producer's girlfriend or boyfriend is invited to the screening, this should be a no-brainer. It's like fishing with dynamite."
The Directors Guild of America is horrified by these proposals, which have been around since the 1988 negotiations. "I think some folks at the Directors Guild are freaking out [over the idea] that we want to turn the film world into the TV world, where directors are just traffic cops," says Rodman.
Film writers insist that it is not their intention to undermine directorial authority and are fond of quoting Louis Malle, who once explained to producers why he had his screenwriter, John Guare, present for the shooting of Atlantic City: "If you have someone on the set for the hair, why would you not have someone for the words?"
The Malle quote appears prominently on the guild's Web site, and its sentiment was echoed by nearly everyone interviewed for this article. "I cannot imagine writing a script and not being available to make changes," says Terry Curtis Fox. "Because if a line doesn't work or is not fitting the actor's mouth, I'm the person who's most capable of changing it."
The WGA's planned restrictions on possessory credits has attracted the most press, although in technical terms it is the most purely symbolic of these demands, especially since the restrictions would grandfather in the rights of directors already accustomed to the credit. Possessory credits first began appearing with auteur directors like Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean, and over time became increasingly routine. Now, even novice directors and "shooters" (non-writing directors) use them to slip their names into the consciousness of an audience whose attention might not hold past the opening credit roll.
Screenwriter Amy Holden Jones remembers when the director of her script for Beethoven was replaced by a new one after production had begun. It was only his second directing job.
"He did not develop the script or cast the movie," she recalls, "but he still got 'A Film by' credit."
While the flap over possessory credits may seem like a tussle over semantics, in Hollywood's macho, control-oriented environment it is another important talisman of power. To challenge it is to challenge the industry's cult of the director. No wonder, then, that in a "letter to DGA members," the guild's president, Jack Shea, flatly rejected as "totally unacceptable" the writers' proposal to can possessory credits.