By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The debate over the creative-rights issues may ultimately be moot, since the WGA's proposed wording now states that if a film's producer does not want the writer present, then the writer simply won't be present. (Originally the proposal's language stipulated that the director had to do the objecting, and before this, there was no provision for any objections at all.) But even with this loophole, the demands remain bones of contention between the two guilds.
"The producers have brilliantly managed it to get the directors and writers to fight each other," says Larry Gross, although most of the screenwriters interviewed for this article, such as Trey Ellis (The Tuskegee Airmen), showed little patience for the directors. "The most despicable behavior has been from the Directors Guild," Ellis says. "What is the problem with saying whiny Joe Schmo's Blood Bath, Part 6 doesn't come with 'A Film by Joe Schmo'?"
There have been some shrill predictions that ceding the creative issues to the writers would create a chaotic division of authority on film sets, reminiscent of forecasts made years ago that equality for women would result in unisexual toilets and school gym showers. "You have to understand how far in the basement creative-rights issues are," says Jones. "They're where women's rights were in the 1970s -- the group enjoying the privilege always has a lot of reasons not to give them up."
Not even WGA members are united on the importance of these issues, however. Says Gross, who comes across as something of a Hollywood gadfly, "I believe that the WGA's position about respect is ludicrous. My quarrel is that the union is on solid ground when it negotiates about money, but when we negotiate for respect we're engaging in a delusion -- we want to be Jews running the concentration camp."
"STRIKING FOR FUTURE
"So I've had to take an attitude in this Guild matter. It looks to me like a try for power, and all I am going to give the writers is money."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon
Should the WGA go on strike, as Robert Eisele will tell you, it won't be only for money and tickets to a premiere.
"Guild members would be striking for future generations," he says. "I have pension, health and welfare because of people who struck back in the '50s. I have residuals because of strikes in the '50s and '60s. And I have a guild because people had the balls to put one together to control credits back in the '30s."
No one you talk to in the WGA wants a strike. "You never make back the money you lose" is a frequently heard refrain, and everyone knows that the three television networks that were the object of the WGA's 1988 strike never recovered all of the audience share they lost to cable and local TV. Beside such practical concerns stands the indisputable fact that the nation's unions have entered a period made uncertain by a new Republican president who seems to have sworn a blood oath against organized labor.
There are now more members of the WGA who have never experienced a strike than those who have, which, in some metaphorical rite of passage, puts many young writers in the landing crafts of an economic war. "Emotionally it's a huge issue for me," says Joshua Stern, who may be facing his first strike vote next week. "Since I'm a working writer, I'm in a position to put other people out of work by voting to strike. I'm very concerned about the Teamsters, the makeup people and the P.A.s. But I'm definitely willing to strike -- we've taken it on the butt for so long now, we get kicked to our cars in the parking lot!"
Stern's resolve seems almost universal among the WGA's leaders and rank and file. "Even someone like me," says Larry Gross, "who has contempt for much of what the guild does, knows that the other side is so much more horrendous that you have to go after them. I would like to believe we could get what we could get without a strike, but a strike may end up forcing the guild to get some spine."
If May 1 passes without an agreement, the two sides can still extend the current contract past its expiration date and avoid a strike (and at the same time bring the talks closer to SAG and AFTRA's own July 1 deadline). If the WGA's negotiators aren't happy with the progress of the talks, they can submit what the studios are offering at that point to the membership for acceptance, or authorization of a strike vote. If the strike vote is overwhelmingly in favor of walking out, this will be an incentive for the studios to make concessions; if the union appears torn, then management will infer that the membership will not be able to sustain a long strike. In the event of a pro-strike decision, the union will ask all of its members to turn in a copy of all scripts in progress, which will be sealed in envelopes as proof against possible later charges of scabbing.
At this moment, everything is literally on the table. But as Hollywood's day of wrath approaches, Robert Eisele is certain of one thing: "Nobody is going to be happy when this thing is over."