Look at What All You Get

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few weeks ago, the Writers Guild of America, West -- or whatever it's called right now -- I can't pretend to keep up with the baffling series of Writers Guild of America, East versus Writers Guild of America West conflicts. Especially since they all seem to involve a lot of angry, ad hominem exchanges, expensive legal fees, plentiful mentions of the blacklist, and lots of petitions signed by writers who were really big in the 1970's. Really, at a certain point, your mind just goes "click" and you tune the whole thing out...

Anyway, a few weeks ago, the Writer's Guild of America Fairfax held something called a Unity Rally, which are two words I've never been all that fond of, and two which are rarely applied to members of the Writers Guild of America, east or west, with any accuracy. We writers tend to be neither unified, nor terribly rally-able, especially between the very un-writer-ish hours of nine and eleven in the morning, which is when they decided to hold the Unity Rally for some reason.

I couldn't make it. Between nine and eleven in the morning I'm either going to yoga or I'm eating a doughnut and kicking myself for not going to yoga, but I'm not heading over to Pan Pacific Park to hug and clap and get chummy with my fellow scribes, as if we're not writers, as if we don't really deep down secretly loathe each other.

The point of the Unity Rally was to show how unified we are, as the guild girds itself for another round of nail-biting contract negotiations where they (the studios) try to get us (the writers) to take less, and we refuse, until, you know, we don't, because all Unity Rally promises aside, we all want to work, and mostly we get paid what our agent and lawyer can get us paid, except for residuals, which are unpredictable and a terrible way to plan for your retirement.

Look, I'm not a very enthusiastic member of the Writers Guild. I've been a dues-paying member for over 16 years, and I've always been sort of disconnected to the organization. In the first place, it never seemed to really be in step with the times. For instance, during the big fat years of the 1990's, when I and a lot of other writers I know had big fat studio deals, we got fancy health care coverage through the guild. At a time when we were all earning enough to buy it ourselves. It would make more sense -- and be more connected to reality -- if the WGA allowed its members to opt out of the plan for a year or two, when the money's coming in, and bank those years. Don't give me something for free when I can afford to buy it myself. Give me something for free when the money's dried up, when the internet kills television, when I'm a name on a long list of "over" writers, when my agent calls me up and puts on a sad-sounding voice and says, "You know, um, it's just, I feel like maybe you'd be better served at another agency. A smaller one. In Phoenix. Or something." Because that's what happens in this business, Unity Rally or no. You have some good, maybe great, years. And then suddenly you don't. But the WGA loves the clatter of a big, soapy labor struggle -- of course; we're writers; we love self-dramatics; that's why we hate actors so much, because they do it so much better than we do -- and so we have a health plan and a pension plan and a union that are perfectly suited to the Big Labor movement, circa 1973.

You know, when Big Labor was just getting…more powerful? By being so responsive to the changing marketplace?

The whole thing kind of stresses me out. I'm going to have to go on one of those weekend yoga retreats. Sure, they're expensive, but you know what? I think they're covered by the Writers Guild Health plan.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll pitch wildly. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long