This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
The only thing worse than being in a meeting with three writers is being in a meeting with three hundred writers, which unfortunately describes a meeting of the Writers Guild of America, West.
Every few years, the WGA - the putative screenwriters' trade union - suffers an institutional nervous breakdown as its members, made up entirely of writers and therefore unable to agree on anything, attempt to agree on the terms of a new contract with the studios. Currently, we're sort of in-between cycles.
The sticking point invariably centers around some new profit source exploited by the studios - DVD sales, say, or pay-per-view satellite broadcasts - that they have neglected to pass on to the writer. The working writers - and that number is considerably smaller than 100% of the membership of the WGA West - tend to be philosophical about these issues.
Non-working writers, the Unemployeds, are a different, more querulous matter. These are writers who haven't sold a script or drawn a writer's paycheck in years, but remain passionately involved members of the guild and its most impossible to satisfy voting bloc. For some reason, years of unemployment do not lead to difficult personal decisions ("I must stop dreaming of success and riches. I must stop talking to my friends about my next big script sale. I must realize that my job at Blockbuster is not just 'temporary' or a 'great place to people-watch and get material,' but, instead, my true livelihood, and I will begin to treat it as such by arriving on time and in uniform, and not waste a customer's time criticizing his rental choices.") but, rather, lead to a stubborn and highly irrelevant obsession with the writer's potential share of hypothetical ancillary revenue generated by a script that hasn't been written, and if written won't be sold by a writer who is not represented by an agent who won't sign him because, and this is crucial, his scripts do not sell. Did I mention that this is the largest segment of the voting population of the WGA?
Years ago, a few months after landing my first writing job in Hollywood, the membership of the WGA was seriously considering a strike. The general meeting of the WGA that year was my first guild meeting, an event so chaotic and anger-charged that it was hard for me to believe it was taking place in Southern California, it seemed almost Iraqi in the intensity of its bitterness. After a long, screaming membership meeting (all of the old enemies and blood feuds were recharged with the energy of three hundred red-veined foreheads and three hundred pairs of rage-spittling lips) they - we, I should say - decided, in true writer's form, to postpone the decision for a few weeks.
I walked out to my car with another television writer, about twenty years my senior. "I'm worried about a strike," I said.
"A strike is what we need around here," he muttered bitterly. 'That's how we got the Betty Ford Center provision in our health plan, man! By sticking together!"
"But don't you think the studios have a point?" I asked. "After all, they take all the risk."
"To hell with them!" he shouted. "To hell with management! To hell with the power structure!"
And with that, he sped off in his BMW 750il.
The Betty Ford Center treats many addictions, though not, sadly, the addictions to inappropriate rage, self-dramatization, and luxury automobiles. It leaves these uncured, giving the Hollywood writer a reason to strike.
That's all for this week. Next week, we'll sign a deal. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.