Rushfield: The Writers' Bill of Rights
'Shafting writers is a tradition as old as the industry'
My Countdown to the Abyss series dives into the looming WGA strike, and what’s at stake ahead of the May 1 deadline. Earlier posts, including 62 Days to the Abyss, 70 Days to the Abyss and 55 Days to the Abyss are available to paid subscribers only. Love to hear your thoughts on the coming showdown. Give me a holler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, with 42 days to go until the Writers Guild's Minimum Basic Agreement expires, Guild negotiators sat down with representatives for the producers to begin talking turkey.
The problems on the table are fiendishly complex, even in today's world. But to make things worse, the negotiations not only need to improve today’s working situation for writers, but also try to predict the impact of a fast-moving train: what viewing will look like three to five years from now.
Given that, I thought it time to take a step back from deal points and lock down some basic principles. What are the self-evident truths that should guide any writers' agreement — both today and in the decades to come? What are the principles that should guide the negotiations when they play whack-a-mole with definitions and terms in the streaming mayhem?
The lot of writers in Hollywood has never been one of power and glory. Shafting the writers in every possible way is a tradition as old as the industry itself. But in years past, that shafting had limits, enforced by union rules and a basic, if grudging, recognition that the business of "entertaining" required writing and writers. In today's streaming hellscape, those facts are no longer acknowledged.
Some of these can be attended to fiscally. Others are basic respect for the profession matters that fall beyond the realm of contracts but speak directly to why today's industry feels so unlivable and unhappy for so many. Much of this is about restoring a sense of purpose to today’s industry, without which it is not only a miserable place to work; it is also doomed.
Again, these are general principles that can be expressed contractually in a number of ways (residuals, higher pay — a debate we won’t get into today). But before we get bogged down in the details (and the detail bog is coming, my friends), it's important to remember what this is all for. I hope this list can guide the thinking of the directors, actors and all the craftspeople to follow.
Here then, my stab at The Writers’ Bill of Rights. Many thanks to the writer friends whose thoughts and suggestions guided this historic document, and whose words are quoted here:
The Writers’ Bill of Rights
I. No free work. Ever. Period.