Jesus, Mary and Joseph. On Monday there was this terrific news: the major studios (collectively called the AMPTP) and the WGA (my union) were getting back together to negotiate. This was after weeks of nothing but picketing, bad blood and most of all, silence. Incredibly (almost unbelievably, if you ask me), the mood of the public tipped slightly in the writer's favor - I don't know if it was the viral videos, the lingering mistrust of giant companies... or maybe average Americans heard both arguments and concluded that writers were indeed getting screwed.
Hell, I was stopped for having an expired license plate in Massachusetts last night, and could have been arrested because of an unpaid speeding ticket from 1991. Instead, the cop asked what I did for a living, knew I was on strike, and being a union guy, he let me go with just a ticket. More and more, I've talked to people who not only have an affinity for the writers, but consider the whole thing a no-brainer.
Meanwhile, the rumors coming out of Monday's meeting were beyond encouraging; gossipers were using words like "done deal", saying an agreement had been struck by the major talent agencies as mediators, and we were all getting together just to iron out the specifics.
Ah, but then we all forgot, the Beast is a sociopath. The AMPTP came up with a proposal so bereft of value that it staggers the imagination:
- $250 for unlimited internet usage of TV shows for a year. Yes, two hundred and fifty dollars.
- NOTHING for unlimited internet usage of movies.
- they can still call an entire movie a "promotion" of that movie and give us nothing
- no internet jurisdiction of our material
And, well, you can read all the details and comments here. The studios' move was meant to be a disheartening "brick in the small of the back again" as Morrissey sang, to demoralize the WGA so badly that we'd cave, and come limping back to work. I can't speak for anyone else, but this kabuki theater dumb-show has only made me angrier.
Look at the WGA's response and crunch the numbers. The WGA - as an entire body of thousands of writers - is asking for less than the sum total of the yearly bonuses and severance packages of the major studios' CEOs. That's right. Individual people, added together, are making more being fired than the entire WGA membership is asking for in residuals.
When did this country get so far out of whack? When did this become acceptable to you, to me, to everyone? When did we stop caring about anything being remotely fair? I've been loath to admit this, but the effortless way we can ignore these disparities in abject wealth says more about us than them. We're so disconnected from financial equality, care so little about what the Big Guys do, that I'm beginning to think the real sociopath might be us.
Three Examples of Great, Though Fleeting, Human Achievement
1. I'm sitting in Mr. Everhart's early Geometry class in 10th grade, and he's explaining some proof about angles in a circle, while all of us are struggling to stay awake, half-dead in loosened neckties. He goes to the board and draws a giant circle, and gets a few more words out before stopping.
Most of the class snaps from their stupor, as we can't believe what we've just seen: Mr. Everhart has drawn a perfect freehand circle. He wasn't even trying - just swiped the chalk across the board, but there is no doubt that he has accidentally created abject perfection. Not usually swayed by interesting things, even Mr. Everhart stops and looks at the board, slightly mesmerized.
After class, some of us measure it - sure enough, perfect to the millimeter. It stays on the board for weeks, becoming something of a talisman, before the cleaning crew, unaware of (or unwilling to accept) divine truth, wipes down the board with a sponge.
2. We're at the fraternity, about three of us guys lounging on the two single beds I stuck end-to-end, when we hear a commotion in the hallway. Apparently Jack, one of the handsome, good-natured bros from a New Jersey prep school, has been in the bathroom, telling some of the dudes to look in the toilet.
Sure, we think, this is going to be completely stupid. We weren't the kind of fraternity that threw kegs out the plate-glass windows and told jokes about minorities; we were earnest dorks who were trying to get good grades, get laid, and run the school, not necessarily in that order.
But when we got to the stall, we stared into the toilet in awe: Jack had laid the biggest, most oddly-stunning poop any of us had ever seen. Yes, it sounds gross in the sober recollection of this blog, but in the moment, it was actually kind of inspiring. I won't describe it, but you get the idea - perfect in every way. Later that night, I'd see other brothers, randomly informed of its presence, looking into the stall with their mouths agape, like pilgrims visiting Our Lady of Lourdes.
There it stayed for days, until our caretaker Robert, not fully grasping the import of this benchmark by which all other human output might be weighed, flushed the toilet.
3. I'm playing hoops at Umstead Park, which was always third choice for pickup games in Chapel Hill. Dave, Andy and Bryan have already left, but there's still lots of light left, and a new game needs a sixth. This one kid, a younger, shorter kid, makes a driving move and tries to English the ball off the backboard, but instead, it just hangs.
And hangs. The spin gives it one rotation around the iron rim, then it kisses the backboard one more time, and slows. Slows, and stops. Sitting on the rim.
Not on the back part of the rim against the backboard; while rare, I've seen that happen four or five times. This ball was actually resting on just the rim, perfectly balanced, held there by the most infinite of chances, in the tiny black grooves of the basketball.
We all froze, mid-dance, watching it, in total disbelief that we were seeing what we were seeing. Sure, it was a ratty ball, and a rusted rim, but in that split second, we knew it was magical, and nobody breathed lest the spell be broken.
Except for the kid who shot the ball. Frustrated at the lack of a score, and astonishingly unappreciative at the spectacle before him, he whipped his baseball cap at the ball, which fell silently off its perch like long ashes dropping from an abandoned cigarette.
I feel like I've seen the future legacy of George W. Bush, and it isn't pretty for us progressives. Sure, he's tied for the least popular President in recorded history, and almost every decent historian has rated him the worst President ever, and he has probably dealt the Republican Party a kidney-punch and groin kick that will reverberate for decades. But I can't help the gnawing feeling that even when W finally serves out the rest of his eternally-seeming term, he'll be reassessed by political culture in a way that will make survivors of his regime want to claw their fucking eyes out.
First off, corporate-owned media (sorry to use that hackneyed phrase, kids, but you gotta calls 'em like you sees 'em) won't allow him to stay a villain forever. It's never been in their interests anyway, and since 24-hour news stations (as well as salacious non-fiction writers) need reversals to keep their audience interested, we'll get a flood of articles, stories and books with variations on the title "GWB: Was He Right All Along?"
Secondly, a terrorist attack of some gruesome nature seems rather likely to occur at some point during the next (Democratic) presidential term, which will lead headline writers - and other souls with gnat-like attention spans - to wax romantic about the days of Bush's tenure when there were no evildoers doing evil on American soil.
Never mind the big one happened on his watch; that argument has never had any traction anyway. Progressives will tear their hair out trying to explain it was Bush's policies and idiocy that led up to it, but instead, the blowback will be on whatever hapless Democratic president happens to be in office at the time.
As the years progress, whip-smart little fuckwits who are presently stealing crayons from Lucy at toddler group will grow up to worship GWB and perhaps even an aging, corpulent, arteriosclerotic Rove just out of spite. They'll foment a bizarre resurrection of Bush's reputation, the same way morons from my age group did with Nixon, leading old-timers like me to sucker-slap them in the kitchen if they say ONE MORE WORD.
A stopped clock is right twice a day, and I suspect Bush will accidentally look prescient. His Neanderthal ideas on alternative energy and his cruel position on stem cells will cease to have meaning, due to leaps in science he would never have predicted or encouraged - in essence, he will be saved by the very science that he and his evangelical cohorts fought to silence. Already, it looks like embryos can be avoided entirely in lieu of adult stem cells, and it feels like some new energy source for vehicular transport (and perhaps everything else) is tantalizingly around the corner.
Never mind the eight years we suffered under his utterly-backward line of sight - never mind the way gays were made to suffer, the poor were vilified, the country went into deep recession, the dollar became almost worthless, the planet heated up, Christianity became national policy and the Constitution was shredded in order to waterboard people with funny last names. George W. Bush will be resurrected because some people will think it's cute.
the drive up the Taconic State Parkway
Jordana and Barnaby
Lucy's first snowball
Our Thanksgiving was awesome, thanks - how about yours? Any gossip?
In high school, I harbored a long-standing, elegant crush on a girl all four years. She was in my homeroom class and her locker wasn't far from mine, and though we never hung out socially all that often, my affection for her was elegantly steadfast and unchanged by all the crazy werewolf metamorphoses usually encountered by all denizens from 9th to 12th grade.
Like most schools, the spring semester of our senior year began its ritualized disintegration of the normal social cliques, and many of us were seen fraternizing with people we'd long since considered Them versus Us. Members of the string quartet were laughing with cheerleaders, and the Debate and Lacrosse teams were exchanging advice on colleges. And in those weeks, I got to spend more time with my crush, as our friend-worlds merged and began taking weekend trips together.
In an institution as balkanized as my prep school, I wondered how we could have broken these barriers sooner, but being 17 is being 17, and acne waits for no man. It didn't matter - we were all escaping, off to re-invent ourselves however we saw fit.
Our school didn't follow many common American rituals, but we did have a yearbook, and the last week was spent signing missives to whom we promised to be friends 4-ever. Being dorky intellectuals, some of us spent an inordinate amount of time riffing on the ritual - I even put a giant Pollock-like art signature in the yearbook of my friend Elizabeth Burgess that took me a whole evening.
Meanwhile, my crush and I had taken to long talks after school. She was very cute, very weird, from an old Tidewater family, and would occasionally stop me in the hallway and unleash bizarre non-sequiturs (once, it was about bananas, which is how I remembered this story today). Upon graduation, she went off to her Ivy League - or horsey Southern school - or expensive Northern enclave - I can't remember which. We'd hugged at the ceremony, and I'd watched her drive away. Not exactly sad, because that wasn't the nature of a long-term, kindly crush, but just hoping the best for her.
We haven't spoken since. She got married relatively early (compared to my commitment-adverse peer group) and of course, years later, I did too. Not long ago, I was going through boxes in our barn, and I found my yearbook from that final year, replete with all the signatures of folks that shaped my early thought processes. And written with green magic marker, I read the nice paragraphs left to me by my crush.
I leafed through more pages and suddenly saw something I'd never seen before, in the twenty years I'd owned the book. Many pages away from the ghetto of signatures, there was another page in the index, with writing I'd never noticed. In the same green magic marker, there were the words "I......LOVE.......YOU."
I put myself back into my old self, my white, pasty seventeen-year-old body with glasses and a tie, and think she couldn't have meant it for me. I didn't think myself a part of that world, a part of the pool of people who kissed those they longed for. I had my crushes, steady and languid, but accepted my place as farmer rather than hunter. Normal relationships, dating, kissing - those were all for other people.
But if the words were for me? I would have died a million deaths and been reborn a million bright suns. As it was, I was to go a long, long time, well into college, for my first kiss. If my crush had only said something, especially in the crumbling republic of the dying cliques, the difference it would have made. A message sat undisturbed in that yearbook for decades, but it only reminded me of how close I felt to disappearing entirely. You might dream of your lady in waiting, but when you hide yourself so well, you run the risk of never being found.
Hi, it's Complaint Monday!!! That's right, before the tyranny of Thanksgiving takes over and we start the holiday glow of tremendous well-being, let's take a much-deserved day to list all the things that are pissing us off! Better get 'em off your chest now, before it's too late - nobody likes a whiner during the Holidays™.
Actually, things are going pretty well, despite my entire work force being on strike. But I'll complain about this... they yanked out one of my teeth (my right maxillary first molar, or #3, for your dentist lurkers in the audience) in order to replace it with something ultra-modern and fabulous, hopefully like the tiles on the bottom of the space shuttle.
I should mention at this juncture that this tooth has been the bane of my frickin' existence since I was about nine. It's had so many fillings and was such a problem that one day in 1993 I went crazy with pain and started limping down McCauley Street hitting myself in the face with a basketball shoe. True story.
Anyway, they had to put a bone graft in there to get it ready for the new tooth, and it takes, like, three months of dicking around. In the meantime, I had to get stitches that are supposed to dissolve, but instead, are annoying the ever-living YAK SHIT out of me. And I have to wear a "flapper", which looks exactly like dentures except it has one vampiric tooth on it that regularly mesmerizes my daughter. And I keep leaving it in the car.
The surgery itself still aches, and I haven't been able to eat anything crunchy in weeks. I bought sweet potatoes and cooked them down into a mushy puree. I bought cream-o-mushroom soup. I long for chips, peanuts, ANYTHING THAT CRUNCHES but even tough bread hurts it. I'm sick of eating on one side. And there's only so much Advil I'm willing to ingest.
There. Now what was your complaint for the day?
Things America Hates:
10. other people's kids
9. DVD and CD plastic packaging
8. really queeny gays
7. people in America who don't speak English
6. drivers turning left
5. overweight women
4. magazine selection at doctor's office
3. paying for music
2. movie stars telling them how to vote
1. people who are "gettin' away with it"
Just a quick update on what we've been doing - especially since I find I've stopped writing about our travel habits and my personal demons because I grew weary of having to defend them about a year ago, and didn't get back in the habit. Here's the deal: we take a lot of airplanes. It's how our life works. I flew back to NYC to cover an event for a magazine, and two weeks later, the whole family came back together.
Planes use a shitload of gas, but until someone invents hydrogen fuel-cell jets (with easily-extractable hydrogen - looks like it's happening) then we'll have to figure out other ways of lessening our impact. Besides, I'm not really sure how we can personally keep more planes from flying, especially when British Airways is flying planes WITH NO PASSENGERS back and forth across the Atlantic. But I digress.
We're back in New York, in essence, to wait out the strike. We usually come home for the holidays anyway, but this trip will be longer, because, quite frankly, LA is a bummer. The strike began the first day of the time change (as well as a weather change), so Los Angeles became cold, dark and without immediate prospect overnight. We decided that if we wanted to be cold and dark, we were going to do it with our families and some of our oldest friends.
I'm writing this on the floor of Sean, Jordana and my mom's apartment, because our other place has been rented out, and there's nowhere else to sleep. Oddly, it's insanely comfortable, and this kind of peripatetic lifestyle (while anathema to my wife) totally fits my A.D.D. quest for constant adventure. We'll be shuttling back and forth from the farm upstate (also rented out), and in the meantime, Tessa can hang with her friends, I can play basketball on Mulberry Street, and Lucy can teach Barnaby how to walk.
I'm personally torn between the New York and LA decision, because I'm so utterly happy here in NYC, but there isn't the kind of writing work that is consistent enough to call a true career. If the strike ever ends, working in television and movies - which, we've been told, we're good at - is about the only place left to earn a decent wage and hope for a real audience. And those things, as well as Lucy's amazing child care, are all in Los Angeles.
I get it; it sounds like a luxury problem, and probably is. But pretty soon La Luce will be in some sort of school that won't take kindly to our travels, and... I don't know. I can tell you this, however: we met with an estate attorney who gave us the Ten Most Important Pieces of Advice Every Married Couple With Either a Child or Real Estate Should Know. I will post what they are (if you're interested) but one thing stuck with me.
"Bring in your horizon," he said. Don't make decisions you plan to set in stone for twenty years. Make decisions for the next three years or so, then reassess. Shorten the lifespan of your theories and see how they stack up. And I have to say, ever since I started making the future closer, it feels like it's not coming on so fast.
In the interests of keeping the WGA strike simple, from now on, you can just refer people to this entry for everything they need to know. You might have seen one or both of these, but here's why we are on strike, in a nutshell:
Thank god the internet exists, for thousands of reasons (including all of you, my wonderful friends) but just being able to get this across visually is worth a million of us in red T-shirts.
Okay, now on to Carolina basketball.
Oh my god, this is too good not to share. I hope Jiffer doesn't mind me copying from her email, but I'm going to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission. In her own words:
A week ago I got an email from my Peace Corps friend Moya, that read, "Um, this might seem a bit strange but I guess it's published so... um, are you on the cover of this book?"
To which I replied, "No - not to my knowledge..." and then I remembered...
Three-and-a-half years ago, my college friend Jim was visiting Hamburg and Berlin. He works for National Geographic online and does a bit of amateur photography. He took several photos on his trip, including a few of me, and told me he planned to put them in the National Geographic photo image bank/database. He explained that people could go image shopping and buy his photos if they choose. Thinking I was helping a friend and his fledgling career as a photographer, I agreed to sign the release form and let him put the photos of me in the bank....
So when Moya sent me the link to the book that she saw ..... sure enough, it was ME, staring out from the cover of THIS book:
[removed by request - but I promise, it was AWESOME! - ed.]
Oh yeah. That's right.
Now you know what my mom is getting for Christmas!
I mean, it could be worse... the photo could have ended up in an ad for herpes or erectile disfunction, right? So, just a little lesson... probably best NOT to sign that release form...
Love from your favorite bipolar poster girl,
Dispatch from the Front Lines (by Tessa):
While Ian has been dealing with wretched dental surgery (bone graft? yuck), I have been walking very slowly up and down Pico Boulevard carrying a large red sign all week. Lucy came with me two days and proved an irresistible photo op for the press. What’s cuter than a striking toddler?
that’s Larry David behind us!
Ian made us super cool t-shirts. If only he applied himself, he could be a real t-shirt talent one day!
Physically, picketing is harder than it looks. My hips are totally locked up. I keep threatening to start Protest Yoga on the sidewalk. I have to believe that 30 people doing sun salutations in front of Rupert Murdoch’s empire would cause some kind of psychic tremor.
Emotionally, it’s a mixed bag. When you’re there it’s kind of cool. You run into people you haven’t seen in ages. You make new friends. You wave like crazy at the nice people honking in support. You’re part of something.
But everyday after I leave, I wither. It’s such a David and Goliath fight. These companies, these mega-machines of entertainment, they just refuse to share the wealth. They’re big and mean and ugly. I am proud to be standing up against them but I hear their cackles of indifference through the ether and it makes me sad.
A number of commenters have asked questions about the strike. Here’s Ian and Tessa’s STRIKE FAQ (feel free to ask more):
How long do we expect this to last?
A long time. Everyone has their prognosis. Here’s mine: Late January/February.
While lots of productions have shut down already – The Office, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men – the networks still have enough in the can to last into December. And then they can fill the airwaves with reruns, reality, sports and holiday hoo-hah for a while.
But because TV works on such a tight schedule, the networks will start to panic in earnest over the holidays. Usually, they would be reading the 100 scripts that were turned in (by, um, you guessed it, WRITERS) and they would decide which 15 to shoot. Sure, they have some completed scripts on hand but they can’t give any notes, and they can’t make any changes. So, I’m betting they're not going to be willing to spend 3 million dollars on a script that hasn’t been polished.
And then they’ll start thinking about the “up-fronts” in May - that’s when they bring their dog and pony shows to the advertisers in New York - and realize that they have neither dog nor pony.
They’ll start thinking about their export market. “24” is big money in France. “Desperate Housewives” is huge in China. And you can’t export reality shows.
(And while we’re on the subject of reality, I read a fantastic analysis some time ago claiming that reality programming had hit its saturation point. People who watch reality have plenty to watch. People who prefer scripted are not going away. The networks will only dilute their own reality market by programming more reality.)
This is all to say, the producers WILL feel the impact of the strike, but not for a while.
In the meantime, the people who will suffer the most are the crews. This is not their fight. They don’t get residuals. They are astonishingly hard working people who are being laid off. And that sucks. I really wish that were different.
Aren’t the networks dinosaurs anyway?
And the answer is… I don’t know.
We’re in an uber-capitalist juggernaut now in America in 2007. These guys are worth gajillions of dollars.
For some perspective:
Peter Chernin, President/COO News Corporation, parent company of FOX:
Salary, Fiscal Year 2007: $ 8,100,000
Other Compensation '07: $25,885, 578
TOTAL Salary, 2007: $33,985,578*
*Not including holdings of 10,137,500 stock options.
They have a huge stranglehold on a vast sector of the economy. I am totally happy to entertain that they are dinosaurs but they are not dying any time soon.
And right now, they’re the only game in town. My strike captain (the astonishingly talented Pippen Parker) sent us our strike team list. I had two reactions. One, I was deeply moved to be in such venerable company. And two, wow it’s hard for playwrights to make a living as playwrights, huh…
If you want to write dialogue and support your family, you’re working for one of these big guys. We would love more options and more avenues (and xuxE, under strike rules we can definitely work for the web channel you described and, if our contract demands are met, we can still work for your channel as long you meet the Guild minimums). But until then, we’ve got to negotiate with Fossils.
Isn’t the business model about to change so much that all these negotiations will look dated before they’re over?
Much has been made of the internet being a competitor to television: you know, "as internet content grows, television will become irrelevant." But when I hear this I get confused. Is television the box… or the show… or the commercials… that drive the industry? I guess I feel like the delivery mechanism will change, but we'll always have all those things - a screen with original programming and, god love us, advertising. I’ve begun to feel like the distinction between television and internet (2.0 or otherwise) is false.
Also, am I the only one who knows 18 year-olds? They watch TV while surfing the net. Hell, I watch TV while surfing the net. These are not mutually exclusive mediums.
Film was supposed to kill Theater. Television was supposed to kill Film. Now the internet is supposed to kill Television? Not buying it.
How does this strike affect you?
Hmmmm…. We have a script that we’re really proud of that is sitting in deep freeze at Big Guy Studio in valley. We have producers that we respect that we can’t really talk to. We have projects that we should finish but we feel kind of hopeless. After stumbling around for a couple of years, we have a great new agent and a fantastic manager and cool lawyer, all sitting on their thumbs.
That being said, we are a lot better off than a lot of folks. We’ve been hedging our financial bets for a while, so we can weather it. Ian has always kept his journalism contacts, and is working in that arena again. I'm doing some real estate. And overall, we believe in our work. So, all we can do is put in our time at the picket line and hope for the best.
What can I do to help?
Donate to MercyCorps. They do incredible work in Africa, the Middle East and all over the world fighting famine, helping agriculture, even saving victims of Hurricane Katrina. They're the best. In other words, we get it… this WGA fight is very important to all of our livelihoods, but we haven't lost perspective.
But if you've become remotely engaged in what we're doing, here are some ideas…
Educate other people. Tell them that the writers just want eight cents for every time you watch their shows in any medium and the companies don’t want to give it to them. This video sums up everything perfectly.
Sign this petition.
Write letters to your editors.
If you live nearby (LA or New York), come join us! We welcome everyone. Come for five minutes or a couple of hours. Bring cookies. Honk when you drive by. Let me know when you can make it and we’ll meet you!
Someone called me out last week about dressing up for Halloweeen, demanding to see proof that I've dressed up every year and that "my joints are still elastic." Well, consider this entry as good as I can give you.
2007 - Supposed to be a lion, looked like a dog:
2006 - Secret Service Agent on Bunny Detail:
2005 - Member of the Strawberry Alarm Clock or The Left Banke:
2004 - I went as my dad, a Symphony Conductor:
2003 - Tessa was a disgruntled housewife, I was a Fat Fucking Tenor:
2002 - I went as Tessa. I also had the flu:
with our friend Karmen
2001 - I was a young William Henry Harrison, our 9th President, thus Tessa and I were "Tippecanoe and Mary Tyler Moore Too":
2000 - John Lennon:
1997-1999 are the lost years because I was depressed and living in Beachwood Canyon and decidedly un-elastic. In '98, I was a Murdered Mandolinist but no pictures exist.
1996 - John Lennon in 1964, here with Jon, Lindsay and Matt as the other Beatles in 1969 (guest-starring Dana as Yoko and Cheryl as a swamp creature!):
1995 - Beethoven (no pictures exist, but the party invite does):
1994 - Chapel Hill Alternative Chick. Sage (standing next to me) showed this image to her mother, who famously said "Oh! That unfortunate woman!" This pic prompted me to lose 25 lbs:
1993 - The entire cast of "The Dukes of Hazzard" with me as Uncle Jesse. After being assaulted by some drunk freshman at Linda's, I knocked him out with Cooter's toolbox.
Clay as Bo Duke, Matt as Luke, Jon as Waylon Jennings, me as Uncle Jesse, Shay as Daisy Duke, Frisch as Cooter, and Lindsay as Boss Hogg. Not pictured: Ted as Flash the Dog
1992 - I was The Dead Baron. Clay always loved this picture:
1991 - The infamous Humours show, where we all showed up dressed as babies. We wore adult diapers (leading to this story) and my shirt said "Li'l Stinker". No pictures exist of this, which is in itself a national tragedy.
1990 - I was a woman, which was easy, because my hair was about two feet long. No pictures, alas.
1988-89 - Beethoven's Bastard Brother Ed:
1988 - Heatmiser from "The Year Without a Santa Claus":
previous to 1987 - okay, so I was another woman when I was a freshman, and before that it was high school, and then childhood, where surely I don't have to explain myself.
Do I look like a complete MORON in all these pictures? Yes, and THAT'S THE POINT. I've been looking stupid since Nixon was President, and all I've ever asked is that you all do the same.
During hoops on Sunday, I ran up to block a shot under the basket and lost my footing - and my head slammed into the cinderblock wall so hard that I didn't know where I was for about ten seconds. I've been listing to the port side a little bit ever since, and it sucks.
On Monday I went to the dentist for a regular checkup, and while in the seat, one of my crowns ruptured under the gumline. I was sent to the periodontist, who said I need a bone graft in my jaw to support a new tooth - surgery I have to get tomorrow morning.
Since any big town is a living organism, you can't shut down an entire organ and expect things to go well. The writers' strike has rippled through the entire city, putting the whole place into a mercurial retrograde. We have solidarity, and the public perception nationwide has tipped more in our favor, but the whole thing is still unbelievably sad.
Daylight Savings Time ended, and now it gets dark very early, and it's feeling cold. I'm no sun-worshipper, but I think we all suffer from a little Seasonal Affective Disorder. Soon the streetlights will be on by 4pm. I'm a little bit down.
But seriously, how are you feeling? We haven't talked in ages!
didn't feel like writing a blog today
[hey, Tessa actually wrote my blog today! YAY! - ed.]
I announced to Ian on Thursday night – after our big Writer’s Guild meeting – that I wanted to guest write his blog for the first time. First, I should say that I am not a natural blogger. I kept a blog for about three days before I realized that having an audience for what was essentially my diary forced me into a twisted mess of ponderous nuance.
But, damn man, this strike thing is intense. And you’ve put in your time here – you might as well hear about it from us.
Ian did a great job of making clear the central issue on Friday. Basically, we get 4 pennies for a DVD or permanent internet download and we’d like 8. My mother feels like our problem is that we’re not asking for more. We’re being too wimpy. Could be.
But here are a couple of other things worth knowing:
1) From what I can tell, the AMPTP just has not taken this negotiation seriously at all. There are a million examples – they took four-hour lunch breaks, refused to break into small groups in hopes of a more reasonable discussion. But, you know, he said, she said. Who knows what’s really happening in that room. I hope my guys are behaving themselves. But in the last day the AMPTP shut down the talks by saying that nothing could be discussed unless we pulled our four cents off the table. There was no counter proposal, no healthy haggling, nada. Every preschooler knows better than that.
So why are they being so belligerent? Either they’ve got some trick up their sleeve, or they radically miscalculated, or they’ll do anything to break the unions, or, well, you decide….
2) The producers are refusing to pay us residuals for all movies or tv shows streamed on the web because they consider that to be “promotional use”. Entire 2-hour movies with commercials. Sounds, oh I don’t know, a lot like television. And how cynical can you get – watching an entire movie is a promotion for the, um, movie you just watched?
3) The press has occasionally given this debate short shrift by saying that this is really just a fight between rich writers and rich producers. But, having parsed the income numbers, the WGA is overwhelmingly a middle-class union. Members have a 55% chance of working in a given year (because every year is a gamble). And in years they do work, they will earn about $100K. So, if you average out the years you don't work with the years you do, you get about $55,000 per year.
Now it may be true that this whole system should be scrapped. Or that the smart decision is to work independently. Or some other savvy macroeconomic analysis.
I worked independently most of my life and I am really proud of what I accomplished. But it was always a financial challenge and, honestly, it got really lonely. I have been deeply gratified in the last couple years. I get paid for telling stories. It’s been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. And we’ve had the opportunity to work with great, smart people while we do it.
Which brings me to another thing… It feels a little ludicrous to go hold placards and yell at executives driving to work. For one thing, writers are far more comfortable holding court than holding signs. For another, I generally like those executives. Sure, we hated this one chick (and we’re going to her studio lot tomorrow in hopes of being able to lob a well-placed invective) but everyone else has been great. They’ve fought for our work, given smart notes, sent Christmas cards. They would give us those 4 cents if they could.
Look, we know that this is not the most important issue in the world. We get it. The financial fate of some 12,000 writers doesn’t stack up next to the very real circumstances of famine and war and crappy health care.
But people don’t become writers to get rich. And (most days) we have enough humility to know that inspired dialogue won’t change the world. Writers write for a million reasons – we hate it, we love it, we can’t help it. But we provide a service to the marketplace. A service I know many of you value. The people we work for make A LOT OF MONEY. Heck, on the day the strike was announced, Viacom reported their net earnings were up 80% to $641 million and revenue rose 24% to 3.3 billion this quarter.
So we’ll be out there tomorrow, wearing silly t-shirts and lots of sunscreen, because I want to show Lucy that are some things that are worth fighting for – even if that thing is four cents.
I'll try to keep this very simple, as it's late in the evening, and god knows we've already been down this road. However... tonight was the big meeting of my union - the Writer's Guild - and 3,000 of us packed the LA Convention Center to show solidarity, receive inspiration from unlikely sources, and get all questions answered. I was on Lucy duty, so my wife went, and for the first time EVER, she has requested to write the Monday blog for me!
Tessa wanting to write one of my blogs is like Nixon going to China. I usually have to avoid looks of derision and moans of "oh fer chrissake" coming from the other room, so this is a red-letter day in our household.
Before the news cycle paints all of the writers in a horrible light, I'm going to make one statement, and pose one question. First off, I'm going to give you a very simplified reason of why we're (probably) going on strike.
Many years ago, writers agreed to a disastrously-small royalty fee for movies released on VHS home video. We agreed to it because it was a new idea that was expensive to manufacture - "movies watched on tape at home!" - and we were "all in it together!" That translated to four cents for each movie bought. But when DVDs came out, the studios refused to raise the rate even though production costs were HALVED, so while they made BILLIONS & BILLIONS, we still got... four cents per movie.
Determined not to let this happen again, we decided to push for a more equitable royalty on internet downloads, which we all know will replace physical DVDs in the next few years. Something more akin to eight cents a movie. The studios said "we're offering you NOTHING cents per movie."
That's like starting a negotiation with someone, holding out your hand to shake, and having the other guy say "how about you go fuck yourself?" So that's where we are. Forget everything you're about to hear in the news: this strike is about THAT. I'll leave it to Tessa to tell you even worse stunts the studios are pulling, and also why writers can't live without royalties.
Meanwhile, I'd like to ask this question: when did America become so hostile to the little guy? When did everyone start cheering for corporations? Sure, we like to think of ourselves as a defender of underdogs, but that kind of sentimentality is limited to the movies - in real life, everyone's a fucking Yankees fan, cheering for the sun to rise. We only really want to hear about the winners, and we want the winners to keep winning. And when the winners stop winning, we forget about the sport entirely.
I've read some pretty vitriolic crap about the writers and our strike, and I've experienced first-hand the schadenfreude right here on the blog. In fact, sometimes I feel like I've spent the last five years fielding comments and emails from those defending the indefensible, whether it be the Iraq War, our disastrous Presidency or pharmaceutical companies.
Before everyone's eyes start rolling, believe me when I say none of this hurts my feelings - in fact, the last five years on here have been brilliantly informative for me personally, often through the folks I disagree with most. But something has shifted in the American consciousness that I find particularly disheartening, and this strike - and the coverage of it - has italicized its meaning. Put simply, why does everyone gotta root for the bullies?