|Producers Dislike Relying On Unglamorous People With Ideas
by Doug McIntyre [radio
I don't know who decided we tip our barbers but not our plumbers. I don't know how the economy of the newspaper-delivery racket shifted from your neighbor's kid on a Schwinn to an illegal in a Toyota. All I know is every year I find a "Feliz Navidad" card in my mailbox with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Dutifully, I write a check for 20 bucks. It's not my place to kick over the economic apple cart.
If only Hollywood producers felt the same way about writers.
The writers strike is a battle among five groups: enormous multinational communication conglomerates with assets and revenues in the billions, independent producing organizations worth millions and fly-by-night producers wearing cardboard belts. They are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the AMPTP, and are not hurting for lawyers or public-relations consultants. In the white trunks, we have big-time Hollywood writers, who know Tom Hanks personally, and middle-class to below-the-poverty-line writers who have to shake the money tree to make December's rent.
The AMPTP has skillfully propagandized the blame onto greedy millionaire writers (both of them) and a bunch of so-called writers whose only connection to the television industry is their illegal cable hookup.
But if we have so-called writers, we also have so-called producers. A gigantic multinational should not be confused with the old Hollywood "Swifties," "Bernies" and "Marvins" who used to dig a couple of million out of the ether and actually produce films for art or commerce or both. The AMPTP represents global organizations that spend more on towncar rides to the airport than they do on DVD residuals. Script money is always chump change.
So why would media giants like Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch kick over the writers' apple cart over pocket change? Because they can!
The AMPTP runs expensive full-page ads reminding Americans, "You don't get residuals, do you?" The argument is something like this: A carpenter who frames houses for a living doesn't get paid every time the house is resold. The guy who bolts lug nuts onto Pontiacs doesn't get a taste every time a Pontiac shows up in the Recycler. Real Americans get their money upfront. There's no back end at Sears.
But the P.R. campaign isn't for the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. Television Watcher or Netflix subscriber. The real poison is the attempt by the AMPTP to turn the Hollywood community against the writers. If the prop guys, grips, gaffers and set dressers pin the tail of blame on the WGA, the entertainment industry will eat itself alive from the bottom up. This is Darwinian capitalism.
It's the same kind of grotesque stock price ber alles mentality that doesn't care if the cheap rug at Wal-Mart was made by 9-year-old Chinese girls chained to looms.
Not every bargain is a bargain.
If the AMPTP is able to crush the Writers Guild, SAG/AFTRA will follow, and the Directors Guild of America won't stand as an island, no matter how Gibraltar-like members think they are.
It's fitting one of the biggest hits of this TV season was Disney's "High School Musical." Producers will still expect writers and actors to make 11 a.m. pitch meetings or auditions. The talent pool will slowly drain. We'll have fewer and fewer professionals in what was once a magnificent career but is now in danger of being reduced to a hobby - a high-school musical, something you do for fun.
All the prop guys, gaffers, grips and set dressers have jobs because some people wrote when nobody paid them to write.
J.K. Rowling sat at that coffee counter and created a new universe of books, films and merchandising that has enriched not just herself, but the conglomerates that have ridden along on her magic coattails. How many below-the-line paychecks did J.K. Rowling generate? Nights and weekends and holidays. Year in. Year out. This is what writers do. It's their capital investment in the economy of Hollywood. It's the economic rule by which the game is played.
Stiffing the writers on residuals is the show biz equivalent of stiffing your waiter or your barber. It's chucking the newspaper delivery guy's "Feliz Navidad" card in the trash.
Who likes a property tax bill? I hate paying my car insurance tab. Maybe it's human nature to resent writing a check for things we're obligated to buy. That's the only way to understand why paying writers fairly is a chicken bone in the throat for the AMPTP. It must be maddening to run an industry dependent on a bunch of poorly dressed, coffee-swilling complainers with laptops who, damn them, have all the ideas.
"Hang together," Ben Franklin warned, "or we shall all hang separately." Ben's pretty good with words. I wonder if he'd work under the table? CRO
first appeared at L.A. Daily News
2006 Doug McIntyre