Writers strike, headlines suffer

While Yalies may spend more time reading from textbooks than watching the latest episodes of “Nip/Tuck” and “Gossip Girl,” the effects of the writers strike have undoubtedly been felt on our campus. Antonio Ingram ’11, an ardent Jay Leno fan, had to find other activities in lieu of TV dramas and late night comedy.

“I had to cope in many ways,” Ingram said. “In the early part of the evening I read novels, and in order to make up for my loss of late night talk shows, I just went to sleep earlier.”

The Writers Guild of America strike that erupted on November 5, 2007 has already interrupted TV shows, canceled the Golden Globes and affected virtually every facet of the industry. Though television junkies may feel as “Lost” as their favorite castaways without the assurance of weekly programming, the shouting strikers vehemently picketing in Los Angeles and New York are not holding up signs just for kicks.

Over 12,000 WGA members in the film, television and radio industries have banded together against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The AMPTP includes the eight major studios that control most of Hollywood: CBS Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, NBC Universal, News Corp/Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Walt Disney Company.

At the heart of the conflict between the WGA and the AMPTP is the issue of “new media” and residuals. The newness of the Internet has left studios questioning how profitable Internet content will be, while the writers say that they are not being fairly compensated for their work that appears online. A writer’s salary is based largely upon residuals, and the WGA is asking for a doubling of the residual rate they receive for DVD’s, as well as compensation for online content.

“It’s a life and death struggle between the writers and the studios, and the studios would like to kill the union and every other union,” Ted Tally ’74, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Silence of the Lambs,” said in a phone interview. “[The studios] are grotesquely greedy, and what is really going on here is the struggle for the future of intellectual property rights for unions and the right of artists to have some control over their own destiny.”

Though the writers’ cause has garnered favor from the public and spurned the Screen Actor’s Guild to rally in support of the WGA, not everyone believes the studios’ hesitations to meet the writers’ demands are without merit.

“While I have to back the writers in the strike, I do sympathize with the studios in that they don’t want to rush in to a new agreement in which they could underestimate the ultimate value of the Internet as it relates to media distribution,” Christopher Adler ’09 said.

So what does this mean for the future of screenwriting and students currently pursuing it? Screenwriters need not worry, as movies are not going away anytime soon. Tally explained that people will always want to hear and see stories; it is only a matter of how they are financed that may change.

“The core issue of this strike should be inspiring, not discouraging, to Yale students who aspire to become filmmakers,” Josh Shelov ’93, a professional screenwriter and a former Yale college seminar instructor, said. “The main underlying force that’s creating the small tremor that is the writers strike is the creation of the Internet, which will soon allow any filmmaker to distribute his work to pretty much anyone in the world.”

Though Shelov and Tally claim that the studio system is no longer a necessary part of the filmmaking process, it remains in question where exactly funding for films and television will come from if not from the studios. Amidst the uncertainty shrouding the future of the entertainment industry, one thing is certain: TV and awards shows cannot write themselves. In the meantime, viewers might just have to settle for “Seinfeld” reruns, or worse, a Lifetime Original movie.

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