Hollywood Goes to War

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • John Ridley Emmy-Winning Commentator and Writer for Esquire

Hollywood's going to war. Not in the good old fashioned Frank Capra "Why We Fight" agitprop kinda way. No, this war is a potential work stoppage as Hollywood gets into a gilded cage match of egos and dollars.

On one side is the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Basically the studios that bring you all your filmed entertainment. On the other side is the Writers Guild which is the union that represents movie and television writers.

A note of disclosure: I'm a member of the Guild.

A note of clarification: if you draw a paycheck in Hollywood you have zero freedom of choice when it comes to joining the Guild, so already Hollywood's war has some capitalism/communism parallels.

On Oct. 31st the current contract the Guild is working under expires, and its rank and file has already authorized the board to call a strike.

Like a lot of wars, this one comes down to territory. "New media." "The internet." The AMPTP wants to limit how much writers get paid when their work airs on your computers and iPods. The Guild not only wants to set residual fees for that work, but they want to force those who write internet entertainment to pledge allegiance to the union.

Should the strike happen -- the first writers strike in 18 years -- the writers will ultimately lose and lose badly. I'm talking Gulf War I, the Republican Guard were sissies badly. They (we) are going into battle wearing yesterday's armor -- the belief that well written words delivered on schedule matter. They do, but not nearly to their previous degree; before the rise of reality TV, prime time game shows and America figuring out that YouTube on an iPhone can be as entertaining as Two and a Half Men.

And if the writers can't win the battle on the field, they sure aren't going to capture many hearts and minds. Take a look at any strike-related message boards on the LA Times, or either of the Hollywood trade papers. Regularly you'll see the writers described as "selfish," "pompous" and "overpaid hacks."

Just for the record I'm far too accomplished a writer to be pompous.

The Guild's even managed to tick off some of its own by insisting that, should there be a strike, all writers would have to submit their unfinished work to the Guild. This "script validation program" would supposedly ensure no further work is surreptitiously done to unfinished scripts. While some writers groused about this totalitarian measure off the record to the New York Times, lemme just say on the record that the Guild can pry my intellectual property out of my cold, dead hand.

I imagine the assumption is that I am anti-strike. I am not. The strike must happen. Among other, lesser points of negotiation an equitable slice of the future pie is too valuable not to fight for.

But the Guild, much like Che in Bolivia, is more idealistic than capable. They believe too easily that their cause will inspire without understanding the true lay of the land. They aren't fighting stand-alone production companies. They are fighting deep-pocketed conglomerates that can long weather a hit to their bottom line.

Plus, the networks have a secret weapon: after this disastrous fall TV season -- Cavemen, Viva Laughlin, Bionic Woman to mention just a few of the shining turds -- the studios would be happy for an invading army to come do a slash and burn so they can pretend the fall never happened, then start again next year.

Just goes to show, writers can start an ill-conceived war as well as the next politician.

Read more thoughts about the strike on Huffington Post's writers' strike opinion page