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WGA Strike Primer: Correcting One Minor John Ridley Mistake

12/26/2007 04:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The other day, John Ridley was finally patting a writer on the back for his good sense. Kudos! True, that writer was himself, and true, he was 100 percent wrong what he was saying, but still, it's a start.

I apologize for not correcting his error until now, but then I've basically given up reading what John Ridley writes, since I prefer at least an attempt at accuracy. His piece, however, was brought to my attention by someone because it appeared that Mr. Ridley was misquoting himself.

You see, Mr. Ridley was congratulating John Ridley for his foresight in suggesting that writers forget about bargaining collectively and do something entrepreneurial on the Web. (Never mind that the L.A. Times' Patrick Goldstein has been writing about that regularly, since even before the strike, "Come on, writers, script your future" -- as have others before Mr. Ridley, including countless Guild members, and...well, me.

But Mr. Ridley wants you to think he's carrying the banner in the lead. Not only is he not in the lead, he doesn't even have a leaflet.

I'm going to do something very unfair now, but I'm warning you upfront. I am going to actually quote John Ridley's own words. In context.

Here's what John Ridley wrote, pumping up himself --

Hey, well, look at this: last week I blogged about the need for writers to quit collectively bargaining and show some collective strength by creating and owning their own material. Today, the front page of the LA Times has a story about writers doing just that on the internet.

After I wrote my blog last week, I was amazed at how many...well, let's call them weak sisters, those who are inclined toward personal defeat -- thought the idea of cooperative economics was just "nuts.

That seems pretty darn clear. He says he wrote about writers to "quit collectively bargaining" - which, of course, is the purpose of the Writers Guild. And all others, "let's call them weak sisters" (oh, okay, just let's...) took the poor fellow to task for his flights of fancy.

Except that, here's exactly what John Ridley's idea was. His own words -

Let's say the guild was to hit up its membership for an additional 1 percent of its gross income. Let's say the guild were to put that money into a fund to produce films. The guild would then own, or would have co-ownership of the negative with the film's author. And since "we" could make this film without interference from the studios, the film would of course be great. The guild, then, could take this great film and cut whatever distribution deal it pleased with whatever distributor -- old media or new -- with which it chose. And the deal would be made on our terms. And the film would remain ours.

John Ridley's idea is not to ditch the Writers Guild, but is precisely to use the Writers Guild. It's to use Guild funds for producing a big "Writers Guild Presents" extravaganza. That the Guild would "own." "The film would remain ours." The WGA's.

These are two utterly separate concepts. Not even close. One -- what most writers have been talking about before Mr. Ridley did -- is 100% entrepreneurial and can be separate from the Writers Guild. The second -- Mr. Ridley's idea -- is nuts. Unworkable. Illegal. And centers on the WGA doing it all.

The Writers Guild of America, as a collective-bargaining unit, cannot legally select one member's work over all others and produce a movie from it. The WGA cannot legally pay a member for such work.

And if the WGA found some magical loophole that allowed for selecting one script from 12,000 Guild members, conflict-of-interest lawsuits would be flying everywhere. Moreover, as much as Mr. Ridley keeps referring to his fantasy movie as being "great" -- what if, say, it...well, wasn't? (Those darn directors!) Or what if it opened the same weekend as "Pirates of the Caribbean 8"? What if the $80 million movie lost its entire investment of Guild funds. And...and...so many other lunatic possibilities. But it starts with, "It's illegal."

(Note: Credit must be shared with the eloquent Jon Robin Baitz for his online comments posted replying to Mr. Ridley's loopy idea.)

Most bizarre of all is that John Ridley says about his fantasy, "This is no fantasy, no act of wild imagination." It is the definition of fantasy and wild imagination. And that specifically is what the others, "let's call them weak sisters," were ridiculing him about.

The bottom-line is there are two issues here: one is that John Ridley's idea is a crazy, unworkable, illegal fantasy. The other is that what John Ridley actually suggested is totally different from what he is now inaccurately claiming.

That John Ridley is factually inaccurate is no big shock. That he's factually inaccurate about what he himself wrote, hmmm, that's more problematic. Though not a shock. He probably can't read what he writes either.

Still, at least weak sisters everywhere just got a good name. You go, girl. 'Tis the season for family, after all. If you hear from your goofy uncle, give him a kiss.

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