As we near the end of the second week of the strike, certain new aspects begin to creep in, most notably the impact of all this on what is referred to in the press as The Little Guy.
Fortunately, thus far, The Little Guy seems to grasp what's at stake with this strike. Cars and trucks supportively honking along picket lines have been pronounced - a taxi driver waiting for fares near the Fox picket zone complained, "I've been here eight hours every day, and all this god-*!*$@ honking has given me a *!*$@ headache."
As the strike continues - and it will - there will be deeper headaches. Because eventually, this strike will seriously impact the economics of the company town. People are going to get hurt, including those who have nothing to do with the strike.
How do I respond to The Little Guy when asked to defend them getting laid off?
There really is no good response. There are valid responses, but when someone is out of work, only "You can have your job back" suffices.
1. First, say that you're sorry. And mean it. Down to your core. The strike is horrible, and it's horrible for everyone. Except studio security guards who are guaranteed work.
2. You should also explain you're out of work yourself, though that only goes so far. Whenever the strike is settled, the WGA will at least have earned some benefits, while The Little Guy won't.
3. Point out that every laborer benefits when other employees improve conditions, because that becomes a standard. Because we all understand that most employers, if they could, would pay eight cents an hour on a 70-hour work week.
4. At a certain point, there's nothing you can say which will change the person's anger. You should therefore explain that they should be mainly mad at the companies for creating conditions where writers had no option but to strike.
WARNING! Never debate the strike. This is your profession, and you know the merits. They don't, even if they think they do. The best you can do is ask polite questions.
Questions to ask
1. "I completely understand what you're saying. Let me ask you then - if you were in the Writers Guild, what would you do?
(They will either answer, "Yeah, I guess I'd have done the same as you" or "I would have signed the contract!!!" If the latter - )
2. "Okay. I hear you. So, you would have accepted zero payment for the Internet and four cents for DVDs?"
(They will either answer, "Errrrr, no, I guess not" or - "Yes!" and spit it out at you, so ask from a distance. If the latter - )
3. "Okay, fair enough. I'm just curious - "Are there any issues you think anyone should ever strike over?"
(They will either answer, "Hmmm, yeah, I guess there are, you're right" or "No!!!" Again with the spitting. If the latter - )
4. "Okay. So, just to be clear, then you'd accept it if your employer cut your pay to minimum wage, dropped your health care and eliminated the parking lot, break room and desks?
(They will either answer, "God, noooo, I see what you're saying" or "Yes!!!!!!" At which point you won't be dealing with spit, but - well, remember that pea soup scene with Linda Blair in "The Exorcist"? By the way, that screenplay was by William Peter Blatty, from his novel.)
Indeed, here then, is the crux.
One of the problems when dealing with anyone who is not a writer is that none really understands what a writer actually does. Therefore, supporting writers in a strike becomes all the more difficult.
Many people think the actors make it all up. They do not. I once worked on a TV show where an actor was going to be a guest on a talk show. He asked me to write some funny things he could say as himself.
Or people think the director does it all. After all, it says right there on the screen, "A Film By..." the director. There's a story about the renowned writer Robert Riskin (among his movies were "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Deeds Comes to Town" and "Lost Horizon" with director Frank Capra, whose films were known for having The Capra Touch). Riskin apparently went into Capra's office, dropped a blank ream of paper on his desk and said, "Let's see you give THAT the famous Capra Touch."
Producers don't write the scripts. They say things like "Make it 20% funnier." Or "That's a great idea, it will write itself." Or, most often, "Is it done yet? When can I see it?"
Make no mistake, all of these people are central to a production. Just as is a writer. They do many great things. But they don't write the script, which starts with a blank page.
Right now, there's a hilarious blog being sent around from one ranting studio assistant. Now, contrary to his insistence, a studio assistant is not any writer's bestest friend. They are the hard-working best friend of their boss (as it should be), and they make photocopies because their boss told them to, not as a favor. Unfortunately, this assistant then explains that writers should be grateful for all the great script notes he gives to his boss.
And in this one ludicrous sentence, he demonstrates the pure lack of understanding by all for what it is that writers do.
And for that, we will go to Larry Gelbart, winner of seven Oscar, Emmy and Tony Awards. In his show, "City of Angels," an assistant tells the writer...he should be grateful for changes she made to the writer's script.
To which the writer answers for all writers -
"Help? You'd need a divining rod to find the word grateful in me. Jesus, where the hell is everybody when they first deliver the typing paper? Where are all the 'helpers' when those boxes full of silence come in? Blank. Both sides. No clue, no instructions enclosed on how to take just twenty-six letters and endlessly re-arrange them so that you can turn them into a mirror of a part of our lives. Try it sometime. Try doing what I do before I do it."
That's what a writer does. And that's why writers want to protect what they do. And get paid on the Internet for it, if a company does, too.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.