Whether a writer is part of the Guild or not, it's true we are an underpaid lot; all one needs to do is check out the posts on Craigslist.com for writing gigs and that is apparent. Many publishers will take advantage of those trying to break into the business by promising "exposure," "clips," and a "publishing credit" to add to a skimpy résumé. Unfortunately, payment is not on that list. Yet, in spite of the no wages, there are many writers willing to accept the conditions in order to be given a chance to get their byline out there.
Unless you've been hiding under reams of paper, it's quite likely you know that writers are planning to go on strike--at least those in the Writers Guild who write for the movies and television. Their complaints regarding DVD residuals and pay for programs distributed over the Internet are justified. Brian Kiley, a monologue writer for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," is quoted in today's New York Times as saying, "We're certainly not claiming we're coal miners. But at the same time, we don't want to be taken advantage of."
Sure, little physical risk is involved, writers often discovering their talents during a classroom assignment or some other unpaid venture. The same can be said for acting, I suppose--and painting, dancing, singing, or any other form of expression where the creative juices beg an outlet. However, the passion for these self-expressions doesn't mean that anyone should give away their talents simply because they are fortunate enough to do what they love. This leads me to imagine if the strike went beyond Hollywood and onto the Internet. Upon further imagining, I wonder what would happen if all writers, from novelists to bloggers, decided to join in the strike. With that thought in mind, does my blogging without compensation make me part of the problem?
Thursday night, during Jon Stewart's sign off, he announced that quite likely in the upcoming week we'd be watching repeats of "The Daily Show" because of the strike. Although, of course, I was keenly aware that he has writers, as does Stephen Colbert, his presidential campaign having come to a quick end, it is shocking to see just how dependent on air talent relies on behind-the-scenes talent--the ones who provide those wondrous turns of phrases. I was reminded of a recent "Daily Show" segment when Stewart showed a clip of Fred Thompson grasping for words during his first Republican debate. The clip ended and Stewart calls, "Line!" in response to the bumbling politician cum actor. Although it's doubtful it was Stewart's intention, it offered a succinct point in showing just how valuable writers are when putting words in the mouths of the less than articulate.
For many of us, though, writing is an isolated activity, while others who will walk that picket line are used to the instant gratification of hearing how their words have been perceived night after night on television. From my vantage point, the Writers Guild isn't being unreasonable and one hopes that their demands will help give monetary respect to writers not just in Hollywood, but for those of us who write in the quiet of our homes because we must.