In 1988, after years of spec work in New York, I finally sold a script and got to LA with an overall deal at a studio. I'd only been in the Guild about a year when they called for a strike. At the time I thought "fuck, I don't want to leave. I like this work." I had no sense of Guild history and frankly didn't give a shit. I'd finally gotten a break.
Then I went back to NY and attended a WGA East meeting at the Hilton. I didn't want the damn strike and was prepared to open my mouth and say so. Then Budd Shulberg got up and spoke about previous strikes, and all the sacrifices. He wrote On The Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd. I'd optioned a silly broad comedy spec. Thankfully, I was smart enough to take a quick lesson in Guild history and keep my mouth shut.
When I got back to LA the Guild said walk, so I walked. Did the picket line at Fox. Not the most attractive picket line, either. For that you want SAG. Solidarity was one thing. Who didn't hire whom and who hated whose script was another. Lots of suspicious eyeballing as we marched up and down Pico. During the 5 1/2 months, I burned through all my savings. Thirty thousand dollars. More money than I'd seen in my life. After getting Force Majeured out of the remainder of my studio deal, I luckily got a TV job two weeks later and it's been pretty steady ever since. More or less. But the whole time, I have been grateful for the minimums, the residuals, the health plan and the pension. Things I know we would never have if they had to come via studio good will.
Still, as that strike plodded on, I remember thinking, despite all the posturing, the accusations of greed and intransigence, that each side probably had its secret bottom line right from the start. Their real fallback positions. And I think they do now. So before everyone who makes their living off movies and TV -- in the business or alongside it -- starts to bleed, why not get there now?
I've been around writers for 20 years. We're not greedy people. We have agents for that who try to capitalize on whatever opportunities we get. Although some of us are incorporated, we're not vertically integrated. We don't have board members. We're not publicly traded. We don't have stock prices that fluctuate or stockholders who get frustrated. Although we come together at times like this, we spend most of our professional lives in competition with one another for jobs, assignments, and opportunities. One writer's "go" pilot is another one's pass. That tends to make us very nervous and ultimately, very pragmatic people.
Yet, if it comes to a strike, we'll strike. And we'll be united, somewhere between brothers and sisters in arms, and the coalition of the selfish. But I would ask everyone at the studios if it is really necessary? In 1988 cable was an unproven commodity. I think it's now on its feet. And it seems the whole DVD thing is catching on. Frankly, if the movie and TV business were so unprofitable, you wouldn't be in it. You know what it would take to settle this now. Proportionally, it can't be that much more, based on what you earn. It would be a crime for the entire city to suffer for another 22 weeks, only to have the two sides reach an agreement they could have reached 22 weeks earlier. Consider all the lost homes. The bankruptcies. The failed businesses. All that misery.
Maybe you think writers exist somewhere on the food chain between a regrettable necessity and a necessary evil. But we are not the enemy. We're your partners. We're your neighbors. Our kids go to the same schools. I know reasonableness and compassion are hardly a corporate strategy but, really, is the few extra bucks on the bottom line worth all the pain? There is, and always has been, enough for everybody.
Read more thoughts about the strike on Huffington Post's writers' strike opinion page