A producer once told me that when the writer is working, the script is the gun that holds everyone else hostage. When the writer stops typing, he hands the gun to the producer and director and immediately joins the other hostages against the wall.
On November 1, 2007, The Writers Guild of America typed "Fade In" by going on strike. Last week, when the Directors Guild and the AMPTP announced that they'd made a deal, we watched as the WGA leadership handed over the gun and took their place against the wall, hands high in the air.
It's a cliché in Hollywood. The writer has an idea, structures a story, pours his blood and tears into it, only to turn in the script and watch helplessly as the studio finds someone else to rewrite him and take credit.
I'm not talking about the deal points here. I'm not talking about residuals, distributor's gross, or 17 free days of internet streaming. Those are all items for us to hash out in the coming days. What I'm talking about is the single most obvious failing of the Writers Guild leadership throughout this labor dispute -- controlling the narrative that they began on November 1st.
When the DGA and the AMPTP proudly announced their deal, the WGA leadership needed to swiftly and decisively grab control of the story. There should have been a press conference -- immediately. There should have been a membership meeting -- announced to the press. It didn't matter whether the leadership had any official opinions yet. It only mattered that they showed they were in control, that they were responding deftly, with agility and strength, and that they sent a loud and clear message to the AMPTP and the world that there is an intimate relationship between the WGA leadership and its members, and no one else is going to step in and lead them.
For much of this struggle, that relationship between the leadership and the members has been robust and authentic. But last week, instead of direct conversation at a critical juncture, when nerves are frayed and people are exhausted, we received a very polite, yet subtly terse press release that communicated absolutely nothing. And a day after that release, we received another, followed by a weekend of rumors of "back channel talks," guild leaders scrambling to see the actual DGA contract, emails shooting from writer to writer with petitions and letters to be signed expressing solidarity, another that threatens a strike for as long as it takes, another that says we should take the DGA deal now (though it hasn't actually been analyzed or even offered).
The DGA deal has elements in it that many writers I've spoken with hate immediately -- specifically the 17-day free window for internet streaming and the $1200/yr flat fee after that. Other writers feel that the phrase "distributor's gross" is significant enough that we should disregard the rest. Some screenwriters are rumored to be discussing going Fi-Core (though nobody seems to have met any of them yet). One showrunner asked me how the "movie writers would like it if their movies were offered for free for three weeks." A screenwriter then said that this has been "a TV strike from day one" and he's had enough.
Anarchy is defined as a state of disorder due to an absence or non-recognition of authority. While our leadership is hunkered down, trying to determine what the deal really is and how much to push that deal, the members are spinning their own narratives in the absence of any other. The type of thoughtful, behind-the-scenes work that the board is doing right now is vital, yes, but it's only one front in this war. The other fronts are the organization and galvanization of the members and the controlling of the story in the media. In just three days, we've come dangerously close to losing those battles.
There may be a deal to be made with the AMPTP in the coming weeks. I happen to think there is. But it's only going to happen if our leadership re-establishes that intimate connection with its members. It took this community of writers to type Fade In. It's going to take the same community to type Fade Out.
Read more strike coverage on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.