I’ve been reading a lot of ill will and lack of sympathy toward the writers who are on continuing strike. It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for people who on average make $200k a year. What do they have to complain about really?
It’s definitely hard to get yourself into a position of support when most people exist pretty much solely as wage slaves who’s efforts are purchased in bulk on an hourly basis from corporations. Us wage slaves toil hour after hour grinding away for comparatively little money while these champagne swilling liberal hollywood writers club it up all night.
It’s important in this case to re-calibrate your notion of what a job is, or rather what it can be. Writers aren’t employees of the producers, they are instead collaborative parters along with actors, directors, and a lot of other people involved in the creative process. Maybe an example will help.
Say that you’re a great carpenter. You decide that you’d like to make a sell furniture. You want to do it big, so you decide to put together a team that will help you out. You hire a avante-garde designer to come up with some great ideas, you’ll handle the actual wood working, you bring on a great painter to handle all the decoration, and you bring someone on to manage your warehouse and production facility. You also realize that you’re going to need to get some up front money to do all this, along with someone to sell this for you. So you and your team sit down with some suits and hammer out a deal. They’ll bankroll your operation and distribute your furniture to all the furniture stores in America. They’ll keep 60% of all the profits in exchange. It’s a deal. You work out your 40% remaining with your partners and you’re in business.
You’re a big hit! You sell millions in furniture, and everyone on your team is making six figures! Hooray! Everyone is fat and happy.
Then one day you notice that your furniture pieces are showing up for sale in coffee shops. You check to make sure they’re not just reselling the pieces that they bought at retail and they’re not. You double check your statements from your distributor to make sure these new sales aren’t on there. They aren’t.
You call your distributor. They fly you out, buy you dinner and let you know that sales to the coffee houses are purely promotional, they don’t make a dime off them, but those sales will drive sales to consumers later on, you’re getting the name out there. Your contract really only covers sales to furniture stores, but there is a clause in there about promotions that their lawyers think this fits in.
You shrug it off until you see their quarterly filings and discover that they’ve been lying about not making a dime of these sales, and in fact, sales to coffee shops are accounting for one third of all the sales of your product. What the hell? You call up the producers again, they lie to you again and you hire a lawyer. Turns out you can fight it in court, but this is a huge expense. You decide instead to halt production on the line until the company agrees to give you a fair cut of this new market they’ve decided to sell your product in.
They immediately go to the court of public opinion, whining to the public that the reason people can’t get your cool furniture is that the lazy greedy carpenter, who is making six figures, wants a bigger share of the pie, wants to change the deal. How many lowly carpenters do you know who make six figures? Who do these people think they are? Don’t they know their place?
Now this is a relatively loose analogy, but in many ways it depicts what’s happening. Writers work along with a creative team to create TV shows and movies that we all love. They had a deal with producers, the guys to fund the shows and distribute them, for a certain amount of money for certain ways the shows are distributed. The producers finally caught onto this whole internet thing and started offering TV shows online. They claim this is completely promotional, and that they don’t make a dime. They support this through convoluted financial manipulation, but it’s hard to believe considering that these shows are supported by advertising, just like on television.
Now the fact that there’s a union involved here can really muddy the waters, and you may feel like the slice of the pie that the writers are demanding is unfair. I’m not trying to change your mind here. I’m just trying to explain the creative contribution provided by the writers in contrast to the contribution provided by the producers. Some writers would undoubtedly be willing to work for less. But I know that if I felt someone was selling my work for more money than we agreed on, or selling more of my work than agreed on, and was unwilling to be completely transparent as to how much they were making on it, I’d be all over it.