It was no shock to read that a Thursday Op-Ed article in The Times, "Curtains for the guilds," which posited that creative unions will be swallowed by a Black Hole, was co-written by an entertainment lawyer. At least his co-writer was someone with an intimate awareness of what is actually taking place in Hollywood a Cornell professor.
Kevin Morris and Glenn C. Altschuler are bright. What neither know, however, is what the strike is actually about. Alexander Pope was right: a little learning is a dangerous thing.
Writers Guild members are livid. They'd be livid whoever was leading them. Never mind that the support for guild leaders David Young and Patric Verrone is enthusiastic, regardless of the studios' snarky attempts to discredit them. Guild members are livid that 22 years ago, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers sweet-talked a 4-cent royalty deal for home video, with a promise to revisit this new technology then failed to do that and insisted that the guild remove a request this year to increase it. Writers removed it the alliance did nothing, and then walked away from the table.
Writers are livid, too that the initial offer for new media payment was zero. Zero for streaming, original Internet content, downloading: you name it, it was zero. The insult was galvanizing, for it showed the producers' hand. And when the producers "raised" their offer to $250 for streaming which can drop back to zero if the companies themselves decide writers remained livid. Pound the picket line for weeks on end and you will begin to learn how furious the writers are. Especially after the AMPTP corporations walked away from the table again.
Writers have a long tradition of "passing it on" that dates back to the caveman. Not just passing on stories themselves, but the love of the craft to future writers. What the companies have offered would destroy that future. And the Screen Actors Guild's. And yes, even the future of the Directors Guild of America, whose members may well recognize (despite the authors' certainty) that they too must have a fair deal on New Media or perish.
Does this mean the writers will never collapse? No, anything is possible. But this is the critical point that Morris and Altschuler miss: If we get that far, to the point at which the AMPTP corporations have starved out the writers, as the authors postulate, the siege will by then include actors, directors, crew, staffs and the entire industry and the companies will have destroyed themselves in the process.
But life happily has a way of correcting itself. What the authors overlook is the core issue of the strike the new media. The Internet is not, as the AMPTP insists, a newfangled thingy that doesn't make money. (Viacom and Microsoft recently announced a $500-million deal. Surprise.) And if the companies end up taking everything down, the creative talent who actually make the movies and TV people watch would find a new canvas to paint on, as they have throughout history. It will be called the Internet. You know, that thing that doesn't make money. And stories will continue there. And the old dinosaur movie studios and "TV" networks will be lost in the dust. Anyone who thinks that Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Yahoo and on and on aren't chomping at the bit for content, is not looking close enough. Because the door has already been opened.
This all could be an utter disaster. Writers could splinter. And so too could the companies of the AMPTP, seeing their finances going down the drain, TV seasons and movie schedules lost, huge competitors rising on the Web, stockholders up in arms, $30-million bonuses lost, advertisers demanding give-backs, and the public pressuring them.
The latter outcome seems more likely than the former. Writers are profoundly united because their future is at stake. Corporations are dealing with somebody else's money. Hopefully, no disaster will occur. Hopefully, the AMPTP corporations will return to the table. Hopefully, they'll recognize that it's in their best interest to be part of the future rather than be left behind.
Robert J. Elisberg is a screenwriter in West Los Angeles and a commentator for the Huffington Post who has written for the Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, C/NET, E! Online and others. He served on the editorial board for the Writers Guild of America West, helped created the WGA.org website and writes a technology column for the Writers Guild East.