Thursday, December 06, 2007

Writers Strike Continues

30 Days of Strike: The Month In Review

By Peter Clines

For many of us, the past month has been a whirlwind of picketing, news reports, and negotiating-room hearsay. With the flood of information available, a fair share of rumors have been treated as fact while other, more relevant stories were all but ignored. As the strike hits the ominous 30-day mark, Creative Screenwriting re-examines some of the major events of the past four weeks, including a few that probably didn't receive all the press they should have.

Monday, Nov. 5-Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) go on strike and begin to picket studios after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) walk out of negotiations the night before, claiming a lack of faith. The picket lines are immediately joined by members of the Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards all pledge their support.

Nov. 6-Production shuts down on the hit sitcom The Office after lead actor Steve Carell refuses to cross a picket line. Ellen DeGeneres returns to work on her talk show and receives scathing criticism from the WGA and strike supporters.

Nov. 7-Fox fires many writing assistants and associated staff from struck shows. The network also announces the indefinite postponement of season seven of 24, citing a desire to give the show "its standard uninterrupted run" when it does air. Desperate Housewives and Law & Order: SVU also cease production due to lack of scripts.

Nov. 9-The WGA stages a rally at Fox studios, and over 4,000 writers and supporters show up. Speakers include WGA President Patric Verrone and Family Guy creator/showrunner Seth McFarlane. McFarlane compares the earlier firing of his staff to an abusive parent slapping a helpless child and saying, "Look what you made me do!"

Nov. 10-In New York, Broadway stage hands go on strike, closing over two-dozen theatrical shows, including The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Monday, Nov. 12-The "Voices of Uncertainty" video appears on YouTube, showing news interview clips of Sumner Redstone, Rupert Murdoch, and other media moguls proudly announcing how much money they are making and will continue to make off digital revenues. Also on this day, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) sends letters to Variety and Deadline Hollywood asking that the AMPTP not be referred to as "producers" in future reporting. NBC fires the entire staff and crew of The Office.

Nov. 13-David Letterman announces he will pay all WorldWide Pants employees on The Late Show and The Late Late Show out of his own pocket through the rest of the year, even though production has shut down.

Nov. 14-A poll conducted by Pepperdyne University shows that 69% of the public supports the writers. Support for the AMPTP comes in at 4%. A similar poll by SurveyUSA shows writer support at 63%.

Nov. 15-Singer Garth Brooks cancels a scheduled appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in support of the strike. Production shuts down on The Bionic Woman, one of several shows kept on the air despite sagging ratings.

Nov. 16-Both sides announce that they will resume negotiations after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This same day, production is pushed indefinitely on Ron Howard's Angels & Demons (a prequel to The DaVinci Code) due to script issues. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is on picket lines.

Monday, Nov. 19-Several media buyers (the folks who buy advertising time from television networks) announce the possibility of asking for refunds or renegotiations if the strike continues into the next month and affects the second financial quarter. On this same day, CBS news writers vote to authorize a strike, although one is not called. Production is also pushed indefinitely on Johnny Depp's passion project Shantaram, with a screenplay by Eric Roth, and on the Weinstein Company's Nine, being adapted by Michael Tolkin. Both films claim unresolved script issues as the reason for the delay.

Nov. 20-The WGA stages a march down Hollywood Blvd., starting at Ivar and ending at the legendary Chinese Theatre. Singer Alicia Keys performs at the start of the rally. The screenwriters are joined again by actors and Teamsters, along with members of the Service Employees International Union and the California Nurses Association. Estimates again put attendance at over 4,000.

Nov. 21-Picketing ends for the long holiday weekend. Brad Pitt bows out of Universal's State of Play, claiming the script by Matthew Michael Carnahan is not ready to shoot. Carnahan is unavailable for rewrites because of the strike.

Nov. 22-Thanksgiving Day. The first of the "Speechless" videos appears on the web, a series of public service announcements conceived by director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl) and screenwriter Alan Sereboff (Snowblind), hoping to show the public the vital importance of writers in the creative filmmaking process.

Monday, Nov. 26-Strike talks finally resume under a media blackout. On this same day, NBC announces a deal with Netflix to offer episodes of hit shows like 30 Rock, The Office, and Friday Night Lights the day after they air via the "Watch Now" online service.

Nov. 27-Late-late night talk show host Carson Daly crosses picket lines and returns to work despite harsh criticism from the WGA and supporters. He claims he has supported the strike for three weeks and now must support his staff.

Nov. 28-Democrats cancel a televised presidential debate on CBS, scheduled for December 10th, when the candidates announce they will not cross possible picket lines. At the negotiating table, the WGA presents their latest offer for a contract, complete with an economic breakdown of what it would cost on a per-studio basis.

Nov. 29-Conan O'Brien announces he is paying his staff members out of his own pocket, even though production on Late Night has been shut down. After three days of pushing their pre-strike deal and conditions, the AMPTP finally presents a new set of offers, which the WGA refers to as "a massive rollback."

Nov. 30-The Broadway strike ends after less than three weeks. Theatrical producers stress that the important matter was always reaching a mutually agreeable compromise and getting the shows up and running again as quickly as possible.

Monday, Dec. 3-Twentieth Century Fox prepares to close a deal that will make its films available on iTunes, one of the main conditions being that Apple must raise prices. On this same day, the last new episode of Heroes airs on television with a somewhat truncated ending written before the strike by creator Tim Kring so fans could have some closure. During commercials, as always, NBC urges fans to watch whole episodes online at the network website.

Dec. 4-The summer blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is released on DVD. If it does as well as Dead Man's Chest (which had almost $5 million in sales its first day on the shelves), long-time Pirates scribes Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio can expect a little less than $6,700 in writing residuals under the current system.

With the holidays closing in fast, it can only be expected that both sides will be even more active in the month to come. And yet, Creative Screenwriting still hopes there will be no need for a second recap at the start of next month.

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