Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writers Guild revolts !

Those who have read my book will know that it is heavily influenced by an American science fiction television series entitled Babylon 5. This was written and produced by one Michael J Straczynski, who these days is one heavyweight writer. He is apparently working on a new film entitled Changeling, to be directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie. You don't get much more heavyweight than these two. His own website though details a bit of a hoo ha which is going on at the moment Stateside with regard to the Writers Guild - the US equivalent of our Society of Authors.

It seems that their members are going on strike in protest at proposals put forward to stop payment of what are referred to as residuals. These are the small fees which authors are paid each time a film of something that they have written (or other such similar things) is sold or borrowed. It is not a large sum - something like 4 cents - but if you happen to have written a popular film, then this can add up to quite a considerable sum. Unlike public lending rights, there is no maximum payment.

It seems that in America as in Britain there is a popular misconception that writers are rich. In only wish that this were true! In actual fact we are one of the most poorly paid group of people you can imagine. Most of us have to supplement our income with other part time occupations - teaching for example, or in my case as of tomorrow, working in retail. And those who work in publishing think they are badly off for having to do unpaid work experience in order to get their lucky break !

Sure there are some writers who do extremely well - Jeffrey Archer, and JK Rowling - but these are few and far between. At any given point in any one year, around half of all film and TV writers are unemployed. Sometimes this may be because they are not very good, but most often it is because they are between commissions. You have to find a buyer for the movie (or book for that matter) that you have spent six months (or five years) writing - I hasten to add at your own expense. This is the way that publishing works though, whether you write books, films or whatever. You produce or write the product, sell it and only then do you get paid.

A residual then is like an author's royalty. Screen and script writers are paid them each time their work is shown on television. They are how such writers survive between jobs, and only fair when one considers how the network or studio itself makes money from the authors work. If nobody airs your show or re-runs the film or show that you have written, then there is no residual, it is as simple as that. After all, if the network isn't getting paid, then they can't pay you either!

This then is why last week, 90 percent of Guild members voted to down tools and go on strike - and quite rightly so. This though is the tip of the iceberg, for it is about far more than just residuals, but also about the writers right to be acknowledged as the creator of the work. Under the new proposals residuals will not be paid for what are termed as 'new media' which in practise means shows that are broadcast on Internet radio or television, it also means that NO credits will appear in advertising - so the writer loses the right to even be acknowledged. Stuff that for a game of soldiers ! The proposal entirely eliminates the requirement that writing credits appear in advertising and publicity, even if the names of others - such as producers and directors - are included. The Guild response is as follows: For years the MBA has provided that the writer receive parity in advertising and publicity. The Guild will never accept this proposal, which is an insult to writers and demeans their contributions. Hear, hear !

I don't know where this will end then, but like the debacle with Eagle Publishing that I mentioned the other day, it is one to watch, and yet another sign that the tide is turning. Studios and TV networks would be wise to remember, like a certain person at Foyles, that without writers to create these works in the first place, they too would be out of a job. Without us, the people who actually write this stuff, they would have no reason for being ....

On another note, I see from The Bookseller that Waterstones are to close their first ever store in Old Brompton Road, London. It seems that the store was taken on a 25 year lease which is about to expire, taking the 12 staff with it. Every effort though will be made to deploy them elsewhere within the company. I will a note not to ring that branch - last time I tried they would not answer their phone anyway, and so I gave up and moved on to other branches who would.

Fortunately this week they have quite a few of these. In the past week I have worked doubly hard, knowing that my return to work was imminent and I would have the same time to concentrate on this essential activity. This week then I have secured orders from Bromley Glades, Birmingham New Street, Cambridge, Enfield, Chester, Guildford High Street, Gateshead Metro Centre (I am delighted at this one), Gower Street, Greenwich, Ealing, Hastings and Hemel Hempstead Riverside. I have lost count of the total number of shops then which are now stocking me, but with the run up to Christmas, it must be well over 80 by now. This is not bad at all, since it means that before this is over with a bit of luck, I will be stocked in almost a third of their total branches.

The article in this months Writers News should help - I have not seen it yet myself, but hope to get a copy this afternoon. Dinner is calling though, so I better go and see what needs doing in the kitchen - the delightful smell of chopped onions is wafting towards me as I write !

No comments: