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Archive for January 19th, 2009

I am not by any stretch a writer and most certainly not a screenwriter. And I’m pretty glad I’m not because to be a writer in the US and be eligible to sell your script to any significant production house, you have to join the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA).

Yes, you heard that right, the WGA compels your membership. You have to join, you have to pay your dues and you have to obey their orders when they say you must strike. Membership is automatic and does not depend on your consent; nor is there a way for a writer to resign his membership ever. The closest you can go to resignation is by opting for fi-core status. You continue to pay dues and so on, but you cannot vote and you are not obliged to follow guild rules or obey their orders.

Fi-core members are very few and are despised by the guild; but as John Ridley points out, they get something that cannot be bargained for, freedom. If I were ever to switch careers and start writing (unlikely), that’s certainly the path I’d take. Ideally I’d not belong to the guild at all but as I said, that is impossible.

No, I do not hate unions or deny the power (and occasional necessity) of collective action. I hate coercion. And I will never belong to a coercive institution, even one that fights to improve my financial condition.

All of the above is of course irrelevant to my current life, except that they give me an excuse to post John Ridley’s amazing post during the Writers Guild strike of last year. He went fi-core and was despised by his colleagues. But as I said, I’d have done the same. Here’s the post in full. An excerpt is below:

Since I was conscripted into the Writers Guild of America a decade and a half ago — and membership in the guild is mandatory — I’ve found myself politically opposed to it on any number of issues. Not long after, I wrote an Op-Ed about the woeful lack of diversity in Hollywood and what little the guild was doing to rectify the situation. I got a personal call from then-WGA President Frank Pierson ripping me a new orifice for daring to take my disappointment public. The gist of his argument: If you haven’t anything nice to say about the union, then shut up. But, hey, what did I expect? If you shake the tree, you can’t get upset when the apples fall.

[…] The first rule of Strike Club: Never talk about Strike Club!
That would be fine for an organization whose membership joins voluntarily. But when membership is compulsory, free expression must be accommodated. The obligation of the union is to protect, not crush, the minority view.

In December, I attended the general guild meeting in Santa Monica. Outside the Civic Center, before the meeting, guild members told me that I was not welcome and that if I went inside, I should prepare to be pilloried. During the meeting, one high-profile television writer announced to the membership that anyone who didn’t have anything good to say about the strike should shut up. If I used the adjective “frenzied” to describe the reception the declaration was given, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating.

Did the president or the executive director who sat onstage rise up and announce — even if just for show — that their tent is large enough to accept dissent? That their cause is sufficiently just to withstand criticism? Or did they tacitly support the blood fervor by sitting on their hands? That is, if they weren’t also applauding wildly?

They sat. They let the threat carry the day. I got the message.

After 15 years of being told shut up, sit down and be part of the groupthink, I decided I did not belong in the guild. The guild has a way to option out. I took the option.

[…] I’ve no desire to start a movement, to be the first name on an open petition, or to be the poster child for disgruntled writers. I don’t want to do a money grab and jump on a rewrite of “Pinkville.” Though, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: If I’m going to be trashed anyway, I’m not about to be trashed on the cuff. I am, simply, done.

So, then, this is my interim agreement. You all can have your strike. I’ll take what can’t be bargained for: self-determination.

Update: Apart from the Writer’s Guild, showbusiness also has the Actors Guild, the Director’s guild and so on. All of them employ the same coercive and monopolistic techniques (you are compelled to join the guild if you want to work for any major studio). It gives me pleasure to learn that some prominent movie personalities, notably George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Jon Voight, either have fi-core status or are not even members of their particular guild. In fact, this was the reason that Tarantino — who is one of my favourite directors — was refused permission by the guild to direct an episode of X-files. It is heartening to know that there exist creative people I admire who prefer self-determination to the group-think of the collective.

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