Friday, November 09, 2007

Which pencil goes down?

Writers can write spec scripts, but they have to be truly spec scripts—outside of any contractual relationship, expressed or implied, with a producer. —WGA spokesman Gregg Mitchell

In the midst of this writers' strike, many writers are still unclear what they can and can't write.

Take this L.A. Times article:
"Surely, we can write a spec, right?" asked Tim Fall, another WGA screenwriter and actor....

A few minutes later, Fall [had] resolved the spec issue, sort of. "My lawyer e-mailed me," he said, holding up his BlackBerry. The verdict, he said, was that writers "are not enjoined" from writing spec scripts, but that it was nonetheless "potentially a gray zone."

Great. Big help.

What are the guidelines in this new war zone? For starters, the WGA has drawn up its own Strike Rules:
  1. Stop writing for all struck companies immediately.
  2. Do not deliver or submit any literary material or any documents to a struck company.
  3. Do not negotiate with a struck company.
  4. Notify struck companies to return your literary material.
  5. Do not discuss future employment, sales or options with a struck company.
  6. Do not negotiate with a struck company to obtain financing for development or production of a project.
  7. Honor all Guild picket lines and do not enter the premises of any struck company.
  8. File with the Guild copies of all unproduced literary material written for a struck company ("script validation program").
  9. Inform the Guild of the name of any writer you have reason to believe is engaged in any strike breaking activity or scab writing.
  10. You have the obligation to picket and/or perform other strike support duties.
  11. Do not attempt to negotiate a settlement of the strike with any struck company.

That sounds to me like WGA writers are still free to write whatever they want as long as it isn't intended to be for pay. You can write a spec screenplay for yourself, but—for the duration of the strike—not with the intent to sell that spec to anyone in particular. Obviously, that's cold comfort to serial TV writers, but feature writers can dig out their wildest script ideas and go crazy. These scripts might get sold one day, but they're not being written to be sold. A hazy difference, perhaps, but an important one. Writers have writing in their veins... telling a writer not to write at all is like telling the sun not to rise.

The WGA also has this to say about non-members:
The Guild does not have the authority to discipline non-members for strike breaking and/or scab writing. However, the Guild can and will bar that writer from future Guild membership. This policy has been strictly enforced in the past and has resulted in convincing many would-be strike breakers to refrain from seriously harming the Guild and its members during a strike. Therefore, it is important for you to report to the Guild the name of any non-member whom you believe has performed any writing services for a struck company and as much information as possible about the non-member's services.

In a union-happy town like L.A., having your WGA membership barred is pretty bad news. Some writers are cavalier about crossing the picket line, which is highly risky, because if the WGA doesn't unconditionally and indefinitely welcome them into the picket line (as wise strikers would do), it's career suicide.

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