Comic Writers Discuss the WGA Strike

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The past few weeks Hollywood has been in turmoil over the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike which started over contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on residual payments for new media. The strike has caused comics readers to wonder if this will have any ripple effects in the work of their favorite writers who also work in the television and film industry.

Brian K. Vaughan, creator of Y: The Last Man and a producer on Lost, responded to a fan question of whether or not more Hollywood writers will turn to comics to get more work during the strike. “Maybe? I know a few creators--and a lot of readers--are sometimes annoyed by carpet-bagging movie/television writers swooping into comics to steal \\\\\\'their\\\\\\' jobs, but film/TV writers have been enormously generous about letting me into their world, and I think we should return the favor. Art is not a competition, and there’s always room for talented creators.”

John Rogers, writer for DC Comics’ Blue Beetle, and co-screenwriter of this summer’s Transformers movie, addresses the good side of being in the Union. “You know what I felt, as a ‘young writer’ when the ‘union albatross’ was slipped around my neck?” Rogers wrote on his blog. “I remember, indeed, my first horrified thought. ‘Wow, a living wage!’, followed immediately by ‘Now I can get my loved ones better health insurance.’

“Years later, as a successful writer,” Rogers continues, “that albatross was the only thing keeping much more powerful, connected humans from taking some of my .3% DVD residual above and beyond what they were already making.”

Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a producer on Medium and Lost, who is currently executive producing the pilot of his comic book creation, The Middleman, wrote about his irritation in seeing episodes he wrote become the top downloads on iTunes. The money the studio gains from these downloads the writers never see.

Though he feels for his fellow writers, Grillo-Marxuach also battles with his duty as an executive producer. “The strike has put me in a difficult position as a producer. Of course, I am about to do all the things I must do: including registering the scripts I have in production or development so that the Writers Guild can monitor for signs of scab activity and preparing to follow the strike rules issued by the guild. Strike rules that not only require me to not generate new material, but which also stipulate that, I cannot render writing services.”

Grillo-Marxuach also says that he cannot be legally penalized by the Guild for performing his duties as executive producer of his pilot. “The Guild would certainly prefer it if the walkout was complete,” he said, “if people like myself struck not only as writers but also as producers, because if the paralyzing effect of the strike is felt swiftly and across the board, the producers might be more motivated to settle quickly.”

This did occur with several show runners walking out during the strike including Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit), Shonda Rhymes (Grey’s Anatomy) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk). What resulted in the show runner walk out also threatened the non-writer jobs, causing a large amount of layoffs for production staff.

Though concessions have been made recently, ABC and the producers of Lost have reached an agreement as webisodes have now hit the Internet, including an episode written by Vaughan, who pointed towards a New York Times article regarding the deal that had been made. “ Lost: Missing Pieces, ” wrote the Times writer, Edward Wyatt, “paid the writers of each short episode approximately $800. For that the studio received the right to run the episodes on Verizon cell-phones for 13 weeks. After that period, repeats of the episodes or their transmissions on other media — like the Internet — would generate residuals for the writers of 1.2 percent to 2 percent of the fee the studio received to license the material.”

Though with what seems like a positive direction towards the strike being over, negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP stopped Thursday night and will not continue until Tuesday. “Among the rumors was the assertion that the AMPTP had a groundbreaking proposal that would make this negotiation a ‘done deal,’ said WGA West President Patric M. Verrone in a statement Thursday evening. “In fact, for the first three days of this week, the companies presented in essence their November 4 package with not an iota of movement on any of the issues that matter to writers.” No creators could be reached to comment on this latest development.

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