Taking a Moment to Weigh in on the Strike

I've seen the devaluation of the writer.

I've seen it happen as a copywriter. There are sites where a person can pick up a page of web content for a penny. Yes, it's generic and the same content is being sold to 50 or 100 people, but writers in India crank out pages of content on multiple subjects and people buy it for their websites and customize it (or not.) Most of that content gets thrown on pages whose only purpose is to display Google ads, and is never meant to be read - and the quality reflects this.

A step above in pay scale and quality are the college students. Desperate for a little cash and recognition, they write web content on the cheap, cranking out pages for $25 or less - no matter how long it took them to write it. It might even be decent work. It might even be relevant. It's rarely good from the standpoint of a marketer. That is, it might be well-written and interesting, but it doesn't get picked up by the search engines and it doesn't lead to sales. Good copy is not well-written. Good copy is effective.

As a result of the flood of cheap writers available on the internet, I saw the pay scale for professionals drop by nearly 50% over 5 years. And the hostility of those hiring professionals increase by about the same percentage - the feeling that they were being "ripped off" and the expectation for the results to blow them away in order to justify the extra expense.

Copywriters are now largely disposable. Picked up for a little work here and there, their work tinkered with after they hand it over - and then they are blamed for the lack of success in driving sales. They are not, largely, respected as knowledgeable and skilled professionals with a craft, and they are often blamed for failures that are not their fault wile the praise for success usually goes largely to the art department - the creative director and the design team. Sounds a bit like screenwriters.

The Writer's Guild is fighting to ensure that writers don't become a disposable commodity in the movie industry in the near future.

I'm not sure, honestly, that screenwriters have ever had a lot of respect, save the writer-directer auters. I think that producers resent them. A movie needs a writer to begin. (There are exceptions, but they are few.) It's something that many people think they could do themselves "if they had time."

Writers are already brought on board and thrown away with more casualness than any other key component of the filmmaking process. There is, largely, no concept that a writer's vision need be respected, or that it is important to the final product. Vision is a director's business to purvey.

I have a theory that the reason for this is because writers themselves have not demanded respect. We tend to be insecure, solitary, and so desperately happy that someone likes our stuff that we undersell ourselves. Yes, there are professionals who understand their worth, but there is also a vast flood of college students and dreamers who send their work to Hollywood every day. Like the copywriters, this flood of people willing to take the minimum, who may also lack and understanding of the commercial side of the process, devalues the professionals and makes their job harder.

I suppose actors may suffer this, but actors are more visible. Re-cast a role in the middle of a film and it's obvious. Hire a new writer - well, that's invisible, at least it seems to be.

The internet only exacerbates this problem.

Writers are the most invisible part of the process. They are a dime a dozen. They are readily available. And now, in the age of digital filmmaking and online downloads - it's an arena where production companies may feel like they can streamline. They are already scared by the ease with which their work may be illegally downloaded and in fear are trying to divide their profits as little as possible.

But insistence on recognition and fair payment for use of previous work or creation of new work in the "new media," is essential if anyone is going to be able to be a professional writer. Digital downloads and internet broadcasts are going to make up a larger and larger part of all movie and TV profits in the future. As people move away from the theaters with their overpriced popcorn and into their home theaters, as they integrate their home entertainment systems and connect large screen TVs to their computers - there is going to be little distinction between DVDs and downloads, between TV broadcasts and online replays.

What the industry at large fails to recognize is that undervaluing writers is to their own detriment. Talent will seek other avenues of expression. You will be able to get a page of screenwriting for a penny, but it might not actually make any sense. Or for $25, and it might be eloquent and lovely - but noncommercial.

Writers need to insist that they are included, now. Or there will be no way they can ever make a living as screenwriters.

Oh - and in my personal opinion - writers need to be bigger divas, too. As a woman, I've learned that if I allow others to treat me as disposable, as unimportant, then they will. But if I refuse to waste my time on anyone who does not treat me as a star, then more people than you would have ever imagined will recognize me as an outstanding individual worthy of respect. This doesn't mean being a bitch. It does mean being willing to promote yourself, being in the public eye, and never apologizing for your work or allowing others to take credit for your vision. (And yes, it also means not getting in bed with the first person who praises you, but holding out for an offer with a little more quality.)