This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Where's The 'Fallout' Shelter?

Honestly, I didn’t think that it would happen so quickly—the fallout from the WGA Writer’s Strike, now in its 2nd week.

Granted, I’m not a WGA writer, but here in Hollywood, that’s been a good thing lately. Would I have to surrender my keyboard or hide my favorite fine-point pens? Would I be barred from blogging? That would be a shame.

However, as a talent manager’s assistant, my “bread-and-butter gig,” the effects of writers on the picket lines of both coasts and (now stagehands in New York) has rapidly changed the landscape of my normal, day-to-day work. It’s the unfortunate ‘trickle down effect’ of industry labor strikes, that in effect, will strike both above and below-the-line talent. We’re used to the slow and steady decline of work as the holidays approach, but not the rapid origami-folding of our industry where it hurts most (and at a time when it hurts most.)

The majority of my job as a talent manager’s assistant involves submitting our actor clients for available roles that are released by casting companies, who in turn, receive the go-ahead to release these roles from production companies and overseeing studios.

Within days of the WGA strike, the dregs of the entertainment world had risen to the surface with their projects, which have only gained prominence in the last few days because there’s literally nothing left. A few SAG Features, commercials, and TV shows that are still up-and-running are releasing roles, here and there, maybe…from the stockpiled scripts they have, but it’s becoming increasingly dismal with each passing day. Enough so, that Breakdown Services sent talent managers a memo the other day stating that from December until the end of the strike, they will not be charging current subscribers the usual fee for subscriptions to breakdowns. They feel bad for us, they don’t want to lose all their subscribers for an scarily, unspecified period of time. They know….it’s gonna get worse.

This week, Breakdowns are evaporating quicker than L.A.’s water supply. What’s left behind is a growing ghost town of deferred pay, non-union, copy/credit/meal, student films, reality shows, game shows, webisodes up the yazoo (offering mostly, you got it: no pay), and creepily questionable ultra-low-budget projects that are forced to disclose that yes, they will contain nudity. In turn, actors in those projects will have to question their morals, the ‘tastefulness’ of said nudity, and just how desperate they are in an even more competitive entertainment climate than ever.

It’s the classic, “If…then…,”cause-and-effect premise. If there are no suitable projects (namely scripted, fictional material), I cannot submit our actor clients. If our actors aren’t submitted, they don’t get called in for auditions. If they don’t get called in for auditions, they get nervous and self-conscious.

Not fun for them and not so much fun for the talent manager either, I might add. I’m finding myself with less and less to actual manage and an overall job that’s hanging on by a thread. However, at least I have a job. I know storyboard artists and location scouts and craft services professionals—even gift basket companies whose phones aren’t ringing as much as they should be these days.

I fight for the writers (and the writer in me) in this era of uncharted territories and media galaxies, and of course, I want what’s fair. Yes, writers should get residuals. Yes, they should be paid if content they wrote is streamed online or downloaded by users. No, studio execs should not be able to weasel their way out of payments by saying that streaming video constitutes entirely promotional material.

Writers spin hay into gold, words into dollars…there is a high level of demand for the imaginary worlds they create. Alas, writers should not have to settle for what the studios choose to put in the collection plate.

That said, I also want the picket lines to go away because I know just how many of us in the industry are, and will be, affected by this before it’s all over. We all deserve a happy holiday season.
Copyright © 2007 Kendra Liedle
*Illustration by Unknown Screenwriter/flickr

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