Thursday, October 25, 2007

Writers with a ‘Sense of Foreboding’

Tell me about it. Tell any writer about it. If this is what you do for a living:

  1. You are to be pitied.
  2. You know damn well a sense of foreboding is hanging over your head every moment of the day.
    1. Will I have another good idea?
    2. Will I get paid?
    3. Will I eat?
    4. Will I get read?
    5. Will I get produced?
    6. Will my words get edited into a strange approximation of what I actually wrote?
    7. Will the critics rip me up?

Unfortunately, this sense of foreboding is about the WGA/AMPTP negotiations. A couple months ago my money was on 'no strike'. Now, I don't know. I think we're in for some lousy times. Heck, we're already there because most people are assuming that there will, in fact, be a strike; and the town has been in that mode for some time now.

The smart money in this town is betting on a strike-- Damn it! Because it doesn't matter if you're in the union or not, this is shutting down the town for the most part. It messes with the mindset of everyone, large or small.

Basically, I'm anti-union. Yes, the idea of a union is a good one but it's been so abused and I have seen unions screw things up so much, that I have a knee jerk response to them. Maybe it's because I am also a producer. In the case of the WGA, I am also not overly impressed by their abilities; not as a bargaining entity, and certainly not as an ethical business. That goes for all the guilds by the way, not just the WGA.

That disclaimer made: I hate to say it, but this strike, if that's what happens… has to happen. While the AMPTP did take their initial 'rollback' -- "oh, and *uck you" off the table (that was the one where they wanted to end residuals as they now exist), they are standing fast with the main issue, which is residuals for internet downloads etc. Yes there are other things thrown in for confusion, but that's the one this is all about.

And writers need to not bend on it. Everyone talks about how this is the future. Well scribes, I have news for you -- It's already here. My last movie made almost as much money with VOD as with DVD. It's a big secret that is being kept quiet by the Producers at this point. I know—I'm privy to all the business side of my movies. DVD's and other physical media are going the way of the DODO bird. Writers, jump on download residuals now or lose.

So this is why, with a heavy heart and very mixed feelings -- even though I hate unions and even though this is really screwing my projects up, I believe -- The Writers Guild has to stay firm.

Now, with that said, I'll get angry again. Why, why, why, can't these stupid guilds band together? You want to fight the man? Get together! Today, in the same story that mentioned the "sense of forboding", SAG (actors guild for those who don't know) said they wouldn't walk out with the Writers. Yes, they have their own negotiations coming up as do the directors – but why does everyone have to protect their precious hide so much?

Band together, you bastards, and do it right. Remember – United we stand?

To read the full LA TIMES story, click here.


Also, if you're a writer and you're not already aware of this Craig Mazin's blog, shame on you… and get over there now.


Monday, October 08, 2007

But is it art?

Some friends of mine returned from far-away lands. We hadn't seen them for a long time and just had a wonderful evening with them. Unexpected gifts from these far-away lands were an additional delight.

I must explain that these friends have impeccable tastes. But they also have a sense of humor which will sometimes manifest itself as a "comment" about 'taste' and "what is good". They can find charm and meaning in something with no artistic merits whatsoever; absolutely BAD can in itself, be art. Or they can trash what others would consider High-art. They may laud the taco wagon under the overpass or trash the five-star French Restaurant. The same goes for music, art exhibitions, etc. They themselves are serious artists – in many mediums - including culinary.

This may seem strange and excessive introduction, but is a necessary stage-set for the following.

One of the gifts they gave us was this…

At home, Marianne and I studied it, not entirely sure of what it was. Marianne thought it was perhaps a plaque to be hung somewhere - somehow.

I thought it was to be eaten. After all, it would be a horrible piece of 'art' to be hung anywhere. But if it was food, she wondered, why was it glued to the wood? And if it was food, why would it be on a plaque of wood, a piece of a log in fact, in the first place? I argued that the wood was presentation – that could be used as wished afterwards: A tiny cheese cutting block, or kindling on a cold winter night… the possibilities were quite varied. I didn't have an explanation for the glue.

The 'what is it?' was shrink-wrapped and labeled in the language of the far-away land from whence it was brought. Incidentally, I can read, write and speak this far-away language – thereby complicating the matter.

I read the label on the back, which was a list of ingredients. I could make out some of the ingredients: flour, sugar, food dye. Others, I couldn't translate quickly. All of these things were potentially food – or paste for an arts and crafts project. What I could also easily translate was a warning at the end of the ingredients: Not for children under 14. Hmm… dangerous?

The 'what is it?' sat on the kitchen counter for the day.
Later, while Marianne was running errands, I wandered into the kitchen, esoteric discussions of past floating about in my head. Is it art? What is art? Define Art? Cripes that's awful art. My friends have good taste – but they are witty and occasionally troublemakers. It could be a 'comment' about the whole nature of gift giving and trinkets from far away lands. I was in a quandary. Damn.

I pressed on the "pretzel" and the "sausage". They were malleable. The "Mustard" was hard as rock. All were solidly affixed to the scrap of log. This mystery was not revealing itself easily.

After mulling it over for several minutes, turning it this way and that, pressing gently, rereading the labels – wondering if I should hang it up in the kitchen above the spices, I did what any true art critic or meta-art critic or artist or any derivation of the whole tortured business would do.

I ate it.

When Marianne came home I mentioned to her what I had done. She looked at the cross section of the pretzel (and the sausage – I ate a piece of that too).

"I guess we're not hanging it up", she noted. She asked me what it tasted like. I wasn't sure. I had tasted it before, but I couldn't recall if it was when eating dessert at a high-end restaurant or when eating Play-Dough in first grade. Food group or Kitsch Art, there was less of it in either case. So Marianne did what any art critic, meta-critic, or any derivation of the whole tortured business would do.
She cut off a piece and ate it.

You can say this about us: We may not know art when we see it, but we know it when we eat it.

The plaque of pretzels, sausages and mustard was marzipan, of course. Thanks B, E&A. We love it!

Currently there is an exhibition of Cosima Von Bonin artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a multimedia artist; he doesn't hang everything on the walls either. The museum is merely minutes away. We're thinking about going there for lunch.

It does look lovely between the spice racks.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

WGA – Will they, won’t they? And where’s my damn money?

Fall – the weather is beautiful as is to be expected in Southern California. For the moment, I'm listening to Bach, sitting under the pergola with the laptop. A picture perfect moment.

While that sounds like a nice respite, it is in fact, incredibly inconvenient; a moment created because the internet is not working. I'm on a silly deadline to write something (a favor for a friend) that is due within a few days and has not yet been started. I'm expecting to do a few interviews for which information may or may not be awaiting; won't know till the internet comes back. Can't make a phone call on my landline cause it's voip. It's frightening how much I've come to rely on that umbilical cord. I suppose I could go to a local coffee shop with my cell phone and computer -- but that's simply uncivilized.

Onto Real issues that might actually interest someone:

The WGA has just re-elected the same board as before. A couple changes, but not many. I don't really have much thought on that, so I'll keep quiet. However, shortly after the elections, the WGA put a vote to its members – a permission to strike vote. That takes this town one step closer to the mess that always arises from strikes. The arguments for and against the vote are all with merit. Those that want a "YES" say that giving the board the power to initiate a strike will give them leverage; that a NO would show weakness in the face of negotiations with the thugs that are the AMPTP (studios). Those in favor of "NO" argue that the board is a bunch of trigger happy non-writers, not overly concerned with general rank and file. Both sides are right. And in this era of stupid wars wrought by stupid presidents, we don't have to look far to see the consequences of giving people power to wage battle.

At this point in time, everybody – the studios, the Guild – are making crazy demands of each other. Where it ends is anyone's guess at this point. My gut tells me there will not be a strike. How much more than that, I don't know. My feeling is that, given the success of the last strike (not very) and the way television has moved toward 'unscripted' shows, a strike would be a real tough nut for the writers. It's not made any easier by the fact that the studios are entities within multi-conglomerates. A strike against Sony or Warner or the like is not going to kill them. Sony makes computers and a bazillion other things. Warner basically owns the world (my non-working internet is via Time-Warner). Unfortunately, I fear that these days, the studios can weather a strike much more ably than the writers. If it were up to me, I'd try to convince writers, directors and actors to give the finger to the studios and start their own damn studios. Okay, so I'm still a bit of a dreamer.

In other Guild-related news … I got another foreign levies check from the DGA. This surprised me greatly as I expected the first one to be a one-off. It's not as if they are still playing my first feature on German television… are they? More interesting is the fact that that thus far, the WGA has not come close to equaling the amount the DGA has written. The amount apportioned both guilds is supposedly the same – so somewhere, someone isn't doing their job properly. Doing the job properly of course is assuming that one agrees that it is their job in the first place.

Which really, it's not. They just 'volunteered' for the job.

And along the lines of that thought – a director friend of mine, alerted by yours truly to the whole concept of foreign levies, discovered that he is owed "under fifty dollars" in foreign levies by the DGA. However, he was told that they are holding on to this levies money because it's their policy not to write checks to people for amounts of less than fifty bucks.
How very nice.

I love it when someone says "it's our policy…" This guild is holding on to money that doesn't belong to them because they have "a policy?" I wonder how many 'less than fifty dollar amounts' they are holding onto? Actually, I don't wonder – I know. MILLIONS… by their very admisson!
Earning interest.
Which they keep.

Keep in mind, the guild was never authorized by my friend to collect his money. The guild is not responsible for having 'created' his money. It's money that was collected by overseas entities. The guild just took, I mean, collected it. Now they have a policy not to give it to him? What if (and this is more likely than not) his movie never makes another dime? Do they keep the fifty indefinitely?

Hmmm. I could have a policy to beat up people that happen to pass by my house. Doesn't make it legal.

That's show biz, folks.

Oh, and with that, my internet seems to have come back.

I'll try to get a few more blog entries written before I go to Russia. Oh yeah – I'm going to Russia!