Sixty-five years ago this month, an iconic horror movie made a star out of Steve McQueen and showed disappointingly little of its titular character.
That movie, The Blob, involves a goo that crashes down to Earth, and McQueen as a tough teen who tries to warn others of the encroaching sentient slime. (And it features plenty of outdated gender problems, like teen girls who don’t speak unless they’re talking about a puppy or their baby brother, because women are only useful for their maternal instincts.)
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On Thursday, short of a surprising announcement, the Writers Guild of America’s strike will reach its 100th day. That’s over three months that screenwriters have spent picketing the major studios for fair pay, improved working conditions, regulations on use of artificial intelligence (AI), and more.
The writer’s strike, combined with the SAG-AFTRA actors strike, has brought the vast majority of TV and film projects to a halt. “Who cares?” I hear some of you curmudgeonly readers saying. “I don’t need TV and movies. I’ve got books.” Actually, there’s more at stake in this strike than when fall TV shows will return. Below is a guide to the strike for book lovers, including why it might impact publishing and authors, and information on how to support the striking writers.
The Basics of the WGA Strike
After weeks of unfruitful negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on the Minimum Basic Agreement for writers, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) declared a strike on May 2, 2023. WGA members and non-members are instructed to cease any and all writing projects with member studios of the AMPTP, including powerhouse producers like Sony, Universal, Paramount, Disney, and Warner Bros., as well as any other studios that participate in the Minimum Basic Agreement.
As the strike approaches the 100-day mark, no clear progress has been made on finding agreeable terms. Representatives of the WGA negotiating committee met with AMPTP president Carol Lombardini on Friday, August 4, in a confidential sidebar to discuss resuming negotiations. Before the meeting even occurred, however, the WGA sent a message to its members about the AMPTP’s “calculated misinformation” about the meeting.
In 1945, barely two years into Raymond Chandler’s career as a screenwriter, the man whose hard-boiled fiction did much to make film noir into an art form had already wearied of the town and its treatment of writers.“Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made,” he wrote in an acerbic essay published in the Atlantic.
In barbed zinger after zinger, the man who gave us private investigator Philip Marlowe described Hollywood as a cauldron of “egos,” “credit stealing” and “self-promotion” where scribes were ruthlessly neglected, marginalized and stripped of respect; toiling at the mercy of producers, some of whom, he wrote, had “the artistic integrity of slot machines and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur.”
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June 3, 20235:37 PM ET, Heard on All Things Considered Below is the audio file, transcript on article page.
ERIC DEGGANS, HOST: Looking at media coverage of Hollywood, especially in recent years, it seems obvious – show business has a problem with behind-the-scenes abuse and harassment. But this week, Maureen Ryan, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair and longtime critic and journalist, surprised TV fans by revealing in the magazine that a classic show beloved for its diverse cast and creativity was actually steeped in incidents of racism, sexism and bullying behavior behind the scenes.
That show was “Lost,” centered on the surreal experiences of a group of people stranded on an island after a plane crash, which won Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Awards during its six-season run on ABC in the mid-2000s. But according to writers and actors who spoke to Ryan behind the scenes, showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof created an atmosphere where racism and bullying were tolerated and encouraged on the set.
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s beloved android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) features prominently in some of Star Trek’s most enduring episodes. Introduced in TNG’s first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” Data was an advanced artificial intelligence who longed to become more human.
Data was incredibly intelligent and physically powerful, but he struggled to comprehend human concepts like humor and was limited in his ability to process and express emotion. Spiner’s understated performance could somehow evoke laughs and tears in equal measures, easily one of the most impressive acting jobs in Star Trek history.
By Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3, the show’s successful format had been established, with each episode generally focusing on one member of the ensemble cast. With the exception of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Data tended to get the most spotlight episodes, as the show’s writers and producers honed in on Spiner’s magnetic performance early in the show’s run.
Data episodes ran the gamut, from two-part Borg epics to simpler stories where he tries to learn how to dance. Data is one of Star Trek’s most enduring icons, with his empathy and drive to better himself evoking the best aspects of the science fiction institution.
When you’re writing a story about an issue that affects a large group of people, whether it’s for a news outlet or a television show, you often pick one person as the anecdotal lead of the tale. That character serves a purpose: to make a specific thesis feel less nebulous and more, dare I say, human.
Right now in Hollywood, there are some 11,500 humans who could be the lead of this particular story. Writers who have spent their careers holed up in writers rooms or coffee shops, figuring out plots and characters and dialogue and stuffing them into 30- or 60-page scripts. But this past week, those same screenwriters have woken up, donned blue T-shirts that say “Writers Guild of America,” grabbed a red-and-black picket sign, and descended on the sidewalks of one of the big Hollywood studios. Then, as gangly palm trees sway nearby and rivers of cars flow along Los Angeles’s concrete canals, these writers have trudged back and forth on the pavements in front of Paramount Studios and CBS and Disney and Netflix—on strike as screenwriters for television shows and movies for the first time in 15 years.