Hollywood is a bizarre work environment simply because a few people become very rich & famous, while many others eke out livings that make you wonder about why a human would choose that profession. The short-term nature of most projects – ‘tis the rare TV series that lasts ten years, Saturday Night Live is one of the few to be older as a place of employment than Dell – is the antithesis of the academy, where some schools predate the republic. Film reportedly is a director’s medium, television that of a producer’s. The writer’s medium? If you want one, you’d better stick to poetry. And writers in the television & film arts become far less marketable once they advance in years beyond that beloved age demographic of the advertisers’ target audience, which is what – 18 to 34? Why, if you were thinking of getting into the film arts, would you even do so as a writer? It’s not an accident, perhaps, that so many poets who have worked in film have been in front of the camera, from Harry Northrop to Michael Lally. Or morphed into directors as quickly as possible, a la Paul Auster, regardless of how ill-suited they might be to the task.
Most of the screen writers I’ve known came out of theater, worked like dogs for no money for decades & hoped for the rare occasional big payday, meanwhile gradually making a living through script doctoring – basically rendering the bland marginally more intelligible. When it comes to security and benefits, it’s just like adjunct teaching, save for the fact that screen writing is more sporadic, less certain.
Meanwhile the same corporate forces that try to control all media do everything in their power to keep writers (also actors, stage hands, etc.) in roughly the same relationship that the old record companies used to have with blues musicians who could neither read nor write. It would seem that these corporate forces have a bit of a potential windfall from the newer interactive modes of distribution if they can but monetize the web, raking in profits that should, in all fairness, have been the wages of writers. So the writers are out on the picket line & the longer they stay out, the longer it will be before I can see the final season of Battlestar Gallactica next year. But compared to the sacrifices the screen writers & other workers in Hollywood are making, let’s face it, I can wait. And if the screen writers would like to put together a list of companies not to buy from – hello Sony – until this is all settled, I’d be only too happy to oblige.