December 19, 2007

The Writers' Strike: Internet Impacts Above and Below the Line

Greetings. It's true enough that Hollywood permeates everywhere here in L.A. these days. That goes for everything from major productions in the walled studio complexes (which have always struck me as something like military bases both inside and out), to the porn producer who rents out his home for "adult entertainment" shoots two doors down from my house here in the West San Fernando "Porn Production Capital of the World" Valley.

The red doorknob tags that warn nearby residents of imminent location filming are pretty much ubiquitous, as are the yellow signs replete with arrows and often odd names (which all must seem fairly mysterious to visitors) that pop up frequently on telephone poles pointing the way to shoots for talent and crews.

So the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike that began November 5th isn't just an academic issue here in town. You're likely to run into striking writers in guild t-shirts at the supermarket, and even more likely to stumble across "below the line" workers (all manner of "behind the camera" staff and crew) who are being drastically affected -- everywhere you go.

While it's true that some industry writers are very highly paid, it's also a fact that many earn what can only be considered to be relatively modest incomes by most any standard, and that's when they have work. Below the line, keeping the rent paid is even more problematic.

The reason I bring this all up is that the Internet is the front and center cause for all of this upheaval. By and large, the strike is about new media -- the concerns of the WGA that entertainment industry contracts are written in a way that largely lock them out of Internet-related income streams in a manner reminiscent of the lopsided allocations of DVD proceeds.

As conventional media slowly fades and "new media" moves in to take its place, the creative element in Hollywood sees itself being shafted by the same entrenched corporate entertainment forces that we techies complain about so much in relation to DMCA abuses and the like. The technologies we're creating are right in the middle of all this, and affecting a great many real lives in this respect -- both writers and non-writers -- in complex ways.

That's not to say there aren't two sides to the story. A counter-argument is that the income streams from new media are relatively tiny at this point, and that's true.

But the history of Hollywood throughout its entire existence has been a parade of creative "trickle down" accounting, and the WGA is understandably trying to avoid having its members burned in the long term as major technology realignments are changing the entertainment industry landscape.

So the next time you see a story about the strike, please remember that it isn't all about the super rich in the Malibu Colony, but also about a lot of ordinary folks who are just as much prisoners of the system as the rest of us, and that our technologies are in many ways -- as usual -- the name of the game.


Posted by Lauren at December 19, 2007 03:26 PM | Permalink
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