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The Writers Guild of America, East applauds the co-sponsors of the expanded Digital Content NewFronts (DCNF), which will be presented in New York from April 19 to May 3.
Modeled on the traditional television industry “up fronts,” the DCNFs offer digital-content creators and distributors the opportunity to market their work and their services to online advertisers. (DCNF co-sponsors include Hulu, AOL, Microsoft Advertising, Digitas, Yahoo! and Google/YouTube.)
“The Digital Content NewFronts demonstrate the value of made-for-digital programs. Brands and other advertisers are smart to catch the wave and expand their presence in the digital world,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “The best way for content distributors, brands and advertisers to attract audiences is to present compelling stories, well-told. That is what Writers Guild members do best.”
The WGAE and its members are active participants in digital-media content creation. Since 2010, the union has offered to its members a comprehensive training program on all aspects of digital media — including how to create webisodes, online news production and distribution, software skills, social media promotion, transmedia production, legal issues, digital storytelling, the economics of new media and branded content.
WGAE staff and members attend and present at conferences and panel discussions, and the Guild has signed collective bargaining agreements with approximately 100 companies that create digital content. The union has a large and active caucus of digital-media writers and writer/producers.
“We know that the business and creative models in digital media are still being formed,” said Peterson. “Our goal is to ensure that writers and other creators are at the table from the beginning, as the important decisions are made and as money begins to flow into this space. We think our members are uniquely qualified to enable distributors and sponsors to reach and build audiences.”
Yesterday was a triumph of an opening day.
Our opponents, WABC, lived up to their motto, getting Eyewitness News coverage of a breaking event — their own loss.
After opening an early 3-0 lead, we traded runs with WABC. Then they surged in the fourth to tie it up at 4-4. After our tentative catch-up-run, they tied it again in the top of the sixth—until we ran away with 5 more runs in the bottom of the sixth, then shut them out completely in the final inning. At no point were they in the lead.
That means we now have an unprecedented 1.000 win percentage, statistically speaking. Only four teams in the MLB currently have that strong a record right now: Tampa Bay, Detroit, the Mets, and Arizona. Technically, we’re doing better than the Yankees.
The only thing that broke more than the news…was their spirits.
It’s hard to single out individual standouts in such a mega-solid all-around game. Our defense simply didn’t make very many mistakes. And our offense functioned exactly as it has to in this game—a solid stream of singles, including an absurd five in a row(!) at the bottom of the sixth. Dave, seeking vengeance, had an incredible 3 RBIs. Erik had a basically flawless game at short. Sam was under the ball for a crucial bomb to left, Alan got right back into the thick of it, Marcia was strong at home, Mimi experienced our outfield for the first time, Julie had a critical RBI, and Zach, Jo, and Susie got on base pretty much every time. Doug’s superb pitching found the pocket repeatedly; could this be the year that we finally get on whimsically capricious ump Mike’s good side? Probably not.
They had an Eye in the Sky… to witness their failure.
A core group got in some good BP afterward, then retired to Malachy’s for the traditional undoing of whatever antiatherosclerotic benefits we incurred from the bit of exercise we’d accidentally engaged in during the game.
Their Doppler 4000 detected gloom… with a 100% chance of defeat.
A special welcome to first-timers David, Clayton, John, Mimi, Chris, Nurit, and Jonna (who’s not actually new, but may be new to many). If I forgot you, forgive me, but there were many newcomers. Welcome or welcome back, one and all.
They delivered traffic and weather together. But their traffic (on the base paths) was exceedingly light, and their weather was precipitous…ly bad.
Some were sorely missed, but new blood is here to fill in the gaps. Not a shabby way to kick off the year, folks.
Dear Sir or Madame:
Please consider me for the bathroom attendant internship. My experience in the entertainment industry provides a solid foundation to serve in lavatory services, as I’ve cleaned up, been handed, and massaged a boatload of crap. Like my first boss, an established producer, who couldn’t afford to pay or give me credit for penning what spun off into a blockbuster that’s now a franchise, complete with a book series, luggage collection, and Ben and Jerry’s flavor called (Ice) Scream. That said, he did compliment me on my touch-typing and vocal chords. See how I bragged about doing the bare minimum and then played it off as if it was a skill? Another tool I picked up in Hollywood!
On a practical level, my skills as a writer will cross over to attending bathrooms. For starters, I can sit stationary without sunlight, exercise, or human contact for hours. I am used to being ignored. I don’t expect tips to be worth much, although I remain grateful to my agent who has taught me, by example, how to sleep with one’s eyes open. Moreover, I know not to take things personally, like when a fellow staff writer accidentally flushed my script down the toilet. What’s black and white and wet all over? My baby floating in a basin.
In writing this cover letter, I have come to realize that being a screenwriter is my passion, commonly known to civilians as delusion. Since the I.R.S. has recommended I explore alternative income streams, I can intern for you. I’d greatly appreciate it if everyone at The Gentlemen’s Club refers to the bathroom as my office, and not just as a euphemism. Also, in lieu of a stipend for public transportation, could you reimburse me for printer cartridges? Lastly, once my spec is bought, made, and shown to audiences—who will no doubt declare it an instant classic—I promise to thank you in my Oscar awards speech.
Thank you for your consideration.
Is a WGA Award a true predictor of Oscar gold? That was certainly the case this year, as both the WGA and AMPAS chose The Descendants and Midnight in Paris as respective winners in their Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay categories. (This year’s only noticeable difference, it turns out, was but one of presentation: at the Writers Guild Awards, Letty Aronson, producer of Midnight in Paris and Woody Allen’s sister, was allowed onstage to accept Allen’s statuette.) But pomp and circumstance aside, The Descendants’ and Midnight in Paris’ 2012 WGA-Oscar “doubles” illustrate a growing convergence in awards-season decisions between WGA and the Academy.
Indeed, 2012 marked the sixth time in the last eight years that both WGA and the Academy opted to honor the same writers for Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplays.
With two exceptions–in 2011, when the Academy chose The King’s Speech over WGA Award-winner Inception for Best Original Screenplay; and in 2010, when the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Precious after the WGA Award had gone to Up in the Air—recent history of the two Best Screenplay awards has been noteworthy for Guild-Oscar synergy. From 2005 to 2009, the WGA and Academy agreed on their Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay winners every year.
Before the beginning of that streak, however, the WGA and the Academy had demonstrated across-the-board agreement only five times since 1985, the year WGA adopted its current two-fold “Best Adapted” and “Best Original” categorizations.
While both the WGA and Academy seek to honor the finest in screenwriting in a given year, the differing imperatives of the two organizations can explain incongruities in their choices of winners. The Writers Guild of America is, of course, a labor union whose prime directive is the representation of the rights of screenwriters in the workplace. To that end, then, only films produced under the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America (or an affiliate Guild) are eligible for consideration for WGA Awards. The Academy does not consider the terms and conditions under which nominee films were created.
The recent harmony among WGA and Oscar-winners, then, is heartening. By awarding Oscars to screenplays that have already met the WGA’s stricter eligibility requirements, the Academy is, in effect, tacitly validating the Guild’s mission of honoring both great art and the artists who labor to create it.
“Our goal is not to provide spin for the Oscars,” says Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, “but to give writers the opportunity to honor other writers. We believe writers should be paid decently, and should receive the benefits negotiated by the Guild or by our sister guilds abroad. The Academy doesn’t require that writers be treated well, and sometimes non-Guild films are nominated for writing Oscars. But that is increasingly rare.”
More than 175 members of the WGAE in the “staff” (that is, news) category answered a Guild questionnaire about trends in broadcast news. We want to engage in a conversation with Guild members about the future, how it will affect members and what the union should be doing about it.
Although most members who answered the questionnaire believe their employers will remain in the business for quite some time, most also think audiences for broadcast news will shrink, and that more and more material will be distributed on the Internet, including material that won’t be broadcast via TV or radio at all. More than two-thirds of the respondents said their employers will assign more work to people who work solely on the Internet. About 40% said their employers had assigned them digital media work. More than 60% reported increased workloads in general, and the same number think their jobs are less secure now than they were five years ago. When asked if they would advise a young person to pursue a career in broadcast news, less than 40% answered “yes”.
To understand what members think about where the Guild should focus its efforts and resources, we asked them to rank six options. The number one choice, by a significant margin: Enhance members’ skills. This won the most number-one rankings from respondents and was at the top in other measures, as well (e.g., adding together number-one and number-two rankings, and adding together the top three). Two other options also ranked high: encouraging the companies to broaden the work performed by members, and protecting the percentage of Guild-represented employees in each shop. We won provisions which protect the percentage of Guild representation for the first time in the 2010 negotiations, covering local station operations at CBS and ABC.
The two top-rated action items — enhancing members’ skills and encouraging the companies to broaden members’ work — are in a sense two sides of one coin. They seem to reflect that, as the technology and economics of news are transformed, the duties to be performed are also changing. The ratings suggest that members believe the best way for them, and thus the Guild, to maintain their key positions in the industry is to adapt to these changes by learning new skills and taking on new tasks. And this is borne out by members’ advice for young people contemplating careers in news. Some examples: “A newsperson needs to be well informed and trained in all media: i.e.: internet, social media, as well as broadcast and computer skills — and for God’s sake — spelling, grammar and punctuation.” And “facility with internet friendly formats, multi-media skills, entrepreneurship, self-motivation and an understanding that the news business does not pay much but is worth it.” Of course, members also stressed the fundamentals: “I would tell them to work on their writing — the person who can write and write well usually does the best in this business.” And, “Be a story teller.”
Questionnaire respondents wrote about the effect of the Internet on the news business: “I wish the Guild would understand that there is no such thing as ‘broadcast news’ anymore. Shows may go on at a certain time every day, but when has it really broken real, up-to-the minute news that you didn’t already know?” And, “I think the importance of network television in the traditional sense will continue to decrease over the next few years. There will continue to be growth in the online sector of all news products.” And, perhaps more dramatically: “Broadcast news is dead–the networks just haven’t realized it yet. Everything is shifting to the internet and WGA members need to be skilled in content creation for the net.”
This, too, suggests that broadening the work done by Guild members – particularly online and other digital news work – will be important to members’ long-term prospects. It also suggests, as a corollary, that organizing new members working primarily on employers’ web sites could also be important to maintaining the Guild’s place in the news industry.
The recent passing of radio great Norman Corwin led dramatist and television writer Jerome Coopersmith, a Jablow Award–winner and former Writers Guild of America, East, council member, to contribute this appreciation of Corwin’s career.
We studied him when I was in college, and we performed his radio plays as best we could in classrooms and on the college radio station. We lifted them from a collection called “13 By Corwin.” It was the best possible source to pirate from. Corwin was a giant in radio writing.
When I learned of his death in October last year at the age of 101, all I could think of saying was, “I hope you find Pootzy.” It was a reference to “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” his radio play about a little boy whose dog has died, and who sets out on an interstellar journey to find the pet. Is Pootzy in Dog Heaven or — God forbid — in Curgatory? The boy visits those places and meets such characters as Father Time and Mother Nature, getting from each of them some clues as to where Pootzy might be, until — hold onto your hat — until — did you think I would tell you the ending and rob you of that beautiful surprise? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
If you do, you’ll have caught the magic of Corwin. You’re not alone. His visions could easily be conveyed to anyone who reads or listens to his work — any child, any grownup, any President of the United States. When we entered World War II, when much of the world was engulfed in darkness, President Roosevelt proclaimed as our credo, “We Hold These Truths,” the masterful radio play by Corwin that celebrates our Bill of Rights. With Roosevelt’s approval, it was broadcast over four networks to an audience that was half of America’s population. And when the war ended, Corwin’s epic “On A Note of Triumph” was broadcast. It showed us again the kind of person he was. No “hip-hip-hooray, we won!” was heard, but rather a stirring prayer for a future of peace among all of mankind.
A grateful nation responded with a One World Award, two Peabody Medals, an Oscar® Nomination, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an unofficial title: Poet Laureate of the American Airwaves. But I like to think that Norman Corwin would have been warmed by a greater satisfaction — that of seeing the readers of this blog rushing out to their libraries… to find out what happened to Pootzy.
1. You possess a laptop, New Balance sneakers and a tendency towards self-delusion.
2. You feel you have too much control over your life as it is.
3. In Hollywood, no one will ever wonder if you’ve had work done.
4. If you went to Harvard, you’ll easily score a plum TV writing gig. Oh wait—you would’ve scored a plum job anyway.
5. Fastest way to convert your 120-page diatribe about snakes on a plane into cash.
6. You’ll have plenty of downtime to play Words With Friends.
7. If you’ve seen the Hallmark Hall of Famer Riding the Bus with My Sister, you must have thought, “I can do that! I can write that poorly.”
8. In entertainment, you’ll be considered an intellectual.
9. You’re cool waiting 43 years to cash a pay check, because that’s about how long it takes Disney to deliver it.
10. It’s your best chance to touch Halle Berry (at least your words might touch her).
The French philosopher René Descartes is credited for whittling down what it means to be human to its barest essential: the ability to think. Word on the path was that Descartes felt more proud of discovering how much better potatoes taste fried than boiled. But centuries later the frog remains best known for penning the definitive catch phrase, “I think, therefore I am.”
There were, however, those who wondered if this “genius” had simply started a sentence and never finished it. Maybe they figured he’s a philosopher, so he’s more of an ideas guy. Or thought they could come up with better ending to: “I think, therefore I am… (INSERT phrase here).” These folks became writers.
Some of these writers felt particularly inspired and determined to come up with a decent ending. These visionaries believed they could also create original beginnings and middles. They were identified by their peers and, however insufferably, by themselves as authors. Much to the chagrin of Descartes, Parisian authors were particularly grating and referred to themselves as “auteurs”. They also referred to themselves in the third person.
Another faction of writers wanted to do as little work as possible. They gained footing under Louis XIV’s reign, starting with the King himself. Apparently, a scullery maid called her entitled boss a “son of a chien” and the prick thought she’d nicknamed him the “sun” king. He then ordered that “sun king” be monogrammed on every towel and tunic. He even gave them as gifts to his servants, which, of course, no one could then re-gift. Louis XIV decided this was a hilarious turn of phrase, and once this baboon called himself a writer, well, everyone and their mother followed suit.
Still, these writers, hacks, and auteurs had more in common with one another than with their fellow countrymen, who assumed all there was to life was churning butter and, occasionally, taking in a sword-swallowing show. Moreover, outsiders saw writers as one monolithic group who all “looked the same.” This was, in fairness, not a racial slur, as writers generally lack muscle mass. Writers were their own breed. They started to dress alike. Even female writers sprouted facial hair and wore Old Balance sneakers.
As with other minorities, they were often shunned. Like those who had forgone traditional fields like soil tilling, they paid the price. Parchment didn’t come cheap. If a writer landed a coveted staff writing position with a Lord, his highness could be cheap. Rumor has it that the Kings were almost as bad as Arianna Huffington when it came to paying their scribes. Fun fact, Martin Luther was one of the first writers to strike!
So writers started to band together. They formed unions, shared office spaces, and, for better or worse, started teaching courses on the art and craft of writing to aspiring writers. Sure, there were debates about the merit of this one’s declaration and that one’s fable, but by and large writers knew not to judge a scroll by it cover. Like they had any control over marketing experts back then either!
Instead, they knew that bottom line, or the only one a writer really needs, then as now, is that, “I write, therefore I am.”
When I pitch studio execs whose egos are inverse proportion to what they contribute to society, I try not to imagine them naked. (It would be more upsetting if I found myself attracted to them.) That said, I do wonder what it’s like to have everyone and your mother incessantly pitch you. What is the most absurd pitch? I imagine it goes something like this, and it’s probably already been being made……
* * * * *
Dear Mr. Rudin,
Congratulations on FISTULA: THE MUSICAL! It was so generous of you to fly that Sudanese woman in for the Broadway premiere. (Though crass of her lawyer to ask you to pay for tailoring her kaftan to fit a colostomy bag.)
So I wanted to follow up about WOMB BOY! My 3-D animated thrillerdy about a dude trapped in his mom’s womb. It’s a cross between THE CURIOUS CASE of BENJAMIN BUTTON and the real life story of Terry Schiavo.
When we meet WOMB BOY, he’s an All-American every dude, who happens to have never left his mother’s womb. (His mother just thought she was, like most Americans, obese). At first, WOMB BOY makes do. He enjoys free rent and meals, leeches off his mom’s wireless, and works out on the zip line, aka the umbilical chord. That is, until his mother decides to get her tummy tucked.
Enter the evil Dr. Heimlich, who sucks out her innards, including Womb Boy’s main source of protein: placenta. It’s during this invasive surgery that Womb Boy overhears Dr. Heimlich reveal how he then sells placenta on the black market to hair care companies. Womb Boy isn’t okay with Dr. Heimlich robbing innocent women and children of their prized placentas. But in salvaging his mother’s placenta, Womb Boy must cut the umbilical chord and come out of the womb. It’s not an easy journey, even for a super hero.
Anyway, I sent WOMB BOY to your assistant’s assistant! Thank you, again, for your consideration.
Otherwise, I’ll see you at Grandma’s for Hanukkah.
The idea was to integrate my Big Media work life—executive producing television series—with my Hudson Valley domestic life. I’d base my next show here, run it from home in Ghent, making use of all the local places and people I’d come to know over two decades as a weekender. I’d score financing in Hollywood, and bring the money and the production back home. CSI:Hudson.
“Hudson?” the studio exec said. “Where in New York is that?”
“Upstate,” I told him.
“Like Buffalo?” He knew Buffalo, because a bunch of writer-producers, like David Milch, come from Buffalo.
“South of Albany,” I said.
“Lots of snow,” he said.
“In the winter.”
“My son goes to boarding school up there somewhere.”
“Which school?” I asked.
He hit the intercom. “Call my wife. Find out where Buffalo goes to school.”
“Your son’s name is Buffalo?”
“Like Mailer’s kid,” he said. “Norman Mailer. The writer.”
“I know his work.”
“Hell of a writer.” He hit the intercom again.
“Put a call through to Norman Mailer, will you, Hon?”
“He’s dead,” I explained. He blinked. “I’m pretty sure.”
“That fucks that idea,” he said.
“NAKED AND THE DEAD, right. War series. Perfect if we go into Libya in a big way. Three theaters. They call wars theaters, you know that? Cool, huh? Everything’s show business. And just the title. You got naked. You got dead. Sex and violence. Who can go wrong with that? You sure he’s dead?”
He hit the intercom again. “NAKED AND THE DEAD,” he told his assistant. “See if the rights are available. Shoot L.A. for… Second World War, right? We build bars, whorehouses, backstreets, Paris, London, whole nine in a pocket, dark interiors.”
“THE PACIFIC,” I said.
“Shit. That’s easy. We’re on the Pacific.”
“My series,” I said.
“I love it. Small town. Big city cop retires, goes back home, small town upstate, runs their diddly-squat police force… We’re talking like a real close gene pool. Incest. Go to the county fair, everyone looks like they’re wearing the same mask. Lots of drugs behind the abandoned WalMart. High School date rape. Underage hookers. Meth labs in the woods. Everybody’s got at least three guns. Pit bulls. Dog Fights. Everyone hates the rich New Yorkers with their second fuckin’ homes. We get in bias crime. Muslim family runs the local 7-11. Son in rebellion, daughter, no way she’s getting the clitorectomy. Family strife, old fashioned kitchen sink drama. We go for Emmys. New York actors, trained actors. No pretty boys. Sexy yes, but soot-smudged faces, authenticity. No bullshit. I love it.”
“I can have a draft of the pilot in six weeks,” I said.
“You’re the man.”
“I’ll let my agent know.”
“Tell him not to rape me. I love this project too much.”
I stood up. “There’s an old factory in town,” I said. “Perfect soundstage. On 100 Centre Street, we built a production facility in a month for a million. Hudson’s cheaper than Queens. Most of the New York City crew comes out of Nyack. They just drive an hour north, instead of an hour south. Easier commute. So many actors in Columbia County, and south, Bedford, Katonah. We could probably use locals for half the cast. The rest of the cast—who wouldn’t want to spend a season in the area?”
I put out my hand, which the exec grabbed and squeezed. “I wish every deal was this easy, “
“Me too,” I said.
I was at the door when he said, “You know…” I turned around.
“I got to level with you. You know me. No bullshit, right?”
“You got your New York City cop, right?”
“Get some hard-body-going-nowhere in features, thirty-something, right?”
“Got shot on the job. Disability. Retired early, good pension.”
“But instead of upstate New York, he retires to Venice.” I looked at him.
“Venice Beach,” the exec said.
“Come on, guy, you film in upstate New York, all that cold, half the year the gals are bundled up in cable knits, parkas, you don’t see their titties…”
I wrote a novel instead.
DAVID BLACK is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter. For television, he has written episodes of HILL STREET BLUES, MIAMI VICE, LAW & ORDER and CSI: MIAMI, among others. His most recent book, THE EXTINCTION EVENT, was just published in paperback.