This past weekend, Comedy Central presented its second annual comedy awards. It begs the question, do we need another awards show? Probably not. Do we need more comedy in our lives? Heck yeah!
The awards show itself is definitely in a teething period. From the start, it was obvious who the winners were – as best ‘Club Comic,’ Hannibal Burress pointed out – ‘no one else is here from my category’. However, there were less glaring moments of obviousness during the show. Many of the comedians wrote their own intros, some with greater success than others. Will Arnett had the most charming and self-effacing spiel – my favorite introduction of the evening – with his send up of yet another celebrity gift bag. He reached into a Comedy Awards bag and pulled out a carton of KOOL cigarettes (they still make those?), a coupon for ‘Eastern Airlines,’ and an actual live turtle – ‘seems like a lot of responsibility’. Indeed. And so, would I argue for Comedy Central putting on its awards show? It could be great, but it ain’t there yet. Looking on the website for details of writers on the nominated shows for example – none to be found. In this digital age, where people have access to information at their fingertips, points like these are important for all the creatives being nominated, on any show.
The spotlight seemed to shine brightest for the ‘writer/performer’ nominees. There was the ubiquitous Tina Fey, with her team of writers, winning the award for best ‘Comedy Writing – TV’ for the sharply observant and intelligent 30 ROCK. Her elevation of comedy to its most absurd and profoundly funny moments on television, can never be overestimated. Jack Donaghy has to be one of the best characters ever – his proud Republican heart and razor sharp quips, skewered in the more liberal world of the entertainment industry, is priceless.
Louis C.K. took home so many awards all given to him by yet ‘another black man’ (his words, not mine) for Comedy Director, Comedy Special of the Year and Stand-Up Tour. He too writes and performs his own material.
Finally, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo won for their comedy screenplay, BRIDESMAIDS. Accepting their award, they fell to the ground and literally wrestled each other – fancy outfits and all – for sole ownership of the award. The ladies are not afraid to get dirty for comedy.
A delicious extra was a live installment of ‘Angry Obama’ by writer/performers, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of ‘Key and Peele’ fame. Their honest portrayal of the imagined (or some might say, accurate) portrayal of presidential frustrations, is eminently watchable. Jordan Peele does a spot on calm, cool and collected President Obama, while Keegan-Michael Key uses his boundless energy for ‘Angry Luther’ to amply vocalize the insanity of American politics. Interviewing them afterwards, they mentioned doing more ‘Angry Obama’ webisodes for the upcoming election. I’m certain they will have plenty of material.
For these moments alone, it’s worth watching The Comedy Awards on Comedy Central, Sunday May 6 at 9pm EST. Let’s hope next year, more up and coming talent is recognized, and more live animals are given out in the gift bags. Because I could totally see Will Arnett taking home a furry pet tamarin.
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.
Hollywood is awash in blockbusters, huge-budget movies that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars from box offices around the globe. Film production in New York is at record levels, and studios will be rolling out dozens of big sequels, sci-fi adventures, comedies and star vehicles this year. But screenwriters are finding it more difficult than ever to make a living in this business. How could this be?
The major studios are owned by multinational conglomerates that seem stuck in an Old Economy way of thinking: minimize risk and maximize promotion; play it safe with product development and hope the market keeps absorbing what you’re selling. This approach didn’t work so well in the automobile industry, which learned the hard way that innovation and product quality are keys to long-term success. But the movie business keeps consolidating to the perceive security of conformism.
Don’t get me wrong. Audiences tend to be pretty smart, and many recent hits have been intelligent, well-constructed explorations of important cultural and political themes. Or at least they’ve been powerfully entertaining. But it is almost inevitable that the focus on mega-movies squeezes out films that are more intimate, independent, intriguing and innovative.
Many members of the Writers Guild of America, East, do very well in this context. Their genius for crafting stories that move and cohere, for developing characters with depth and appeal, is the foundation upon which big studio productions are built – and producers know it. Unfortunately, other Guild members find it increasingly difficult to work in the current environment. Studios are not spending nearly as much in development, so writers who do not present a sure, bankable thing have fewer opportunities to expand their ideas into complete projects. Financing for independent films has nearly disappeared, and the major studios’ emphasis on reliable box-office returns means that fewer and fewer small, more thoughtful films get from screenplay into production. Thus, opportunities for screenwriters are shrinking.
There was a time when Hollywood put writers on staff, paying them to develop ideas and to craft screenplays in order to feed a growing production machine. Now, virtually every film-writing job is freelance – that is, the screenwriter must pitch an idea to a studio or a producer; or must convince the producer that he or she would bring the just the right vision or chops to a project the studio has already decided to pursue; or must sell himself or herself as the perfect choice to rewrite or tighten up an already-drafted screenplay. And, of course, the screenwriter does not want to seem too demanding or uncooperative because that might make it harder to get hired on future projects. In other words, at each phase of the movie-making process, screenwriters increasingly devote themselves to self-marketing. This creates pressure on writers to offer more work for less pay—or even for no pay at all.
Perhaps classical economic theory would suggest this is a fine thing. And at some level of abstraction it is true that, when the supply of a particular service exceeds the demand, the price will drop. But that is more of an ideological construct than a description of the real world. If we want people to write compelling films that educate and entertain us, they need to be able to earn a decent living doing so; a race to the bottom, economically, would undermine the quality of what we watch. In any event, our research indicates that most of our members who are employed are paid significantly above the minimum rates negotiated by the union, and working members report that their “quotes” have been steady or have increased in recent years. It seems that getting a gig is more difficult than ever, and once you get the gig you have to work harder, but the pay has remained good. So much for classical economics.
People become screenwriters because it is their passion to create compelling films; to do that, they have to get hired (this includes people who bring complete ideas or scripts to the studio). And once they get hired, they want their vision to be realized on-screen – in other words, they want the movie to be made. This makes it very difficult to resist the pressure to write more for less compensation. In my view, as the WGAE grapples with the new realities of the film industry, we need to think about how to address this underlying dynamic. How do we protect members from the pressure to work for free in order to get hired to work for pay, and in order to get their movies made?
It is against Writers Guild rules to write without getting paid – no free writing to get hired, no free rewriting. But I am not sure a successful strategy can be based solely on requiring individual members to risk that they will not get hired, or will not have their work produced. In 2012, we hope to generate a robust conversation among screenwriters to develop better strategies. Our project is to identify other methods of ensuring that people who have devoted themselves to the craft of film-writing can be rewarded for their work and can earn a decent living. Perhaps there is a way to insist that the studios increase development funding, or make resources available for smaller films, or provide steadier employment for more writers. We shall see what some creative thinking can produce.
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.”