Contract2007 Viewpoint: Pippin Parker

The super of my building

in New York is a very nice guy. I like him a lot. He has an enviable array of

tools. But he's not a plumber. Or a cabinet maker. Or an emergency

orthodontist. These are things you learn the hard way.

Recently, I started

working on a screenplay for a Producer. He's a very nice guy. He's smart. He

has a beautiful collection of vintage pens. But he's not a writer. Unlike my

super, however, he knows his limitations. How he achieved this level of

self-awareness, I have no idea. Probably the same way I learned to resist the

impulse to take the casing off of my computer when there's a problem.

Enthusiasm in place of expertise tends to blow up in your face.

But, in this period of

rapid change in our industry, when job descriptions and media venues are

shifting as rapidly as slabs of sea ice, how do we do determine what a writer

is?

Plumbers are called

plumbers even though they rarely work with lead anymore. Chauffeurs have

retained their occupational name long since they were responsible for keeping

an automobile's steam engine hot. Similarly, the writer's skill is not limited

to the act of committing words to paper (though that still is, technology

notwithstanding, the bitch of it). The writer is, on a more fundamental level,

the person who constructs and produces the narrative.

Which is why we feel so

strongly about covering reality television, animation, and new media. Yes, of

course, there is a reflexive fear that as the forms of entertainment evolve,

jobs are being lost. And the Guild has a moral and financial obligation to

protect our members' employment. But we're not interested in throwing non-Guild

members out of their jobs. We're saying they are already a part of us by virtue

of their skill and experience. They do what we do. We share a level of

expertise.

That animation writers

aren't covered by the Guild is, as I understand it, as much a matter of

tradition as definition. Historically, cartoonists wrote their own stories.

They added the dialogue themselves when sound came along. But continued to

identify themselves as visual artists. And so it has continued, even though

most animation is now scripted by writers, who are responsible for the same

work they would be in any live-action work for hire.

The reality phenomenon

would seem less clear. The protagonists and antagonists are, well, let's call

them "real people." But as even the most casual viewer can tell you, the

success of a reality show is inseparable from its storylines — narratives

which are carefully crafted out of hundreds of hours of raw material. Through

the skill of a story teller (or two, or five), characters are introduced in a

certain setting, they interact with other characters, they face challenges from

within and without. They lie or tell the truth, behave rationally or

irrationally, succeed or fail in a cause and effect world. Every writer is

familiar with the elements. We deal with them every day.

Webisodes, mobisodes,

episodes – same situation. Characters, behavior, drama. The emergence of new

venues and methods of delivering entertainment may open opportunities to new

writers, but they do not devalue the skill involved. It's a skill we're pretty

proud of. And we think it deserves recognition and protection, the same as it

is in the more traditional, old-fashioned, genres and media.

Okay, so I don't actually

have a super. And I'm not working with a pen-collecting Producer. And there is

no screenplay. So I made some stuff up. You know, for the story.

 

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