War of the Words: Local Writers Affected By Nationwide Strike

From the Daily Freeman, written by Paul Kirby:

KINGSTON – Right off the bat, movie screenwriter Ron Nyswaner wants to make it clear that he's just a working stiff.

Nyswaner says he owns one car, doesn't have a swimming pool and has lived full-time for 19 years in a nice house, but not a mansion, in Hurley.

And he never hangs out with movie stars.

"The bulk of our membership are working people," said Nyswaner, a member of the Writers Guild of America. "Hollywood is a part of Los Angeles and it has a factory-like aspect. You have to turn out a product, and we work hard to turn out the product. … We want to keep our industry in America."

Nyswaner, who wrote the screenplay for the 1993 movie "Philadelphia," starring Tom Hanks, was among a dozen members of the union who gathered Wednesday at the Monkey Joe Roasting Co. coffee shop on Broadway in Midtown Kingston. They were there to talk about themselves and the meaning of their work, and to put a face on a writers' strike that has gripped the entertainment world for five weeks.

The contract dispute between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has shut down production on dozens of television shows and movies.

Last Friday, talks broke down after the alliance refused to bargain any longer unless the union dropped a half-dozen proposals, including the ability to unionize writers on reality shows and animated programs.

Nyswaner and his fellow writers say there are other pressing matters, including those raised by modern technology and the Internet. The writers say they will not compromise on receiving fair residuals from downloaded movies or television shows, and say proposals by the alliance, thus far, have been miserable. At present, the writers get no income from Internet downloads.

Nyswaner also said the union has not gotten what it should have on the sales of videotapes and DVDs. If someone purchases a special edition of "Philadelphia" today for, say, $20, Nyswaner gets 4 cents, he said.

"The message that is being sent is what matters is the bottom line and not taking care of the workers," Nyswaner said. "That is the message this country has been getting for the last decade."

Guild member Casey Kurtti of Stone Ridge said the writers' strike is getting attention and is bringing a broader awareness of the plight of the working class.

"I think there is a realization that unions all over the United States of America are in serious, serious danger," said Kurtti, who has written for television including a 2002 movie, "Two Against Time."

"We have the light right now, we have the attention," Kurtti said. "It is a sexy strike. We have a lot of celebrities. … In the beginning, there was the word. We want to get paid for the word."

Kim Wozencraft, who lives in Accord, said the writers must be able to get their fair share from the Internet downloads. Wozencraft writes novels, including "Rush," which was made into a movie in 1991.

"Anyone with half a brain can see that television and the Internet are going to merge," said Wozencraft, who added that movie moguls are set to "make so much money off the Internet."

Wozencraft, like others, said the writers are the "idea" people. Without ideas and stories, there would be no television or movie industry, she said.

"They are the ones who make you laugh, make you cry, and educate your children," said Jennifer Fuentes of the Hudson Valley Labor Council.

Accord resident Nicole Quinn, who has written for HBO and Showtime, said the writers are not making huge amounts of money to start with.

"I don't make a lot of money," Quinn said. "I live in a barn in Accord. It is not like we are millionaires."

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 (Photos by Joy E. Reed)