During conversations about the screenwriter’s strike, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. The industry is the third largest employer in Los Angeles County with more than 100,000 people making a living off the entertainment industry directly or indirectly.
It contributes nearly $46.8 billion annually to the county’s economy, according to economist Jack Geyser. An important part of that figure are the various award shows that are held in Hollywood each year. Already the WGA refused to give waivers to the Golden Globe and the Academy awards, which contribute millions to the local economy.
But on Tuesday, the WGA did grant a waiver to the NAACP Image awards which will take place Feb. 14 at the Shrine Auditorium. The agreement allows WGA writers to script the show, and means there will be no picketing outside the event.
“The Guild examines each request like this individually and no decision is easy,” said Patric M. Verrone, present of WGA West. “Our ultimate goal is to resolve this strike by achieving a good contract. Because of the historic role the NAACP has played in struggles like ours, we think this decision is appropriate to joint achieve our goals.”
While the numbers generated by productions like the Golden Globes, Oscars and Image awards huge, the typical member of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) is a middle-income resident of Los Angeles, with a slightly higher than county average income. The average actor is a middle-income resident of Los Angeles with the same slightly higher income.
The average person being impacted by this strike is like Chris Jackson, who despite having what he calls a “very understanding landlord” has received several three-day notices, and is hustling to come up with funds to pay rent. He is short because he is not working, and some directors who owe him money for options have not been able to pay because their income has slowed down.
“I’ve been a screenwriter 15 years. I started with journalism in high school and winning an EMMY at KLCS,” explained Jackson, who segued from high school journalism to appearing as a comic on The Jay Leno Show to writing scripts with people like John Singleton.
Among the projects to his credit are the 1997 television drama Crash, the movies Men in Black II, Rush Hour I and II, and The Kings of Comedy.
Jackson estimates he is one of about 100 working African American screenwriters out of 5,000 screenwriters total.
He also estimates that the impact on black Hollywood has been significant. “Films that were about to be greenlit have been pulled, and that’s about 50 projects,” Jackson said.
The screenwriter noted he is also seeing a number of African Americans moving toward alternative ways of distributing their films, particularly using the Internet.
UCLA economist Jerry Nickelsburg said audience members are also looking for alternative viewing sources, and he reports that many of those people will not return to episodic television, when the strike is done.
“In the 1988 strike, about 10 percent of those viewing shows left and never came back,” said Nickelsburg, adding that he expects that percentage to be much higher after this strike, because there are so many more choices today.
What is also different today, said the UCLA business expert, is that nearly half of the shows on air today are unscripted.
D’Angela Proctor Steed, co-owner and founder of Momentum Entertainment and Strange Fruits Films, is also feeling the effects of the strike.
“I think immediately people are just tentative in their choices. Networks and studios are tentative about decisions. (The strike) has brought about a climate of tentativeness. Phones aren’t ringing as much, and vendors are being really aggressive now because they don’t know when their next thing is going to be.”
Steed said she is getting calls from vendors who haven’t contacted her in years and some are offering reduced rates. “They’re going after smaller production companies they may have (previously) abandoned.”
She is also getting calls from studios and networks looking for productions that are “ready, ready”–no rewriting required, and Steed added that if people have top-quality projects with attachments on hand, they may have a small opportunity to get in some doors.
Steed’s company is currently in production on a reality show for the networks, but a feature film project that she has set up with a studio is not seeing any movement. She said her business is about 75 percent reality television and 25 percent feature films.
And like Jackson and Nickelsburg, the production company owner said the very thing the WGA is fighting about–ensuring that writers get a cut of proceeds from the use of their work on the Internet–is becoming a destination of next resort for content providers and consumers.
“The strike is forcing consumers to find entertainment in other ways and other places. . . This is an interesting time in media. It’s never happened this way before. I think in the future the whole nature of entertainment is going to completely change, and the strike is going to force it to change,” Steed said.
“A lot of talent agents and managers are very scared; extremely scared. They are not able to get talent into doors. Normally they would be ramping up for pilot season (now); they would be trying to get talent poised to go out and audition for T.V. pilots.”
The strike has put a halt to that, and Steed said she knows people are really scared about their jobs.
The Writer’s Guild began striking the studios on Nov. 5 and are now nearing their third complete month of picketing. The last strike in 1988 lasted five months and cost the Los Angeles economy millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.