Monday, January 7, 2008

On the Internet, Everyone Knows You're a Hyphenate

Idle hands are the devil's playthings, and writer's hands are no exception. That's why some of them have occupied their time on the Internet, creating short films about the strike, and, in some cases, seeking deals to make Internet content for pay. If this trickle becomes a flood, it could herald a sea change for the industry, as Thom Taylor argues in an LA Times Op-Ed. (Water metaphors are on my mind after the torrential weekend rains here)

But there's an irony that may escaped notice - writers are claiming their digital destiny at the cost of their core focus: they're becoming directors and producers as well. Now, that's not unusual; it seems like everyone's mixing in each other's business today. Apple was a computer company; now they're also a music distributor. Microsoft was a software company; now they're gamers as well. Google was a search company; today they're a video network (by virtue of owning YouTube) and a lot of other things. On an individual level, print reporters now make Internet videos as well, and all sorts of people are bloggers (even attorneys).

Yet, it's a big change for many writers, who are often not managerial or entrepreneurial, unless they're already hyphenates: writer-producers (such as television showrunners) or writer-directors (about 10% of the Writers Guild), for instance. There are even a few writer-actors, such as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck - indeed, the latter's now a triple-hyphenate, as he's now a director as well (Gone Baby Gone).

Still the irony remains: the strike, in part, is about claiming respect, and fair compensation, for writers as writers - but to attain that respect writers may have to do something other than write. It's a sad world that way, or an exciting one, or maybe both.

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on January 7, 2008.


  1. The bigger irony found in writers creating content for the internet is that they are most likely NOT using union crews and talent, at least not at union rates.

    Writers need to be especially careful at this juncture of the Strike, for if they wade too deep into internet production and find that the economics simply aren't feasible, they could find themselves facing a big fat "told you so" from the AMPTP.

    While it's unlikely we'll see the Writers begging for the once-scoffed-at $250 residual, they'll be hard pressed to get much more if they go out and prove the Studios' assertion that there's no real money to be had (at least yet) on the internet.

    They are also toying with full-blown hypocrisy if they offer their crews anything less than full scale wages up front, or significant percentages of "distributors' gross" on the back-end.

    If the Writer-Producers pay everyone fairly and make a decent profit, then they've done well to advance their cause at the negotiating table.

    But if they fail, they stand to further delay a contract and weaken the deal.

  2. Yeah, Letterman got a deal because he's an owner!