Students hit by TV writers’ strike

Danielle Directo

Three months into working as a night runner on the CBS series, “The Big Bang Theory,” second year film student Jacob Murray found himself out of a job when the Writer’s Guild of America began its strike Nov. 5.

With finals week set to soon hit full effect, Murray said the unexpected vacation was “somewhat of a blessing.” After recently moving back in with his parents, being forced to find other means to pay rent was not an issue, but others he knows weren’t so fortunate.

About one month after the strike began, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have yet to reach contract agreements regarding writers’ royalties from new media distribution and DVD sales, leaving those in the industry who are reliant on a steady flow of writers’ material in search of other options.

Writers are asking for eight cents per DVD sold, which doubles what they currently earn. One of the main issues in the spotlight has been royalties from new media, which includes Internet downloads, streams of TV shows and other creative material distributed online. Negotiations resumed on Tuesday.

CSUN television production professor Dianah Wynter said, “Everyone gets affected when they run out of material,” such as those who work in crafts services.

As a member of both the WGA and Director’s Guild of America, the strike has made it difficult for Wynter to prepare for an upcoming movie shoot.

“Because I’m a writer, I can’t really do the rewrites that I would like to do before I shoot, so I really hope this thing gets resolved right away,” Wynter said.

Murray said, “this affects so many people,” as he and fellow film student Brian Peyton stood outside of Manzanita Hall.

Peyton said his family has several ties to the industry, and one family friend who works as a sound engineer has been looking for work since the strike hit.

“The thing is, they have a point. They make nothing on Internet downloads,” Murray said. He believes writers deserve higher royalties, but they shouldn’t strike at the expense of those who can’t afford the current dry state of production in television, Murray said.

As film students, Peyton said they learn about the 1988 strike in which writers fought for residuals in home video sales, then an unpredictable frontier in media. Ultimately, the writers realized they made a mistake when they agreed to relatively low royalty percentages and VHS sales increased dramatically.

“They made a bad deal,” Peyton said, and in facing a similar situation with the Internet, the writers just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But as negotiations are set to resume, Wynter said many in the industry are looking forward to continuing talks.

“I think people are feeling very positive now that we’re back at the bargaining table? I don’t think anyone wants to see this drag on for very long.”

Professor Nate Thomas, head of the television production option in the cinema, television and arts program (CTVA), said the strike comes at an unfortunate time for students looking to get their foot in the door with internships.

“Many of our students are in internships hoping that they parlay into full-time jobs,” said Thomas. The lack of work available as a result of halted production means that students won’t get a job this semester, he said.

With writers busy at the picket line, empty desks could be the window of opportunity for students eager to get into the business, Peyton said. But he and other students and staff agreed taking advantage of the absence of union writers could come back to haunt potential opportunists.

Andy Chen, a junior film student, compared the situation with the grocery strike that lasted from late 2003 to early 2004 when workers exchanged their jobs for picket lines only to have their positions taken by temporary workers in their absence.

“A ‘scab’ is…someone who says, ‘Alright, you guys are striking so I’m going to take your job,'” Chen said. “It’s kind of looked down upon because once the strike goes off, you’ll be blacklisted as someone who went against the grain,” Chen said.