Gavin Polone: I Was So Wrong About the WGA Strike (Guest Column)
At the end of 2007, just before and during the Writers Guild of America strike that started in November and lasted for three months, I spoke out on television and in the virtual pages of the blog Deadline Hollywood saying that the strike was being mishandled by the leadership of the guild and that the result would be unneeded economic hardship for writers and others whose livelihood depended on film and television production.
Nikki Finke and many guild members who posted on her site said I was "a blathering attention hog," a "crackpot" and an "idiot." One WGA member even suggested they hold a rally with bullhorns outside my house.
Today, after much consideration, I'd like to say that they were right.
I was wrong about that strike and I was wrong to be so unsupportive of the Writers Guild. The main reason the writers went on strike was to get a share of new-media reuse revenue, which they did receive in the end. It is possible for one to argue that the estimated $342 million in lost WGA and IATSE wages, the $2 billion in lost economic activity, the 70 overall writers deals that were ended by studios, and the large numbers of writing positions lost because reality television filled in the time slots vacated by the shows that were shut down due to lack of scripts might not have been worth the big win of sharing in the revenue from digital downloads of TV shows over the Internet (those residuals totaled only $11.26 million in 2012, per the WGA). But numbers and statistics are the refuge of cowards, right? The WGA showed that it could take a huge financial hit — and feel no pity for thousands of other people in entertainment-related jobs who were not a party to the dispute and would receive no benefit from new-media residuals but still lost their income — and emerge victorious.
The whole thing reminds me of that great movie from a few years ago, 300, where the hero, the Persian emperor Xerxes, sends tens of thousands of his warriors to their deaths in order to kill a small number of Spartans and their evil leader, King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler). The AMPTP, like the Spartans, certainly was taught a grave lesson, and the WGA will most surely march on to victory again in its new round of negations, which began Feb. 3 — just as the Persians went on to rule the world.
But it wasn't only the AMPTP that got its ass kicked. The individuals who thought to defy the WGA during those turbulent times — me included — ultimately were ruined. When I read several posts on Deadline exhorting fellow members not to work with me when the strike was over, I ignored them and I was wrong to do so. I haven't been able to find a WGA writer who would get involved with one of my projects since February 2008, thus ending my career as a producer. Fortunately, I've done pretty well driving for Uber, so I'm OK, but others have been less fortunate. Remember that guy Carson Daly who brought his show Last Call back during the strike and solicited jokes from non-guildmembers? The WGA was outraged and so was Nikki, who warned in one post about him that "karma can be a bitch." Well, right again, Nikki. He was booted off the air after the strike and never was seen on TV again. He's still around, though: I think he waited on me last week at Art's Deli, wearing a name tag that said "Randy." Guess he didn't want to diminish his chance at a decent tip from a grudge-holding guildmember.
Surprisingly, the most prominent WGA defier, John Ridley, who publicly renounced his guild membership in opposition to the strike, continued to work as a screenwriter, even after his transgression. But the long tail of guild retribution finally whipped back around to slap him in the face this year when it was announced that Ridley, because he had left the guild, would NOT be eligible for a WGA award nomination for his adaptation of 12 Years a Slave. KAPOW! Oh, I'm sure that hurt. I mean, the WGA award is the granddaddy of them all and worth more than his Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations combined.
On the other side of the trenches, the righteous have prospered. Former WGA president Patric Verrone has created several hit sitcoms and often is talked about as a possible senate or gubernatorial candidate. And the strike's cheerleader-in-chief, Nikki Finke, after choosing to leave Deadline, despite her employers begging her to stay, created another media empire with NikkiFinke.com. That site quickly became the must-check locale for all things Hollywood and forced the almost immediate closure of Deadline and the bankruptcy of its parent company.
Now, as a new contract negotiation begins between the studios and the writers, and the rhetoric heats up, I'd like to take this opportunity to beg the AMPTP to remember the mistakes of its past. And to those who might disagree in any way with the WGA leadership, please consider the words of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, and it isn't worth your death to say it," or something like that.
Gavin Polone is a film and television producer and a frequent contributor to The Hollywood Reporter.