Creation Conventions: The Writers’ Strike

The Serenity Convention had Yan Feldman, Morena Baccarin (and her dog Rudy) and Alan Tudyk on stage, with a surprise visit by Nathan Fillion. Nathan also crashed the Serenity Starfury Convention one week later. The feeling of family among the cast of Firefly/Serenity is still strong despite new roles for cast members – Stargate and Stargate Atlantis, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Desperate Housewives, 3:10 to Yuma, to name a few. There was much joking around, mostly on the part of Nathan (for this nude scene in “Heart of Gold” he wore Joss Whedon’s picture as a modesty sock) and Alan (who wanted Wash to have a tattoo on his chest of a ship called the SS Studmuffin.) All of them were upstaged by Morena’s dog Rudy, who was not shy about romping through the audience and visiting with the fans.

For Ben Browder the following weekend at the Farscape Convention, he addressed the effect of the Writer’s Strike, which would start the next day after the convention. He and Andrew Prowse (director of many Farscape episodes) had sold a property to the Scifi Channel called “Going Homer”, about a boy whose father returns from Iraq, and they go on a trip to Ithica, New York, that reflects the events and characters of Homer’s Odyssey. With their script in the treatment stage – “40 pages of single-space type” – all writing and negotiations had come to a stop for the Strike.

Rockne O’Bannon acknowledged the walkout by saying “Excuse me while I walk up and down answering your questions. I’m practicing walking the picket line for the strike.” He offered some historical background dating back to when the Writer’s Guild was formed, during the time of the movie moguls. Nowadays, it is “a world where the networks and studio are run by major corporations, not single moguls like Louie B Mayer, who was a showman and a businessman but who ultimately understood the need for writers. To me – it’s not an employee situation; there is a contribution that writers and actors bring to it… I can see how fans – of all shows – would pull together into some sort of campaign.”

 

When asked about the explosion of Reality Television to fill in the gap left by the lack of fictional drama, Rockne again went back in history to the 1988 Writer’s Strike that lasted 5 months. “The “big explosion” happened after the ‘88 strike. Reality programming didn’t really exist before that in primetime. It opened the door for Reality TV. … The networks have put as many reality programs as they’re comfortable doing already. You’ll see more, but it will give them the opportunity to try more, there’s a chance a new show may catch fire. But there’s always been a very large need for more fictional drama. But there won’t be such a big sea change as when reality tv first hit during the strike of ’88.”

 

By the time of the Creation double-header Stargate-BSG Conventions, which ran concurrently in back-to-back ballrooms, the strike was underway. The mood was more somber, mostly because both shows were still running, and while Stargate Atlantis, under contract with the Canadian Writer’s Guild, continued production, BSG had to, like other TV series, write mid-season cliffhangers as season enders. The possibility that BSG would find its series end before the second half of Season 4 was very real, although there were encouraging words from the BSG actors that the producers and creators would finish telling their story of the search for earth.

Joe Flanagan, onstage Sunday afternoon for Stargate Atlantis, had a blunt and practical take on the strike.   “We had picketers on the other show. A lot of crew that clearly need to pay their mortgages, kids in school. The Studios have invoked force majeur, which means they don’t have to pay anybody anything. They just cut their ties. There is no financial obligation or penalty for them at all. It’s about the get very ugly, or is, already. Which means there’s only one thing for me to do, which is to go surfing.”

Which he did during the fires – the other strong topic of conversation – in Malibu. “The world is coming to a screeching halt, everything’s on fire … I decide to go surfing, nobody’s in the water. It was amazing. Apocalyptic.”

 

Ben Browder, often a flight-buddy on their trips to and from Vancouver, had been “manditorially evacuated” – by his wife. He had been all ready to remain on his roof heroically armed with a garden hose, but both wife and agent pointed out the folly in that little display of wildfire testosterone.

When an acting student asked Joe for some tips on a career in acting, he immediately responded, “Get out now!” He threw out some cold hard real-world figures from Hollywood. There are “120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild and less than 5,000 of them make over $10,000 a year. Take out the 5 people who make $30 million a year, and I would be surprised if there were more than 1,100 to 1,200 people who can actually sustain themselves as actors, feed their families.”   

These figures are very similar for members of the Writer’s Guild. Both the Screen Actors Guild and The Directors Guild have a keen interest in the outcome of the Writer’s Strike, as both guilds contracts come up for renewal in mid-2008. The same sticking points in the current negotiations – quantifiable digital media profit participation – will take center-stage again in those contract talks.

Joe went on to describe the typical work/shoot schedule for Atlantis, which was shooting multiple episodes concurrently and which did not include read-throughs for the actors and writers until the 3rd season, at the persistent request of the actors. The writers outnumbered the actors in the read-throughs, and after a couple of them, were abandoned for lack of participation. By contrast, Jamie Bamber, in the BSG session, paints a different picture of the writers’ participation in the creative process. The writers, which include Ronald Moore, a Guild member, are a vital participant on-set, to watch the development of scenes during the shooting process.

“They are very much part of our ensemble, and its sad to know that they’re down here walking around down here in red t-shirts on the street with placards, because they just don’t look like they really should be doing that kind of thing.” said Jamie Bamber, in his British-accented voice of Apollo. “They’re middle-class fussy Jewish boys, and they shouldn’t be out on the street like that.”

He went on to say that Ronald Moore has had to cut all ties to the set and the show, not even answering his cell phone, which had to be killing him as both creator and show runner. On the other side of the coin, as Katee Sackhoff pointed out, the strike meant that for the first time in nine years, she has been able to spend Thanksgiving with her family.

Adam Malin, Creation Entertainment’s Operations and Show EmCee, acknowledged the worry of the strike’s effect on current shows like Stargate Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica. “We are fanboys ourselves” he said, “That’s why we do this.” Despite the strike, future Creation Conventions will focus on fan and fan-group outreach and giving real value for their convention buck. He had steadfastly maintained an open email policy, announcing frequently that any fan concerns be taken care off right away onsite if at all possible.

Judging from the recent Mutant Enemy Strike Day at Fox Studios, where 400 fans, mostly Browncoats (Firefly/Serenity), Buffy and Angel fans, showed up, the fandom is steadfast and strong. And well-behaved. No one asked for autographs or behaved as though it was a convention rather than a picket line in support of the writers. More and more the hidden power of the fan collective is emerging into the light. As Rockne O’Bannon pointed out: “Brian Henson has said that the financing and production of the mini series (Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars) is directly relatable and attributable to the fan response.”

Ben Browder learned long ago about his obligation to the fans of the show. “For me, coming to these things is overwhelming. I always encounter something that changes the way I view things, the community at large. You realize that you’re all connected to one another, the stories you tell one another, whether onscreen or face to face, that we’re all connected. I just want to thank every one of you for being here. Thank you.”

And for their fandoms, for their shows, whether on strike or not, fans will write letters, march in picket lines and send pencils and peanuts by the truckload, pull together in the community that is more than the sum of the digital media parts.

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Post Author: Shan Ray

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