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Sticking with the Writers Guild

Alex Miller
Alex Miller
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With new snow on the ground, we should all be focusing on outdoor activities rather than plopped in front of the TV. But even the most hard-core skiers and boarders still like to curl up in the evening with a fresh episode of “South Park,” “The Daily Show” or my current favorite, “Pushing Daisies.” But that ain’t happening, because the damn writers are on strike against the evil studios and we, the TV-viewing public, are the ones that suffer.

Waaaahhh!

It is the dream of every Hollywood wannabe writer to get membership in the Writers Guild of America. For one, it means you made it since you got a few credits on a film or TV show ” a very good thing. The other big deal about WGA writers is that you get access to some really good, affordably priced health insurance. Who says people who write about evil robots battling wayward zombies aren’t practical?

At the beginning of this century, I had a brief stint in the Hollywood world. A college buddy who was building a new development arm of the Sci-Fi Channel was looking for someone outside the usual TV writer pool to join his team of what he called “brains.” It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, so we loaded up the family and moved to Los Angeles. The office was literally in Hollywood, just a few blocks from landmarks like Mann’s Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame (which I would walk on and then forget to look down). The office was done up to look like a lab, with morgue tables, wheelchairs around the conference table, hospital curtains and a lot of translucent plastic and brushed aluminum. It was a pretty cool place, and it’s where I learned about this unique breed of people who create television.

We created and pitched show ideas to the powers above, and we also entertained pitches from the greater Hollywood community ” which was a blast. We had a much more open door than most of the networks, and we took meetings with vampires, witches, UFOlogists, hypnotists, past-life regression therapists and a lot of B- and C-list actors like Denise Crosby (“Tasha Yar” on “Star Trek: TNG”), Dwight Shultz (“Murdock” on “The A Team”) and even the big daddy himself: William Shatner.

Sitting in a wheelchair across the table from Shatner made me think, at the time, that all the effort getting out to L.A. was going to be worth it. Surely I would, before long, be a WGA member, running my own shows and living in Malibu. And then Sept. 11 came along and disrupted everything ” just as it did everywhere else.

I compare my stint in Hollywood to a guy who made the practice squad of an NFL team and spent a year on some reserve list before being unceremoniously cut. For about 13 months, I was, literally, a Hollywood producer. But I quickly learned that, despite the fun trappings and unusual and creative nature of the work, a job is still a job and life goes on.

As the strike wears on and the reruns get older, it’s tempting to deride all of Hollywood as a bunch of overpaid crybabies. And while there are no doubt a good many writers who make extraordinary incomes, most of the ones I met were pretty normal folks struggling to find consistent work and, yes, health care. They had the same problems and concerns anyone else did, and getting paid fairly for their work was near the top of their list, as it is for most of us.

So in this writers vs. the studios smackdown, I’m with the writers, who justifiably want to be paid for their material when it’s used in other media like Web sites and other digital channels. Talks are resuming this week, so hopefully the scribblers will be back to work soon, creating their usual mix of 10 percent gold and 90 percent crap.

Back to the salt mines, boys and girls, and may your extra pay go toward moving that gold percentage up just a couple of points.

Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterpirse and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com.


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