To make things abundantly clear, I really want to become a member of the Writers Guild of America. Despite the funny name, the WGA is a full fledged workers union, meaning you can't join unless you've done something that the union covers, such as writing and selling a screenplay.
I've never done the latter, so I am not allowed to join the union even though I write these things on a regular basis. Oddly enough because of how these things work, once I do sell one of these scripts, I will be compelled to join whether I want to or not. In fact, I will be almost universally blacklisted if I don't.
Otherwise the guild would have no power to bargain, as people who were motivated purely by self-interest would trade unfair working conditions for a little extra comfort and money -- people like me.
Every three years, the WGA-East and WGA-West collectively bargain with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that represents the studios. The contract they negotiate covers every member of the union and is the only reason writers have pension and health care funds and reasonable minimum wages.
It goes without saying that unions can be invaluable to workers, and I definitely look forward to joining this one sometime in the near future. And however strange this may sound, I will happily stab the WGA in the back and everyone it represents later this year.
The current contract (called the MBA or Minimum Basic Agreement) is set to expire this fall, with the Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild following in 2007. Relations between the guild and the AMPTP are not good right now, and many people expect a general strike.
If this happens, all members of the guild will naturally be required to stop everything they are doing for as long as it takes to get the terms the WGA wants in the new contract. Any member who crosses the strike line to work during this period, regardless of the situation, will be subject to punishment by the guild when the strike ends.
I don't know what these specific punishments are and they don't concern me right now, but I will happily let it be known to all that if the opportunity arises during the strike, I will cross that picket line, and I'll do it with a clean conscience.
I'm virtually certain that most writers would be horrified that one of their own would do such a mercenary thing, but they need to understand that such a thing is a perfect analogy. I am a mercenary right now, I don't have a health fund, a pension, a credit union, or a legal minimum wage contract. Right now, I don't have anything at all.
Most studios and producers wouldn't give me the time of day to fetch them coffee, much less read my scripts. So what do I care what they think of me when I break ranks?
Writers can hoot and holler all they want to, the truth of it is with all of them working today, there just isn't room for an influx of new writing talent. I can write from now until the day I die and still not sell a single script, just because the right opportunity doesn't arise . I hear people say all of the time that the only way to break in is to make your own opportunities, so why isn't this just another one of those situations?
If that strike comes, I'll be faced with an obvious choice: hold the line in a show of solidarity with my fellow writers who will thank me and shake my hand today, only to forget I ever existed tomorrow once they go back to work, getting paid, and I sit here writing my ass off and never getting a shot to do something with my talent; or cross the line and start selling scripts to studios who will be desperate for new original material.
Well, the truth is I'm not sure what all of the consequences would be. Normally, the only thing you have to do to qualify to join the guild is sell something. Once you do that, they know instantly and demand you join. But what if you sell something during a strike? Does that still count or would you be ignored for being a traitor?
I don't know the answer to that question, and the last time I asked a successful screenwriter, I never got a response, even though he was a former WGA board member. Someone who could not only offer guidance, but also speak authoritatively on the consequences.
A single script sale even without the benefit of the MBA could still be enough money to move to Los Angeles and set up shop for a year or more, raising the odds of getting more work astronomically. How can I pass up an opportunity like that?
How can it be justified and what substantive reasons are there for holding the line that could make as big a difference in my career as breaking it would?
I don't owe the union a damn thing, because right now, they won't touch me with a ten foot pole. They may negotiate for me in spirit, but when it really counts, I'm just a nobody to them.
Come this fall when the guild and AMPTP begin their negotiations, if I'm not under their representation, I will whore myself to the AMPTP and feed them as much material as I can write as fast as I can write it. I will betray the guild I want to join and I will cross the picket line made up of the people I want to work with, people that I respect and people I want respect from as well.
I'll be spit on for being a back-stabbing traitor, but I won't look it at that way because I don't see how you can be a traitor to a cause that won't accept you in the first place.
If I end up making it after crossing the line, I'll happily deal with the consequences then because the alternative of zero initiative is time wasted that I simply cannot afford.