Screenwriter solidarity begins in the classroom — and a lesson about union fidelity is being taught to wannabe scribes who don’t even have their WGA union cards yet.
Richard Walter, co-chairman of screenwriting at UCLA, has sent letters to all students in the program, warning them to avoid the temptation to undercut striking writers by taking scab work.
After disclosing that all current and past UCLA screenwriting faculty are WGA members, Walter warned students: “You may be approached by producers and story-development executives suggesting the strike presents wonderful employment opportunities for new writers who are not yet guild members. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“As educators, we are bound by our covenant with the Regents of the University of California soundly and wisely to counsel our students. Here’s our advice: Don’t fall for it. To attempt to launch a career by working as a scab is an exercise in folly, a recipe for exploitation, frustration and failure. Even setting aside morality and principle, for writers who seek success, scabbing is a self-defeating tactic and plain bad strategy. Eagerly and urgently we recommend students respect the rules of the guild they hope one day to join.”
Walter, who is a member of both the WGA and SAG, said he has discussed with his peers at the USC and NYU film schools the possibility that producers may eye students as labor alternatives given the caliber of talent that comes from those schools. Walter sent the letter with those discussions in mind; he was also thinking about an email that recently reached his students from a bottom-feeding middleman trying to sell them on the idea that with union writers temporarily out of the picture, the strike offered possibilities to gain attention for student scripts.
“Morality aside, it’s a self-defeating strategy to launch a career in a collaborative enterprise like this and start by darkening your reputation by exploiting the disadvantage of your neighbors,” Walter said. “You couldn’t do anything more destructive to short-circuit your career.”
Though he couldn’t recall specifics, Walter remembered an instance or two when producers sought out students during the 1988 strike. He is squarely on the scribe side and of the opinion that the WGA is making a historic stand to get a bigger piece of the revenues from digital technologies that are bound to replace DVDs. It has created a “Twilight Zone” atmosphere, but he pointed out that at least the post-1962 writers on that series (which ran from 1959-64) got residuals, whereas the writers of the billion-dollar-generating “I Love Lucy” never did.
“I attended that meeting last Thursday, and aside from the achievement of getting that many millionaires to come east of Doheny, there was a feeling of solidarity and unity that I’d never seen before among our members. Revenues are soaring, and there is a deal to be made if the writers hold together.”