Inside Move: Scribes grapple with ‘respect’

Film, TV different ballgame, one sez

A new contract with producers will bring a bit more money, but members of the Writers Guild of America are still grappling with the issue of respect.

“Writers are not seeking ‘respect’ to be legislated by contract — they seek a contract that ratifies a respect we long ago earned,” wrote Paul Attanasio in an email exchange with fellow scribe Rob Long which was posted Monday to the Web site Slate.

That ratification proved elusive last week, however. The guild wound up dropping its bid to abolish the possessory credit. Instead, the WGA and DGA will work together on “preferred practices” or perks (access to sets, junkets, premieres; an “enhanced presence” in press kits and DVDs; etc.) that could certainly be classified as “fringe benefits.”

Attanasio, an Oscar nominee for “Quiz Show” and “Donnie Brasco” and now showrunner of ABC’s “Gideon’s Crossing,” believes even modest gains are a victory in such an adverse economic climate.

“What we should have wound up with, a month after Disney announced 5,000 layoffs, was rollbacks,” he wrote.

Respect, in other words, is in any deal at all.

Long, a former writer for “Cheers” and author of “Conversations with My Agent,” also expressed relief at the agreement, but he finds the ceaseless plea for respect somewhat disingenuous.

WGA members “aren’t really tied together by any set of core shared interests — ‘respect’ is an issue dear to a feature film writer’s heart; for a TV writer, who has an enormous amount of power and creative control, it’s kind of irrelevant.”

Most TV writers, he added, are “part of the management class,” a “fat and prosperous membership of plutocrats disguised as working-class heroes.”

A work stoppage by this motley band would have been ill-timed given the explosion of opportunity, he continued: A strike certainly would have cost writers some coin, plus a fair share of — what else? — respect.

“The best way to help the greatest number of writers in Hollywood — showrunner, staff writer, freelance, feature film, whatever,” Long wrote, “is to ensure that the current high level of production continues.”