Awards season may be about to enter uncharted waters.
With a potential writers walkout looming as early as Nov. 1, the possibility looms of the Oscar-movie rush taking place in the midst of a labor action. That could present an awkward situation at best, should the strike last for a significant length of time, since writers will be precluded from writing.
It’s impossible to say if that means WGA writers won’t be able to write for Jon Stewart when he hosts the 80th Academy Awards on Feb. 24.
If the guild is still on strike at that point, it’s even possible the WGA could ban writing for the show itself — though that’s not set in stone.
“At this point, it’s all up for grabs,” admits veteran awards consultant Tony Angellotti. “The Academy can always ask for a waiver from the WGA. Everything’s negotiable.”
The guild’s already issued hardline regulations for its 12,000 members beyond the obvious ban on writing for struck companies, delivering any material or signing documents relating to writing assignments. They also compel members to honor guild picket lines, perform assigned strike support duties and report strike-breaking activity.
Writers Guild of America spokesmen Neal Sacharow could offer few details on the implications of the rules on the awards season.
The guild did offer that “campaigning and publicity are not writing services and are not prohibited by the Strike Rules or the Guild’s Working Rules. Members have to decide for themselves the extent to which they want to cooperate with a struck company in doing promotion during a strike.”
As far as award season kudocasts are concerned, the past gives little guidance. In 1988, the Oscarcast went on the airwaves April 11, five weeks after the WGA had gone on strike. The guild refused to grant the Academy a waiver. That meant writers were not allowed to write for the show, leaving show producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. the option of asking actors to write for themselves — which would not technically be in violation because the “work” was not WGA-covered.
Goldwyn responded by recruiting comedians, such as actor nominee Robin Williams, to make the presentations. The late John Candy, for example, said during his presentation that his daughter had written his lines.
But just because the Academy couldn’t get a waiver in 1988 doesn’t mean it would not get one in 2008. During the 1988 strike, the WGA wound up granting more than 70 waivers — under which the producers agreed to adhere to whatever terms and conditions applied once the writers were no longer striking.
Thesps’ campaigns would probably change, too. It’s already expected that Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel will not be able to perform their signature monologues once a strike starts, which could hurt ratings and make those destinations less attractive for awards-seeking stars.