They’re hoping it has a happy ending

Special to The Times

What makes a writer distinctive is his or her voice. Beyond all the claims and counterclaims, policy arguments and negotiation strategies, it’s important to remember that a writers strike would severely affect the lives, careers and dreams of a great number of aspiring and struggling writers -- a tiny portion of whom will ever fit any kind of A-list profile. With the guild’s contract set to expire tonight at midnight, here are some of those personal voices -- worried but resolute.

Bruce Joel Rubin, 64, has been a WGA member since the early ‘80s and won a best original screenplay Oscar in 1991 for “Ghost.” He has two sons, 35 and 27, who are also writers, one a guild member and one trying to attain membership.

“I went through the ’88 strike, and that colors any writer at all who’s in the business, because that strike was so painful. And the pain of it is lasting. Every time another potential strike happens, all of that stuff rears its head. And we’re all brought back to that unbelievably deep frustration that has plagued many of us for our whole career.


“I watch it from my own perspective, and, of course, I can ride out a strike, and will. [My sons are] both doing well, but the younger one, his career is on very solid footing. And this will be very, very challenging to him financially and challenging to him in terms of momentum. His foot is very much in the door, and hopefully at the end of the strike that will all still be in place. I think that really is significant, that this strike does not in effect knock him out of the game. That’s a concern only because nobody knows what the lay of the land will be when this is over.

“The world is changing so fast; it’s changing in terms of the media itself. Everything is changing, and a strike always has the unexpected aspect: You don’t know where you’ll be standing when it’s over.

“For me, it’s not just my children, because all the young guys in the guild are in a sense -- it’s a corny way to put it -- but my children. And it’s really, really hard for me to see that kind of potential suffering, and to see careers that must happen, that need to happen, that should happen, not happen.

“Writing is a funny brotherhood because, you know, when I first became a writer in Hollywood I didn’t know any other writer until the strike. It’s on the picket line where you meet other writers, and the brotherhood really established itself. It was really powerful for me. . . . “

Nathan Skulnik, 34, graduated from the American Film Institute in 2000, worked for two years in the Disney writing program and has been struggling to break through ever since. A Writers Guild member since 2001, Skulnik has spent four years trying to get a feature screenplay called “The Lion Man” made. In the last two months, the script has gained momentum, helping him to secure meetings for potential jobs.

“It’s like the warmest response I’ve ever gotten. Everyone’s like, ‘We would love you to do this, and we have this and this, but we’re not hiring anybody because the strike might happen.’ I get it. I know there are really important issues at stake, and I do believe that if there’s revenue to be shared, it should be shared. But by the same token, it is completely, as I’m getting started, just like dropping a brick in the middle of my career.


“I think of it like a wave. You gotta ride that wave. When I came out of the Disney thing . . . I didn’t have the thing that kept that wave going. And that wave crashed. I’m confident that [the strike] is not going to kill [‘The Lion Man’]. But this is the same exact thing. You just feel yourself starting to paddle back in and you catch yourself starting to ride the wave, and all of a sudden it’s like the beaches are closed and they’re telling me, ‘You can’t go in the water anymore.’ I can think of at least five jobs that people were like, ‘We would love for you to do this, [but ] we’re just not going to hire anybody.’ Five. Jobs.”

Edmond Stevens, 60, has been a WGA member for 30 years and has survived three strikes but hasn’t worked actively as a TV and screen writer for four years. He now specializes in documentary “projects for the public good,” including a film about the 2003-04 grocery labor dispute.

“A large part of our membership is not working, and a percentage of the writing community are trying to get in. The biggest thing that a strike represents is an interruption of hope.

“I’ve been really, really lucky. I’ve worked almost steadily. Even if you’re not a member of the guild and you’re hoping to get in, if there’s a strike, there are no buyers. So it really does radiate out to affect everybody -- the dues-paying members and all the people who want to get in. To some degree, at least on an emotional level, it’s every bit as heartbreaking.

“Just because I’m not making a living as a screenwriter or television writer right now, I have the prospect of it. I still have an agent who’s sending out material. We’re still all invested in the community of screen and TV writing. And we all understand that we’re a living legacy of the guys who a long time ago first pulled together as a union. I still have health coverage. That means a great deal to me. And I owe that to a couple other strikes that happened before I was a member.”

Pursuing the craft amid the anxiety

With perverse timing that played like the Griswolds showing up to Wallyworld only to find it closed, this last weekend Creative Screenwriting magazine presented Screenwriting Expo 6.


Four days of seminars and pitch events spread between the Marriott and the Renaissance hotels near LAX were punctuated by Q&As; with screenwriting luminaries such as Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), Scott Frank (“The Lookout”) and Stuart Beattie (“Collateral”). But the enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the sobering reality of what the screenwriting life has lately become.

“I don’t know if it’s going to do me any good considering the writers strike coming up, but I did a couple of pitches,” said Lakewood resident Diane Rothery, who after a 13-year hiatus to raise kids has returned to the ambition that once led her to pen more than a dozen original scripts. But, she adds, “if you’re a writer and it’s really what you want to do, you’re going to write no matter what.”

The conference rooms were filled with aspiring scribes bent over notebooks, scribbling, hoping to synthesize all the nuggets of wisdom from more than a hundred of the country’s screenwriting gurus. People of all ages -- and when I say “all ages,” I mean that at least one table of attendees at lunch Sunday looked as if they were brainstorming another “Cocoon” sequel -- had their laptops open, rewriting dialogue, tweaking treatments.

“I find it very moving, all these young people who want to be screenwriters coming from all over the country,” says two-time Oscar winner and regular special guest William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men”). “When I started [in the ‘60s], the idea of being a screenwriter was inconceivable.”

Later interviewed by Frank in front of a 300-strong crowd, Goldman, originally a novelist who didn’t see a screenplay until he was 33, said: “What we [writers] do is feel failed all day long. Because we all know that what’s in our head is dazzling and what’s on the page sucks. You’re all crazy to be here.”

Thus, the screenwriting paradox in a nutshell.

And finally, a vision of the future: =v7vHxw6El0E.

If the strike does happen, don’t be surprised if your next few waiters are unusually articulate and pretentious.



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