Many years ago, I was asked to fly down to Cape Town as the Head Writer on a strange sf tv show called CHARLIE JADE, along with two fellow Canadians, Sean Carley and the irrepressible Denis McGrath, whom we all miss terribly.
It was a Canadian-South African co-production, which meant we had to hire South African writers for half the scripts. And we had a hell of a time finding good ones. We found one very fine writer, Dennis Venter, but I was never happy with the others, whose scripts we basically threw out and rewrote. (They got the credit anyway. Them's the rules.) There obviously were good ones, but not that many, and they were all busy on the soaps.
Why couldn't we find good writers? Because the South African writers had no union.
Because the South African TV writers didn't have a strong union, they got paid almost nothing for a script.
Like, $2,000 a pop for hourlong scripts we got $50,000 to write. You could make more money writing novels.
Novels! I wrote a novel. I've made several thousand dollars from it, mostly from the Canadian government, which pays you $250 a year if your book is in enough libraries.
Unions are good for companies. They make sure that writers can afford to write TV. Writing TV is super fun, but it is very hard work. Not in the "did anyone ask you to dig a ditch?" sweat-of-your-brown hard, but hard as in you are thinking very hard for about 16 hours a day. (Writing is not just typing.) As Head Writer, I was working more or less 6 1/2 days a week.
If that doesn't pay enough to have a middle-class life, then would-be TV writers will go do something that will. And when you want to get your show written, you'll look around and there won't be any good writers.
Dammit, this ought to be the golden age of being a TV writer. There are more shows than ever before. Some of them have spectacular writing. How is it writers can't afford to be writers?
Because the companies are greedy, and they're killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
It's short-sighted. The WGA wants 2% of the profits of the shows their writers create. 2%! Fucksake.
Do you think there's nowhere else talented writers can go? Because there is this whole other business called video games that also hires writers, and gives us paychecks all year round. Some of us are doing pretty darn well.
I hope the WGA doesn't have to strike. But God bless them, they will. And everyone will lose a lot of work. And hopefully, the companies will come around, like they did the last time.
You don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.