A Voice of Dissent

I just read this op-ed piece by John Ridley who was an advisor for me at the Sundance Labs back in the day. He’s a very smart guy (and now I will add brave to the list after reading this). I don’t fully agree with his argument for his decision to go back to work but I think he does make some good points.

From the LA Times:

John Ridley goes fi-core
The “Undercover Brother” screenwriter defends his move to return to work.

By John Ridley

January 8, 2008

Last week, when people started talking about an A-list writer going
“financial core,” I was surprised to find they were speaking of me. I
don’t work in day-to-day television anymore and have completed exactly
one studio movie script in the last 24 months.

Doesn’t take much to get on the A-list these days.

Nevertheless, yes, I’ve gone fi-core. (If you need a primer on what “financial core” means, refer to this Op-Ed and this Times story
on soap opera writers making the switch.) Since I was conscripted into
the Writers Guild of America a decade and a half ago — and membership
in the guild is mandatory — I’ve found myself politically opposed to it
on any number of issues. Not long after, I wrote an Op-Ed about the
woeful lack of diversity in Hollywood and what little the guild was
doing to rectify the situation. I got a personal call from then-WGA
President Frank Pierson ripping me a new orifice for daring to take my
disappointment public. The gist of his argument: If you haven’t
anything nice to say about the union, then shut up. But, hey, what did
I expect? If you shake the tree, you can’t get upset when the apples

And mostly I didn’t. Until the strike.

I don’t blame the union for the direction the strike has taken. It was
the Assn. of Motion Picture and Television Producers that walked away
from the bargaining table. And when you get into a fight with a passive
aggressor, you can’t help but look like a bully.

Still, I’ve had concerns about the guild’s approach to this work
action: the lack of an individual with experience in Hollywood
deal-making to lead negotiations; bargaining chips moved on and off the
table in the haphazard manner of a first-time gambler at a roulette
wheel; interim agreements arbitrarily granted, without the necessary
vote by membership. But apparently, to speak publicly of such concerns
is to be on the same level as the jerk who gives away the ending of an
M. Night Shyamalan movie. I lived with the vitriol stirred by my
questioning. Never mind that I’ve walked the picket lines. Never mind
I’ve donated to the strike fund.

The first rule of Strike Club: Never talk about Strike Club!

That would be fine for an organization whose membership joins
voluntarily. But when membership is compulsory, free expression must be
accommodated. The obligation of the union is to protect, not crush, the
minority view.

In December, I attended the general guild meeting in Santa Monica.
Outside the Civic Center, before the meeting, guild members told me
that I was not welcome and that if I went inside, I should prepare to
be pilloried. During the meeting, one high-profile television writer
announced to the membership that anyone who didn’t have anything good
to say about the strike should shut up. If I used the adjective
“frenzied” to describe the reception the declaration was given, I don’t
think I’d be exaggerating.

Did the president or the executive director who sat onstage rise up and
announce — even if just for show — that their tent is large enough to
accept dissent? That their cause is sufficiently just to withstand
criticism? Or did they tacitly support the blood fervor by sitting on
their hands? That is, if they weren’t also applauding wildly?

They sat. They let the threat carry the day. I got the message.

After 15 years of being told shut up, sit down and be part of the
groupthink, I decided I did not belong in the guild. The guild has a
way to option out. I took the option. The predictable response has been
largely hateful and personal, including accusations of cowardice. But
the membership of the union can’t have it both ways: an allergy to
internal dissent and an aversion to migration. If you don’t want me
around, don’t get angry when I leave. And while the consensus among
writers may be that I’m a scab, or out for my own self-interest,
fortunately, I don’t live my life by consensus.

I also think it’s ironic for anyone involved in the strike to speak of
self-service when every aspect of this work stoppage is about putting
or extracting money into or from somebody’s wallet — the writers, the
studios, the whole economy of Los Angeles. If I cared just about money,
I’d continue on the guild’s current path: working to secure extra
revenue from the studios without regard to the financial impact of the
work stoppage on the populace. If I understand their logic, that effort
is not at all self-serving, even though we put money in our wallets
while others suffer.

I know some have suggested I should forgo any gains that the guild
tallies on my behalf. And I would, if I worked under the guild’s
Minimum Basic Agreement. Fortunately, on the rare occasions I work in
Hollywood, I don’t work under the MBA. There’s nothing for me to give
back, and I won’t seek compensation from the membership for deals my
team cuts that are over and above the MBA. I will continue to pay dues.
But brother, if you want me out of your life so badly, I’m happy to
swap the 1½% of my gross income for that automatic subscription to
“Written By.”

Beyond that, and short of my ongoing concern for everyone who is caught
in the middle of this labor action, I’m done with the strike. I’m done
with the two unreasonable sides and the YouTube videos and the dueling
spin doctors. I’m quite finished with the mindless glee that comes from
interrupting a taping of “Last Call with Carson Daly.” I’m finished
with the lost wages clocks and shrill industry trade ads.

I’ve no desire to start a movement, to be the first name on an open
petition, or to be the poster child for disgruntled writers. I don’t
want to do a money grab and jump on a rewrite of “Pinkville.”
Though, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: If I’m going to be trashed
anyway, I’m not about to be trashed on the cuff. I am, simply, done.

So, then, this is my interim agreement. You all can have your strike. I’ll take what can’t be bargained for: self-determination.

John Ridley is a screenwriter, novelist, blogger and commentator for National Public Radio.


3 thoughts on “

  1. wow you’re right, he’s brave!!great point about not having it both ways… and wow, what a principled stand. i wonder if he will ever work again…

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