Writers Strike Looms – ‘Star Trek’ Ready For It [UPDATE: Strike To Start Monday] | TrekMovie.com
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Writers Strike Looms – ‘Star Trek’ Ready For It [UPDATE: Strike To Start Monday] November 1, 2007

by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: CBS/Paramount,Star Trek (2009 film) , trackback

You may have heard that the Writers Guild of America has been in negotiations with the studios and producers (along with a federal mediator) for a new contract and according to reports the parties failed to come to an agreement Wednesday before the current contract expired at midnight. Although the WGA did not call for a strike immediately, industry watchers expect one could be called for within a week. [UPDATE: Variety: Strike set to start Monday] However, it appears a strike will not impact Star Trek which starts shooting next Wednesday. Variety lists Star Trek as one of the films Paramount has ‘ready to go’ despite the possible strike. Executive producer and co-writer Roberto Orci tells TrekMovie.com that Paramount and the team have been working on the assumption of a strike for months. “The script is in great shape and we had a long lead time,” said Orci confidently.

Over the last few weeks they have made tweaks to help fit the dialog to the actors cast during October (such as Chris Pine, Karl Urban Simon Pegg, John Cho and Eric Bana). “JJ [Abrams] and I have been up to the wee hours of the morning getting it all together,” Says Orci. The writer joked that they have planned to go ‘pencils down’ at midnight Wednesday, but they will “always take advantage of every minute and second of time to try and improve anything and everything possible” if negotiations continue. Orci even joked that the strike has its benefits. “For once I will actually see our script on screen,” quipped the scribe. That being said there are still opportunities for changes. During a strike neither the writers, nor JJ Abrams (who is a guild member) can add anything to the script, however a producer can choose to use portions of any previous drafts of the script. In addition, spontaneous or ad libbed dialog from the actors is allowed.

Unlike the last strike this one would be limited to the writers. All the other major unions in Hollywood have notified their members to honor their contracts. The one possible snag could be from the Teamsters (drivers, production coordinators and location managers) which will not strike, but did tell its members that they could ‘as individuals’ honor picket lines. However, indications are that this will not impact the film.

Trek’s last writers strike
The is not the first time Paramount and Star Trek have dealt with a WGA strike. The last one started in March of 1988 during the first season of Star Trek The Next Generation. Strikes tend to effect TV more and TNG (which already had problems in its writers room) was not ready. The strike started during the shooting of the season one finale “The Neutral Zone” and the producers had to go forward on a draft that would have normally gone through more of a polish. The strike lasted until August and during that time no scripts could be developed. This shorted the second season by four episodes and delayed the premiere until November. In order to speed up development, the season premiere “The Child” was a reworked Star Trek Phase II script. TNG Executive Producer Rick Berman has also stated that much panned ‘clip show’ season two finale “Shades of Grey” was a result of strike as well. During the period while the show was off the air Paramount produced a two hour special to placate affiliates called “The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next” which showed the TOS episode “The Cage” in color for the first time.

More:
Variety 10/30: Studios prep backup plan – despite strike many films ready to go
Variety 10/31: Strike in limbo as contract expires

Comments

1. Al - November 1, 2007

Strike means No Shatner for sure

2. James Heaney - November 1, 2007

First?

This is good. I’m always a little uneasy when writers’ power is taken away, but, you know, it’s a strike, and it sounds like they’re ready. We can just hope for the best, and I doubt it will make a difference to what we see at Christmas next year. Hopefully my favorite television shows–Heroes, Lost, Galactica, ‘Gate–will be similarly undamaged, but this is more doubtful. Although SG:A films in Canadia, so are they similarly affected by the strike?

On the plus side, I didn’t realize shooting was coming up so soon.

3. Iowagirl - November 1, 2007

#1

Strike doesn’t necessarily mean end of life as we know it.

4. raulpetersen - November 1, 2007

if there not allowed to write will they still be allowed to post on this site? lol!

5. Luca AKA RuFFeD_UP AKA Lukas - November 1, 2007

LOL good call by #3

6. Bono Luthor - November 1, 2007

Only thing that means no Shatner for sure is when the film opens and there is no Shatner.

Until then there are always possibilities…

7. fellow_canuck - November 1, 2007

Heard on the radio this morning that Shatner is not in it for sure. Came here and saw no indication of that news…think I’ll trust this site before a local radio station.

BBK.

8. Sisko Is The Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him - November 1, 2007

i heard about the strike and am glad to see that the movie is OK…but i am still worried about what happens when something isnt working and JJ isnt allowed to get a quick rewrite….which is what they would normally do

also…correct me if I am wrong, but didnt the writer say that they could make the decision about Shater after shooting started? and now isnt he saying they cant do any more writing?

so does that mean that they have a scene written for shatner already? Is this the cameo that Shatner is refusing to do?

9. Paul - November 1, 2007

What are they striking for? They are generously overpaid already!

10. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

#9:”What are they striking for? They are generously overpaid already!”

No, they are not. :)

11. valentine - November 1, 2007

#9

Actors? Yes. Directors? Yes

Writers? Not by a long shot. A writer’s paycheck is *extremely* low, especially given how big their job, and work can be very hard to come by, which makes for a horrible combination.

12. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

On the one hand, you can work indoors and sitting down if you want to. It ain’t digging ditches.

On the other hand, every time the signatory studios find a new way to resell your work they seem to do their best to screw you out of your share.

There’s never any shortage of folks who either resent anyone they think is making more money than they are or who possess some badly-informed dislike of the very notion of collective bargaining – in fact, the two prejudices tend to travel together in America. C’est la guerre.

13. Pragmaticus - November 1, 2007

The film shoots until March. If the strike ends before then, rewrites and reshoots can happen.

Roberto, how long do you think the strike will last?

14. Noleuser - November 1, 2007

Wow, I never knew that about “The Child” or “Shades of Grey” very interesting, and I never knew that no one saw “The Cage” before ’88?!

15. T2 - November 1, 2007

One can only wonder what 4 Season-2 episodes could have been. The reworked “Phase II” scripts, like “The Child” and “Devil’s Due” are episodes I would have loved to see the original crew do. Although I wonder who the mother would have been in “Phase II”, probably Ilia. As long as Trek XI isn’t stalled by the strike, I don’t care about it. It’s always about the money, not the projects/ideas. It’s becoming a disgusting business. And as for Shatner, if he’s not in the film, I’ll still see it. If he’s in the film, I’ll see it with more anticipation. If you’re going to introduce a new Kirk, the original should be there in some way (especially if they’re doing it for Spock).

16. DavidJ - November 1, 2007

I know they always say that making a movie or TV show is a “collaborative enterprise”, but I gotta imagine that the writers are still at the top of the list in terms of importance. So I’m all for them striking for more money.

It’s just a shame the studios are rushing so many movies (like JLA) into production with scripts that probably aren’t ready yet.

17. Gazzoo - November 1, 2007

“Star Trek V” was also hindered by a writers strike.

Insert Joke Here…

18. Cervantes - November 1, 2007

I’m all in favour for scriptwriters getting far more than they do now ( If only the bad ones could’nt be so rewarded too… ), as the majority are not sufficiently paid for their efforts, unlike many spoilt and OVERPAID actors/actresses.

Unfortunately, it seems that these actors/actresses are planning to follow the writer’s lead, and ALSO ask for more for work that ends up on other mediums such as the internet…the greedy swine…

As for actors being allowed to do ‘spontaneous or ad libbed dialog’…now I DEFINATELY want the Shat in on this thing… ;)

ONE more week till shooting commences!

19. scott - November 1, 2007

Screw Hollywood!

20. Trek Man - November 1, 2007

#14 ‘I never knew that no one saw “The Cage” before ‘88?! ‘

People had seen it, but only in black and white!

21. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

Yeah, since the mid-1970s Roddenberry had been showing the black-and-white work print of “The Cage” at college campuses as part of his speaking engagements (along with the “blooper reel”).

For the 20th anniversary of Trek, Paramount had released a version of “The Cage” which combined black-and-white footage from the work print with color footage from “The Menagerie.” This was available on videotape and LaserDisc in 1986.

Shortly after that release, a color print of “The Cage” was discovered. This was combined (again) with color footage from “The Menagerie” (which was generally of higher quality) to create the all-color version of “The Cage” which aired for the first time as the core of “The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next” in 1988.

Because of the years-earlier release of the BW/Color version, some folks incorrectly infer that the all-Color version has been “colorized.”

22. I AM THX-1138 - November 1, 2007

I remember rushing out to get that half BW/half color copy of The Cage when it came out in ’88, Dennis. At the time, it was like finding a lost treasure. Imagine, an episode of TOS that I hadn’t seen completely. It was mind blowing for me then.

23. Randall - November 1, 2007

It’s usually a big plus if a film script is tight and polished before shooting. More often than not, last minute rewrites result in a sloppy film. It isn’t so much that the words aren’t there in final form—it’s that the director and his production crew don’t have the time to properly block out the filming and the actors don’t have time to properly rehearse their roles. Last-minute writing often signals, also, a sloppy and/or hands-off director who isn’t taking proper charge of his project. Whereas, when the script is tight and finished well in advance, this gives time for the director, art director, cinematographer, etc. to plan the film out thoroughly shot-for-shot… which not only saves money and time, but usually makes for a much better, much more polished picture.

If the new ST film is ready to go, then… that’s probably a positive sign.

As for the how much writers are paid—in Hollywood, writers are paid the least of all the major “talent” in the system. If anything, if anyone was interested in reform, they’d find a way to scale back what actors are paid–which often reaches outlandish heights.

On the other hand, the practice of a writer doing a story treatment, then a first draft, second draft… only to have another writer step in to do the final “polish” is sometimes a nasty one—the latecomer is sometimes a hack who ruins a potentially decent script, for no reason other than the fact that he is a disinterested party (disinterested, that is, in the quality of the script—but definitely interested in turning a buck) whose primary motivation is to put his or her stamp on the finished product—so he/she can then claim final writing credit… which equals easy money. That’s a practice that should have been curtailed long ago.

24. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

#23:”As for the how much writers are paid—in Hollywood, writers are paid the least of all the major “talent” in the system. If anything, if anyone was interested in reform, they’d find a way to scale back what actors are paid–which often reaches outlandish heights.”

I hear ya. Something to bear in mind, though, is that of the talent involved in a movie or TV series probably no one’s career is ruined faster by fronting a couple of bombs than an actor’s – and they’re about as much at the mercy of people and factors beyond their control after they’ve done their work as anybody.

25. Cygnus-X1 - November 1, 2007

Didn’t the WGA strike just a few years ago?

I think I remember them striking back toward the beginning of this decade and thinking, “Maybe that’s why movies of late have exhibited a creepy lack of creativity.”

Sadly, the rest of the decade since has not seen much improvement.

It seems like there’s been a lot of re-makes and lame comic-book films to come out of Hollywood during the past 7 years. Spiderman was the best of that lot and remains one of the top-grossing films of all time.

In that box-office gross seems to be a major indication of why writers are ostensibly undervalued by Hollywood studios.

Movies, especially big, dumb action movies, have a considerable built-in audience. People want to have fun on the weekends. They want to take their kids and their kids’ friends to a movie. What shall they see? Will they simply abstain if the movies showing happen to be of lesser quality because the WAG was on strike months prior? No, they’ll see whatever is being shown.

Hell, I’ve been in that situation plenty myself. Spending time with the family…want to see a movie…something we can all agree on….ah, Pirates of the Caribbean. That was always a fun ride at Disney World, and at long last, they have turned it into a movie. Action and adventure, here we come!

26. Randall - November 1, 2007

#24: ” hear ya. Something to bear in mind, though, is that of the talent involved in a movie or TV series probably no one’s career is ruined faster by fronting a couple of bombs than an actor’s – and they’re about as much at the mercy of people and factors beyond their control after they’ve done their work as anybody.”

Very true; but actors can quickly recover from a bomb or two, provided the films weren’t hugely egregious in their level of “suckage” and especially if the actor wasn’t the central lead. A series of bombs, of course, can spell death to an actor’s career, certainly. (And sure, sometimes all it takes is one BAD one). A bomb for a director, though, can be especially debilitating, unless he/she has already garnered a reputation that overcomes it. (a director’s career can also be killed off if they turn in film after film that runs overbudget).

But the thing we have to remember about actors is—the only thing there’s a “glut” of in Hollywood (in terms of talent) is actors. Talented writers are rare; most are hacks. Talented AND businesslike, efficient directors are perhaps even rarer. But one thing there’s a lot of is hungry actors and actresses. Sure, a Harrison Ford, a Tom Cruise, a Nicole Kidman, etc.—they have star power and bring people in. But for every one of them there are ten dozen others waiting in the wings who oftentimes have the same potential.

The problem with paying actors the exorbitant fees they demand is that this drives up the cost of film-making, and this in turn helps to create the business world of film we have today—where fewer films are made but huge amounts of money are spent—an economic spiral that forces Hollywood more and more to pander to the lowest common denominator. This isn’t ONLY due to the fees actors are paid, of course, but it doesn’t help.

27. Randall - November 1, 2007

#25: this is because of the economics of Hollywood today… as opposed to the economics of Hollywood in, say, the 40s. See my post above, in part… but also, what’s behind this in large measure is the takeover, of all the major Hollywood studios, 30 or so years ago, by the vast corporations that run Hollywood to this day. At that time Hollywood stopped being an industry whose *purpose* was to sell entertainment, and became a sub-industry whose *specialty* was selling entertainment, but whose *purpose* had become making money for the larger corporate overlord.

28. Kev-1 - November 1, 2007

At the beginning of the strike residuals were an issue;that is the studios wanted writers to give up residual payments for reruns and DVDs. I presume the studios wanted to keep profiting in perpetuity but give writers something up front. Don’t know if that’s still the case.

29. Marvin the Martian - November 1, 2007

What’s driving this strike is not “the writers want more money.” WGA members have had the opportunity to strike a few times since their last strike in the 1980s, but have not, because they–like everyone else in Hollywood–realizes that a strike is bad for business and bad for everyone. There has to be a compelling reason, and this time, they have one.

It’s all about the writers’ share of DVD sales and downloadable internet content. Since the last contract negotiation, TV boxed sets have exploded in popularity, and the writers’ share of these residuals are paltry at best.

A few years ago, I had lunch with one of the executive producers of 24, and he admitted that their residuals on those boxed sets was almost negligible, even though it was the sales success of the Season One boxed set that drove the series to be a hit (the audience share rose 25% the following season and has remained high ever since). Now, with studios extending series like Lost and Battlestar Galactica into additional runs in order to squeeze another boxed set out of the remaining episodes, this has become a huge issue for many writers.

Even bigger now, though, is internet content, like iTunes and Xbox downloads, and content sent to your cellphone. Writers get pretty much nothing out of these new broadcasting technologies, which are even cheaper to distribute than videotapes were in the 1980s, which prompted the last strike.

I’ve read that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of a writer’s income is from residuals, so this is why this has become such a major issue and a reason to strike.

30. I AM THX-1138 - November 1, 2007

As a gifted writer on this site, I am compelled to honor the writer’s strike.

It’s just that right now is not a good time for me. Perhaps this weekend or later, when I don’t feel like sharing my thoughts. I know I might be busy around the Holidays. Does that work for everyone else?

Anthony, when can we expect our residuals? I have gift shopping coming up and I have deliberately underbooked myself to spend time with the fam.

31. roberto Orci - November 1, 2007

13

I really have no idea. The last one was 22 weeks. But I was in high school.

32. Harry Ballz - November 1, 2007

THX…..don’t worry, I’m sure Anthony will give that suggestion of yours all the consideration it deserves!

33. om - November 1, 2007

“I’ve read that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of a writer’s income is from residuals, so this is why this has become such a major issue and a reason to strike. ”

…Yeah, and 30-60% of the cost of VHS tapes during their heyday were due to the extortion extolled by the mafi…er, “unions” in their residuals scam. If the unions and “guilds” had their way, we’d not only be paying them “residuals” every time we watched a show, any time we referenced it or even *thought* about it.

…Unions actually had a purpose once. A hundred fracking years ago, when the workers *were* getting the shaft. Nowadays, they exist for three purposes:

1) Extorting more money from the companies.

2) Guaranteeing less work for more money with lesser demands for higher quality work for their members.

3) Lining the pockets of those in charge of the unions.

…That’s it. They exist not to protect the workers from abuse and neglect, they’re pulling what’s tadamount to an extortion scam whose sole purpose is to get more gold from the king and give nothing back in return. If the studios had any balls – much less common sense – they’d lock out the unions, hire only scabs, and when Congress claims that’s “illegal”, the studios then, en masse, point out that by supporting the unions, they’re going against the non-union *voters* – who, thanks to the unions in Hollywood being *very* closed-shop about letting new people in – would easily be outnumbered 200-1 in the polls. Ergo, support the unions in starving the people of their entertainment, and you might wind up out of a job next election day.

And besides, what is law enforcement going to do? Call in the National Guard to take over every single studio in the country? Please…

34. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

#33 is sufficiently addressed in #12, paragraph 3.

35. Shatner_Fan_2000 - November 1, 2007

#30 … THX, I think someone should pay ME to have to read your posts!

(Just kidding, just kidding. :))

36. JCool - November 1, 2007

I am ready for this movie!

I especially want to check out the PINE/QUINTO/URBAN dynamic

if they have chemistry or not..

37. RandyYeoman - November 1, 2007

Mr. Orci
I hate to bring this up…but what of Shatner?

you said previously that you guys could make the shatner decision after shooting starts. And now you are saying the script is totally done.Assuming those two to be true there can be only one conclusion….Shatner’s role is in the script (or at least in one version).

I believe (as future President Colbert would say) I just ‘nailed you’

care to comment? and I, in advance, accept your appology

38. Lord Garth Formerly of Izar - November 1, 2007

There will never be a strike in Imaginationland!!!!!

Imagination,,, Imagination!!! Imaaaaaaaaagination

39. KennyB - November 1, 2007

#37 You did not NAIL anyone. They will make an annoucement when and if they feel like it. It is our great fortune that roberto visits AND actually replies to us here….I would not try to FORCE an answer out of him or “NAIL” him. I am just thankful for any scraps and tidbits he chooses to throw our way.

40. KennyB - November 1, 2007

Oh and please just let Shatner go already. :-)

41. I AM THX-1138 - November 1, 2007

Shatner_Fan, you and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything. Still, that does not discount my brilliance.

(OK, that one made me throw up in my mouth a little.)

42. CmdrR - November 1, 2007

Although, it would be cool if they didn’t have a new script so they had to spend $140M to remake “The Doomsday Machine.”
Ha. Just trying to stir up trouble….

43. David Sturm - November 1, 2007

I’m still wondering what most WGA writers will do during a strike?

Write new things for future presentation, I suspect?

What a wonderful opportunity a strike presents to start developing new ideas and stories, new projects, etc.

And what of all the writers yet to achieve WGA status? Will it be an era of ‘we’ll read contributed scripts’ again in Hollywood while the strike goes on and on?

I’m glad to hear that Abrams and Orci approached Star Trek with the timeframe of the potential strike in mind! Sounds like it must have been a frenetic experience, trying to get all the revisions thought through and worked out and into the script pages before the ‘moke of stridnight’?

44. VulcanBabe - November 1, 2007

“The script is in great shape and we had a long lead time,” said Orci confidently.

Is that a definite way of saying “No Shatner”? If they can’t change anything before filming, and the Shatner-less script is the only viable option…

45. Dennis Bailey - November 1, 2007

#43:”And what of all the writers yet to achieve WGA status? Will it be an era of ‘we’ll read contributed scripts’ again in Hollywood while the strike goes on and on?”

No. As in 1988, strikebreakers will be denied Guild membership thereafter.

46. Silhouette - November 1, 2007

For most of us, news of the writer’s strike does not immediately bring up thoughts about William Shatner or if he will appear. It is not the subject.

47. GaryS - November 1, 2007

glad to hear the script is in good shape cant wait to see the final result

48. Marvin the Martian - November 1, 2007

#33. Gee, did that rant make you feel better? I hope so, because everything you said was horse manure, including your “figures” on home video, which were pulled out of your ass.

It helps to know what you’re talking about before ranting.

People asked what the reasons were behind the current move of the WGA membership to strike, and I provided some. If you don’t like unions as a general rule, that’s fine. But it’s irrelevant to the questions that were raised.

49. Harry Ballz - November 1, 2007

Anthony, if any of us regular posters wrote anything like #48, you’d be threatening to ban us! Where’s the fairness in letting others come out with “flaming” remarks and then slapping us down for much less provocative stuff?

50. Rick - November 1, 2007

Looks like the strike is happening. Here is to the writers getting their fair share! After all they are the basis of all the entertainment you are enjoying out there.

51. Cygnus-X1 - November 1, 2007

26. Randall –

— The problem with paying actors the exorbitant fees they demand is that this drives up the cost of film-making, and this in turn helps to create the business world of film we have today —

As far as I know, in the old days, when actors were under contract to a studio, and weren’t paid by the job, when a movie, such as Casablanca, sold many more tickets than projected, the studios simply pocketed the profit surplus. I don’t think that actors are to be blamed today for preferring not to be indentured servants as they used to be, nor for the business climate.

But, even so, it’s fairly common for the most exorbitantly paid actors to work for much less than their top fee, even scale, on a project that inspires and is meaningful and fulfilling to them.

They often say that the big, dumb action movies subsidize the smaller, indie movies. But, this decade has really seen a dearth of outstanding films of either class. The big, dumb action movies are bigger and dumber than they used to be, and the small, indie films, relatively speaking, have been…what’s the word…

Forgettable.

If any single factor is to be blamed for the increase in cost of production, I’d consider pinning that tail on CGI.

Speaking of which…have you seen the previews for Beowulf?

Ugh. The CGI is HIDEOUS.

On the other hand, I just paid $11 to go see Blade Runner: The Final Cut in the theater because the modified visuals so enhanced that already powerful film that it made for a fantastically enjoyable experience.

But, that’s Blade Runner. A film from the 1980’s. A Sci-Fi story, with no shortage of action, but also with drama, romance, suspense, thought-provocation and these really cool, thoughtfully-developed things called “themes” that are more the focus of the film than the action which does move the film along nicely.

52. Iowagirl - November 2, 2007

#37, 39

I agree to Randy Yeoman – we, the audience, don’t have to swallow everything they put on our plate. True, Abrams & Co. have the budget, but in the end it’s us whow will pay for the tickets. One should always keep that in mind. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Orci participating in our threads and posting on this site – thank you again, Mr. Orci – but that doesn’t mean that we just accept everything he and his team are willing to offer without feeling the need to analyze it.

53. Iowagirl - November 2, 2007

#52
sorry, typo – should have been “who”…

54. Randall - November 2, 2007

51. Cygnus-X-1:

Come now. You’re blaming the ridiculously high cost of film production on CGI? Yes, CGI hasn’t helped matters, cost-wise, but CGI has only been a major factor in filmmaking for the last 10 years at most. (MAJOR factor, I repeat). Moreover, only certain genres use CGI effects. Of course, the cost spreads around, but clearly anyone can see that CGI isn’t what’s to blame here. Film productions costs have been climbing to precipitous heights ever since the 70s.

The impetus wasn’t even SFX, though once Star Wars came out in 77, making us demand pricier, higher-quality effects, that too has been a factor. The problem, rather, was the changeover, in the 70s and 80s, to the corporate structure in Hollywood, coupled with (and fueled by) Hollywood’s lust for the Blockbuster. As I pointed out, Hollywood went from an industry that sells movies to an industry whose purpose became to feed the larger corporate goliath that held sway over it. Big, enormous profits became the only thing that mattered. The high fees for actors played another role in rising production costs, but I never claimed that it was the primary cause. I simply said that if anyone’s overpaid in Hollywood, it’s actors—and writers deserve more. The cost of CGI is just another small factor. The main problem still is the new (not so new by now) focus in Hollywood on profit and only profit. Fewer movies get made, and the corporate masters demand that they all be BIG and hugely profit-making. As a consequence of this, we get a lot of crap.

In the old Hollywood system, with many more, smaller movies made in a year, a few could fail and the studio could still recoup its costs and even make big profits if the other films succeeded. A lot of little films, most of which make some money. You get profit that way. And the focus then was on selling good entertainment. That still meant a lot of drek got made, sure… but it was balanced out by a lot of quality.

Yes yes, I know the old sob story about actors being “indentured servants.” Certainly, yes, the studios could have been fairer, at the time, to their actors–in regards to residuals and other back-door profits. But actors of the day weren’t hurting—the entire mystique of the hugely rich “movie star” began with the studio system, I must remind you. Actors did well for themselves. By today’s standards no—but that’s just the point–today’s standards are ridiculously inflated.

The old system was better for everyone, if it had just been made fairer and a little less dictatorial. The tendency of directors and actors towards self-indulgence could be kept under control; profits (and losses) were spread around more efficiently (with a few glaring exceptions) and costs were for the most part much lower.

And we had far more consistent quality presented to us as consumers.

55. Cervantes - November 2, 2007

Another very high and needless expense is ‘over-saturation’ of ‘marketing’ by Studios on some projects…which ALREADY have a high profile…

56. Admiral_Bumblebee - November 2, 2007

I don’t get it. The writers strike starts on Monday, so from Monday onward there cannot be made any changes to the script.
There still is no definite word about William Shatner being in the movie or not.
But I think by now they must have reached a decision. They cannot decided to put Shatner into the movie after the strike starts because they cannot change the script to fit him in anymore after Monday.
So I cannot understand why there is no final word on whether Shatner is in the movie or not by now!

57. GaryS - November 2, 2007

there is no definitive word on shatners appearance because script details and negotiations with actors are not usually meant to be public knowledge, at least when it comes to something that could be intended as a surprise for the film.

58. Dennis Bailey - November 2, 2007

Uptopic I mentioned that an actor’s career can be more easily and permanently damaged by a film’s failure than most behind-the-scenes talent, but that cuts two ways of course. The *reason* they’re most vulnerable is that it’s their faces and personnas associated most clearly in the public mind with a movie. The enormous upside there for an actor is that they’re also the folks most clearly associated with tremendous success.

There’s no way to bring a variation of the old “studio system” back into existence. Once actors recognized the leverage that stardom gave them there was no way to put the cork back into that bottle. People care -for better or worse – whether Tom Cruise is in a movie. They’ll pony up their eight bucks (or not) based on that. There aren’t enough people who care whether Universal or Paramount or MGM funds and distributes a film for it to matter.

59. Randall - November 2, 2007

Dennis #58: You’re laboring under a misconception. Even back in the days of the old studio system, people primarily cared about the star of a movie—they went to see anything as long as it had John Wayne in it, or Cary Grant, or Ingrid Bergman, etc. People back then rarely cared who the director was, or what studio the film came from. A few very big directors were known—Hitchcock being the most outstanding example. And it was generally known that a Universal picture meant horror, MGM meant big gloss, Warners meant hard-boiled, etc. etc. But that’s about it. Little has changed in that sense.

You seem to have a further misconception that actors had something to do with the death of the studio system. Hardly. Oh, a few actors broke out and realized they could go “free agent” as it were, but that wasn’t what brought the studio system down. What killed the studio system was a landmark legal pronouncement by the government that the studio production/distribution companies constituted a sort of oligarchic monopoly. See, it’s not widely understood today—the studios were not the real power in Hollywood back then. The power was in the hands of the distributors—companies like Loews—who owned theaters all over the country, and also owned the studios (for example, I believe Loews owned MGM). In order to fuel their theaters, distributors had the studios turning out movies. When the government finally balked at this system (who was it hurting? No one. But Hollywood was an easy target) they forced the distribution companies to divest themselves of their studio holdings—and the studios were then cut off from their source of capital. TV came along at the same time, and voila—you had a terrible combination that brought the studios to their knees.

Now you’re right about one thing—bringing back the old system would be well-nigh impossible today. But it wouldn’t hurt matters if studios were out from under the thumb of massive conglomerates, and it wouldn’t hurt costs if actors were paid a lot less.

60. Cygnus-X1 - November 2, 2007

54. Randall –

— Come now. You’re blaming the ridiculously high cost of film production on CGI? Yes, CGI hasn’t helped matters, cost-wise, but CGI has only been a major factor in filmmaking for the last 10 years at most. —

Sorry, I wasn’t disputing the costs of the factors of production — actors vs. CGI — but, rather, their blameworthiness.

I was saying that there’s no point in blaming actors for being overpaid because the rectification of that problem would be unfair as well as politically and economically impractical. I mean, we’d basically be talking about artificial wage suppression and I don’t know anyone in any industry who would take kindly to that, especially when, as I said, the studio CEO’s would more than likely keep the profit surpluses for themselves. It’s better for that money to go to those who actually make the art.

With free bargaining, the actors can be viewed as variables both in terms of cost and revenue and paid accordingly. A studio doesn’t pay, say, Jim Carrey $20 million for his performance in “The Mask” if it hasn’t calculated that Carrey’s performance will yield a commensurate increase in ticket sales, revenue and profit.

Sure, the studio could have made The Mask for less money with another actor playing the lead, but, would enough people have gone to see the film in order to make it as profitable as with Carrey? (If the answer be yes, then, it was obviously a bad business decision to hire Carrey.)

If the studios had calculated higher profits with a cheaper actor, I’ve no doubt that they’d have gone that route as it would certainly have entailed less risk (as the makers of “The Cable Guy” are no doubt aware.)

— …profits (and losses) were spread around more efficiently (with a few glaring exceptions)… —

I don’t know much about the movie business, but, it just seems a bit naive to think that artificially suppressing actors’ wages, in order to increase profits for the studios, and, then, counting on the studios to take creative risks with that profit, is feasible and realistic.

I also don’t know that it’s any more efficient to give the profits to the studios instead of to the actors. Either way, it doesn’t seem particularly fair.

As for CGI being a major factor only over the past ten years, I’ve only been talking about the poor quality of films over the past 7 years, so we’re not disagreeing there.

Actors may be a larger cost than CGI (or not. I really don’t know.), but CGI might be more blameworthy in that it is less important than the actors to both the quality of the film and to its profitability.

— I simply said that if anyone’s overpaid in Hollywood, it’s actors—and writers deserve more. —

I can’t say that actors are overpaid if their fees are calculated based on the increases in revenues yielded by their inclusions in the films. There’s a very clear reason why some actors are paid more than others. And, an equally clear reason why studios choose to pay some actors more than others.

The big movie stars of today didn’t always command the fees that they do today. I don’t know how much Harrison Ford was paid for Star Wars, but I’m guessing that it was relatively modest. And, look at how much money that film made.

The point being that it’s possible for studios to make movies at a lower cost and have those movies be equally if not more profitable. Hiring lesser known but exceptionally talented actors might be a means to that end. Also, it might be worth experimenting with paying writers more and making a movie with a fantastic story and lesser known actors (or fewer big names), as opposed to the current practice which seems to be the reverse.

If this were to prove a successful formula, we would see a corresponding decrease in actors’ fees coupled with an increase in writers’ fees.

Also, it’s not just Sci-Fi movies that regularly employ CGI nowadays. Dramas do it too, in order to “enhance” the visuals…create rain where there is none, fog, sunshine, etc….

Such costs, in addition to the obvious CGI, of course, are what I was referring to as possibly more blameworthy than actors’ fees which vary directly as revenue and are presumed by the studios to still be cost-effective.

61. Silhouette - November 2, 2007

I can’t wait to see Bailey’s response…LOL

62. Engon - November 2, 2007

Relax. I have it on good authority that we’ll discover that Star Trek XI was all William Shatner’s dream…and that he’s married to Susanne Pleshette.

63. Randall - November 3, 2007

Cygnus: “It’s better for that money to go to those who actually make the art.”

Yes, precisely. It should go to the *writers.* Actors are not “artists.” Actors are at best “craftspeople.” Art they do not create.

64. Randall - November 3, 2007

“I don’t know much about the movie business, but, it just seems a bit naive to think that artificially suppressing actors’ wages, in order to increase profits for the studios, and, then, counting on the studios to take creative risks with that profit, is feasible and realistic.”

Well, I never said that anyway. So no naivete here. I simply made the observation that actors make too much money, and it adds another cost to filmmaking.

But you’re right—it’d be silly to expect corporations to take any hypothetical savings and put it back into good product.

65. Cygnus-X1 - November 3, 2007

63. Randall –

— Yes, precisely. It should go to the *writers.* Actors are not “artists.” Actors are at best “craftspeople.” Art they do not create. —

I think that actors are both craftspeople and artists.

Some rolls are written very precisely, leaving less room for interpretation, improvisation and creation. An actor might be more appropriately referred to as a craftsman when acting a role in a Shakespeare play, for example, in that he’s probably not creating anything that’s not implied on the page.

But, other roles — take the aforementioned example of The Mask — are more subject to the creativity of the actor.

Do you think that Jim Carrey’s role in The Mask was written exactly as he performed it? Do you think that any other actor given the script could have played that role in any way resembling the way that Carrey played it?

I don’t. I think that Jim Carrey is a unique actor who is both a craftsman and an artist, and that his performance in The Mask was more attributable to his creation than to the writers’. But, such a judgment is premised upon the definition of “art,” and we may have differing definitions.

I do agree that writers seem undervalued, underutilized and are likely underpaid. Whether writers are, in all cases, more important to a film than actors, and whether writers should therefore be paid more than actors across the board, is an issue that I would like to see tested, as I said.

Experiment: Pay top-dollar for a screenplay, its writer and additional writers to beef up the dialogue and tweak the screenplay as needed, and use lesser known or less “hot” actors and no CGI. See what happens.

Make sure you hire a good director, though.

66. Randall - November 5, 2007

Cygnus: Well no, we’re never going to agree, because I simply do not believe that acting is an “art.” It’s a skill, yes, it takes some talent, yes… but that doesn’t make it art. And Jim Carrey is a bad example anyway—you call him an “artist” for his style of horribly over the top mugging? I know a lot of people find him hugely funny. I don’t. Not that I haven’t laughed at some stuff he’s done… but he’s not comic genius as far as I’m concerned.

But again, all matters of opinion. But take the greatest example you can think of—-Brando or DeNiro, I don’t care—to me these people are not “creating” anything… they’re interpreting. There’s nothing “artistic” about it.

Which is not to denigrate what they do—craftspeople are important.

Whether writers are more important than actors—well, my inclination would be to say yes. But if you consider film overall as a collaborative art, you can argue that no one is really “more” important than anyone else—the director is clearly key, but I guess the thing is, if you get right down to it—somebody has to *write* the damn thing. A director can guide, interpret, and improve upon what’s written… and an actor can interpret and improve upon what’s written (perhaps). The cinematographer can add beauty and moving imagery, and so on. But it all begins (or should begin) with what’s written.

Of course the truth is, films aren’t sold as scripts as often as they’re sold as “packages” these days. But still, the idea is there.

But anyway, all this debating back and forth about acting and what it means—it’s not totally relevant. The fact is that when the system is already far too expensive—and you add in 20 million or whatever for the cost of a single actor—then surely anyone should be able to see that such a thing is ridiculous. It’s the same corruption that we have in the business world, where CEOs make 100 million dollar salaries and take away even larger severance packages when they’re edged out or let go… someone will always argue that such indecent amounts of money are justified…. but in our heart of hearts we all know it’s really wrong.

67. Cygnus-X1 - November 5, 2007

66. Randall –

I respect your opinion that films cost too much to make and that actors are unfairly benefiting from that cost, possibly to the detriment of writers.

But, to identify this as a problem implies the possibility of a solution. After all, it’s not Astrophysics that we’re talking about.

So, what would be your proposed solution to the problem of actors’ salaries? And, what would be the ramifications of such a solution, to the industry as a whole, as well as to the individual actors?

Further, if one sees fit to identify actors’ salaries as a problem — and the proximate cause of the decline in quality of films — then, why not blame the studios who choose to allocate their resources in such a way as they do?

But, what would be the reasoning behind blaming the studios for engaging in profitable business practices in which, not only are none of their employees being mistreated, but the studios are accused of OVER-paying some of their employees?

On what standards (legal, moral, ethical…?) would such a criticism be predicated, if it were not to be totally arbitrary?

— somebody has to *write* the damn thing. —

I’m curious, have you ever been to see improvised acting or comedy?

When next you’re in NYC, I recommend that you check out the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s an improv comedy troupe with some SNL cast members (I think it was founded by Amy Poehler) as well as some other fairly well-known TV comedic actors and some as-yet-unknown talent.

The Sunday Night shows are completely improvised. One of the actors, referred to as the “monologuist,” begins the show by telling a little tale, allegedly made up on the spot with a word offered from the audience. And, the rest of the show is composed of the actors improvising scenes with each other on stage, loosely based on the aforementioned monologue.

Basically, the monologue offers some basic ideas for scenes — a person trapped in a bank during a hold-up, for example — and, the actors act scenes with each other, many of which are premised upon the events from the monologue, but the scenes are mostly composed of information not included in the monologue.

So, if all of the people on the stage are actors, and actors aren’t artists by virtue of the fact that they don’t “create” anything, then, who’s creating that show for the hour of its duration?

Would you say that it’s simply a thing that is not created, but crafted, even though the actual “writing” of the scenes is being done on-the-spot by the actors who are performing them?

(It’s usually a very funny show, by the way, and a lot of fun.)

68. Randall - November 5, 2007

Cygnus:

I’ve seen “The Upright Citizens Brigade,” yes, as well as other improv stuff.

Your point about improv work is well taken, to a point. But films are not improvised. (occasionally scenes are, but this is rarer than following a script). Yes, when someone improvises, they are creating. It’s a form of writing. Of course.

But in that instance the actor is not “acting,” he/she is writing. ACTING is the process by which someone pretends to be a character for a period of time either on stage or on film/TV. IMPROVISATION is a form of writing. Just because an actor can improvise, and thus “write,” doesn’t make the actor an artist—for that reason.

I mean, let’s not throw around “artist” too readily at writers either. Most are hacks, not artists.

Anyway, to the extent that an actor contributes to a script/film, etc. via improvisation, sure—I’ll grant you that’s creative. But now you’re grasping at straws.

As to a problem implying a solution, I can’t agree. Some problems simply exist. That doesn’t mean they’re solve-able.

And again, I never laid the blame for the current state of Hollywood on high actor salaries. You’re misreading me. I said actor’s salaries are too high. That’s all. I explained in detail what IS to blame for the current state of Hollywood. Actor salaries are just a factor, and a smaller one than others.

69. Greg2600 - November 5, 2007

When was the last time you heard about a movie or TV show which was way over budget? They have that down to a science these days. Studios are making money hand over foot, and still stifling artistic and creative passions constantly. Like the rest of Corporate America, they sold out their workers in favor of cheap garbage (reality TV). Considering some of the outrageous prices charged for DVD’s, particularly for Star Trek, some more of that should go to the writers.

70. Cygnus-X1 - November 5, 2007

68. Randall –

If your main point is that studios are making lesser quality films because their primary goal is to make money for their corporate owners who really don’t care how that money is made — by shit or shingle –then, I agree with you.

I’ve been involved in a creative venture run by accountants who saw little beyond the focus of “SELL PRODUCT.” There is a zone of productive harmony that exists in marriages of art and commerce, where both are well served.

At present, the Hollywood film industry seems to be operating outside of that zone. Commerce is being well served, but art is not.

And, the audiences are not.

71. Randall - November 6, 2007

“If your main point is that studios are making lesser quality films because their primary goal is to make money for their corporate owners who really don’t care how that money is made — by shit or shingle –then, I agree with you.”

Yes, that is exactly my point. So we’re in agreement. This horror began in the 70s and by the 80s, the change in Hollywood was complete.

There’s no solution to the problem; the “solution” would have been to not let it happen in the first place—but that would have required the government to step in and say “no” to all these corporate takeovers, in Hollywood, of the studios. Perhaps it would have set a nice precedent, and we wouldn’t have vast corporate ownership of *all* our media sources today—huge corporations now own the great majorit of TV and radio stations and newspapers across the country.

72. Cygnus-X1 - November 6, 2007

71. Randall –

It also happened in the music industry – during the 1980’s, I think.

By the 1990’s, 5 corporations owned all of the major record labels. And, the consequence to the music industry has been similar to what we are identifying in the film industry.

However, as it doesn’t seem to violate anti-trust laws, in either the film industry or the music industry, I don’t know of any legal measure that would have prevented it.

I suspect that what we’re talking about would appropriately be considered to be part of the larger, more fundamental problem identified and expounded upon by the likes of Noam Chomsky, that of corporate definition.

73. Randall - November 7, 2007

Cygnus:

Well, I agree… but as you and I are not lawyers (at least, I’m not) then we can’t know what laws over the years have been violated. Or, more accurately, we could say that perhaps the right laws weren’t written in the first place.

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