Writers explain the strike - online

November 23, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

A 5-year-old boy revealing the little-known connection between superheroes and the Hollywood writer's strike. A 94-year-old writer, with a resume dating back to the Marx Brothers, explaining why he supports his union. And a look at what the cinematic world would be like if professional writers weren't around to create it.

Hollywood's writers might be on strike, but that hasn't stopped their creative juices from flowing. True, their efforts aren't being channeled into episodic television or movie scripts. But the established media's loss is the Internet's gain.

For examples, go to the unit edhollywood.com Web site and scroll down to the "video blogging" section. Any of the thumbnail pics there will direct you to a strike-related YouTube post. Same Old Story, for instance, offers just over a minute-and-a-half of 94-year-old Irving Brecher, who has written for everyone from the Marx Brothers to Ann-Margret, railing against decades of perceived penny-pinching by the Hollywood studios.

"It's not as if we're asking for the whole cash cow," says Brecher, whose credits include the 1949 comedy, The Life of Riley. "All we would like is a little squirt of milk."

By post's end, a revved-up Brecher invokes a classic movie line to plead the writers' case. "As Chester A. Riley would have said," the veteran writer suggests, "`What a revoltin' development this is!' But he only said it because I wrote it."

Who knew Irving Brecher was still alive, much less so feisty?

And there are dozens more related videos available for download. Many are simple P.R. jobs, clips of well-known actors walking the picket lines in support of the writers, who have been striking since Nov. 5 over royalties from DVD sales and Internet downloads. Some are straightforward video position papers, outlining the Guild's stance and explaining why its membership felt a strike was necessary.

Some are even anti-Guild, like the screed from ghostcow, in which a shirtless poster complains that people who make, on average, as much as a doctor, have no room to complain. "Get a job like the rest of us," he insists. More than a dozen responders beg to disagree, with posted retorts ranging from reasoned arguments to "Put a shirt on and close that moronic trap of yours."

(On the Web, in case you haven't discovered, civility truly is dead.)

True, production values aren't so hot (is there a rule that YouTube postings have to be so dark that faces are often indistinguishable?), and there's only so many times one can be entertained by cap-wearing movie and TV stars telling the writers they're on the side of truth, justice and the American way. Some, while funny - like Strike You!, in which actress Meredith Salenger repeatedly utters a certain four-letter curse word while berating a striking writer for ruining her life - are too profane to be quoted here. Subtlety, too, is not a Web byword.

But the best are a hoot. And some are gloriously subversive and anarchic, in ways that hidebound Hollywood doesn't always tolerate. Among those that deserve a look:

A Five-Year-Old Explains the Writers Strike, featuring Neal Pollack and his son, Elijah, doesn't exactly clarify anything, but offers some tantalizing insights. Among the revelations: Superheroes seem to be on the producers' side, Elijah has an imaginary dog (Pillow) who is also on strike, and the strike is happening "Because Daddy's not making good movies."

Or Writers Strike! A Response From the Studio, in which studio mogul Moe Gaulle (writer Frank Conniff) explains why he carries a sign reading, "Writers Unfair to Studio Execs." Quoth Moe: "If they're so imaginative, why can't they just imagine that they're getting a few more cents off of DVDs and a few cents off of Internet downloads?"

Or the deadpan Heroes of the Writers Strike, in which striking scribes are shown in their new jobs, including fast-food server, bowling-shoe counterperson and streetcorner gigolo.

The writers get some help from their overseas pals, courtesy of a three-member contingent from the Lichtenstein Association of Broadcasting International Artists and Scribes (a group that's obviously seen Borat a few too many times), who beg U.S. President Arnold Schwarzenegger to intervene.

Best of all, perhaps - and one that sums up the writers' value in the Hollywood hierarchy - is A World Without Writers, in which famous quotes from famous films are re-imagined as the work of hacks who wouldn't know the mot juste from cranberry juice.

Thus, you get a still of Rhett saying goodbye to Scarlett at the end of Gone With the Wind, with the words, "Whatever, Scarlett." Or you get Howard Beale, the deranged newscaster from Network, screaming at the top of his lungs, "I'm quite displeased and considering how much longer I should tolerate this."

Couldn't have said it better myself. And I am a writer.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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