I have to admit: I would love to see the Oscars cancelled. Not for the power trip that we, the lowly scribes of the Writers Guild, brought Hollywood to its knees; I would be just as happy, if not more so, to see a union of caterers or make-up artists do the same. Nor for the false sense of justice this might inspire in those members who see our cause crystallized in the fact that it is we who script the awards show for an industry often eager to dispose of us; there is nothing just about all the more anonymous nominees —composers, set designers, wardrobe stylists, etc.— being denied their one moment of public recognition on behalf of our grievances. But let’s admit it together: given the unabashed idolatry that fuels the Academy Awards, wouldn’t it be a good thing to experience a global fast from the spectacle just one year? With Lent now upon us, what if we spent that Sunday night contemplating instead how embedded we are in the culture of celebrity, be it Hollywood or politics or poetry that has its hooks in us?
Now that informal talks have resumed between the Guild and AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers) since management walked out on us a second time in late November, we have been asked to exercise restraint in our public comments on the issue at this sensitive juncture. Call me crazy, but I doubt the likes of Robert Iger at Disney or Peter Chernin at Fox are rushing home from work to read the inaugural blog on this website for a journal devoted to the dialogue between art and faith. No, having seen the Golden Globe Awards devolve to a pathetic press conference because of the strike, perhaps they now intend to remain at the table and work out a deal. Supposedly there are “contingency plans” in effect for the Oscars should a deal not be reached by late February, so my guilty hopes for a worldwide fast from this year’s ceremonies at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles more likely would be met with something along the lines of a dietary shake.
Last week NBC news came to my apartment in Brooklyn to interview me about the strike and get a glimpse of life at home for an ordinary writer who is not the ingrate with a Mercedes that our counterparts at the negotiating table have made us all out to be. And when the segment airs tonight, I will (hopefully) make our case to thousands or millions of viewers in the tri-state area that we are simply asking for a small but fair share of potential profits to be gained from the online distribution of shows and movies that we wrote. The problem is, the day after the interview, the Directors Guild of America announced a deal with AMPTP, made in a matter of days, that pays no heed to the concerns our guild has raised about matters of new media. Only time will tell if the directors were right to conclude that our concerns will not be crucial until 2010, when their newly minted contract expires. Either way, the announcement has left us writers up Fecal Creek without a pen or paddle.
Perhaps by the time this inaugural Image blog has posted, a deal of some form will have been reached, the picket lines abandoned for paychecks suspended (if not terminated) since early November, and the Oscars spared much to the relief of millions around the globe. If so, I will not only be back to work, but back to imagining my own acceptance speech onstage some far-off day in the unattainable future. For now, though, I would rather imagine the yearly ritual at an unfamiliar standstill. A true Lenten fast, tailor-made for the times we live in. And given that the Hebrew root of fasting means “to shut one’s mouth,” I am sure my representatives at the negotiating table would prefer I now do the same.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Bradford Winters
Bradford Winters is a screenwriter/producer in television whose work has included such series as Oz, Kings, Boss, and The Americans. Currently he is showrunner on the upcoming CIA drama for Epix called Berlin Station, starring Richard Jenkins. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. In August his comic book Americatown, about a near-future enclave of American immigrants abroad, was released by Boom! Studios. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.