Harlan Is Not Impressed

February 15, 2008

Harlan Ellison, who has been going toe-to-toe with Hollywood producers since longer than many of us have been alive, isn’t too impressed with the Writers Guild settlement:

THEY BEAT US LIKE A YELLOW DOG. IT IS A SHIT DEAL. We finally got a timorous generation that has never had to strike, to get their asses out there, and we had to put up with the usual cowardly spineless babbling horse’s asses who kept mumbling “lessgo bac’ta work” over and over, as if it would make them one iota a better writer. But after months on the line, and them finally bouncing that pus-sucking dipthong Nick Counter, we rushed headlong into a shabby, scabrous, underfed shovelfulla shit clutched to the affections of toss-in-the-towel summer soldiers trembling before the Awe of the Alliance.

My Guild did what it did in 1988. It trembled and sold us out. It gave away the EXACT co-terminus expiration date with SAG for some bullshit short-line substitute; it got us no more control of our words; it sneak-abandoned the animator and reality beanfield hands before anyone even forced it on them; it made nice so no one would think we were meanies; it let the Alliance play us like the village idiot. The WGAw folded like a Texaco Road Map from back in the day.

And I am ashamed of this Guild, as I was when Shavelson was the prexy, and we wasted our efforts and lost out on technology that we had to strike for THIS time. 17 days of streaming tv!!!????? Geezus, you bleating wimps, why not just turn over your old granny for gang-rape?

I’m not a WGA member, and I’m not up on a lot of the inside-baseball stuff in this deal. I gather that the big stick the writers held was the upcoming Oscar broadcast, which promised to be about as entertaining as a Sumatran ox race without any scribes to pen witty repartee, and once the broadcast was done the Guild members were faced with a long haul with no paying work if they wanted to keep the strike going. So I’m in no position to gauge the wisdom of the settlement.

But I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the announcement of the settlement came at about the same time as news that the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien has filed suit against New Line Cinema, claiming that it is owed millions of dollars in unpaid fees from the film version of The Lord of the Rings. Aiming for the jugular, the estate and its co-plaintiffs also seek to terminate New Line’s rights to produce the film version of The Hobbit.

Those three movies have generated billions of dollars in revenue, turned New Line into a major industry player and jump-started whole new sub-industries based on the idea of reissuing the films in extended DVD-only editions. I would also suggest those extended editions considerably speeded up the growth of the DVD market — I for one was in no great hurry to get a DVD player until those extended editions started coming out, and I suspect that was true for a lot of other people.

That kind of money pays for a lot of Porsches, Montana ranches and Malibu beachfront property. And all of it was made possible by an Oxford don who, in between translating medieval manuscripts and declaiming Icelandic sagas in the original Old Norse, puttered around with imaginary languages and ended up creating an eccentric, multi-volume fantasy epic that (like it or not) became a landmark in twentieth century literature.

If I owed all that success to an old philologist and his fifty-year-old epic, I’d build a shrine to the guy. But the habit of cheating and underpaying writers is so ingrained in the Hollywood mindset that instead of writing a check and sending it out with a case of mead as thanks, these turkeys tried to gyp the estate out of its due payment. Now they risk losing The Hobbit and the certainty of another multi-billion-dollar payday. Brilliant.

So I guess I’m inclined to believe Harlan Ellison.

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