Hollywood readies for writer's strike

MUMBAI: With the clock ticking over and time running out, studios are stockpiling projects to avoid suspension of work.Hollywood writers are poised to strike work by 31 October if their list of demands are not met with.

Their existing 3-year contract with producers ends 31 October, so 1 November could be day one of the strike.

The Writers Guild Of America (WGA) is demanding a doubling of the pay they receive from the sales of DVD, raising minimum pay for writers and in addition a share of income from programmes streamlined on Internet by TV networks.

The strike could have a major impact as a municipal study indicates a loss of $6.9 billion to the economy of Los Angeles city alone.

Closer home, the film writers in India are also a discontented lot and are in complete support of their Hollywood counterparts.

Here, there are two bodies representing the fraternity - the Film Writers Association (FWA) was formed in 1954 while the Writers Society of India (WSI) has been in existence since the last five years.

The WSI was a body formed to protect writers‘ interests on the issue of royalties, something which the FWA, being governed by the Trade Union Act, could not address.

Till 1950, in every film producing company, a director and writer were permanent employees. That‘s why till then, there didn‘t arise any need for an association of either directors or writers.
Soon after the contract system was introduced with directors and writers, the old relationships between writers and directors began to crack, leading ultimately to disputes between producers and directors as well as between directors and writers.

The director could no longer work with the writer of his choice nor could a writer offer his creation to the director of his liking.

Writer cum director Anurag Basu says, "Indian writers are underpaid and not respected within the film fraternity. Very few writers get their due. The whole community of producers spends time and energy on actors not writers. This thought process is very warped. First they find the actors, then directors and then writers. One can get a good script only if one finds a good writer. If a writer is better paid he will have a sense of security. This in turn will give the industry good scripts.

"Even when one goes to any film awards function it is noticeable that writers are neglected and they are not included in the prime category. I surely support the demands of the Hollywood writers and am looking forward to the day Indian film writers get their due respect."

Writers in the film industry are keenly watching the on-going battle in Hollywood as they feel that the outcome could in a way affect their future.

Ved Rahi, Secretary of the Film Writers Association is in total support of the strike and says, "We are aware of the strike and are in complete support of their demands. Though we are not actively doing anything about it, we are in solidarity with them. Alas, if we too could go on a similar strike here."

Ved Rahi, who has penned nearly 30 film scripts, adds that the biggest issue for writers is that of Royalty. "At any given point of time I see at least one of my films being telecast. And I am not paid a rupee by way of Royalty. When we can‘t get Royalty, forget demanding for rights from sales of DVDs. Even the law is not on our side. We need a strong voice to make a representation in Parliament. Unfortunately, this has been our weakness. The FWA has over 7,000 members. Every year we resolve many disputes. In fact, very recently, when both the story and dialogue writers of Nanhe Jaisalmer were not paid, we intervened and they were paid Rs 2.5 lakhs (Rs 2,50,000) by the producer though there was no written contract."

To protect the rights of the writer is the first directive in the FWA Constitution. The members are seeking an amendment in order to include rights by way of Royalty. Rahi says, "We are not organized enough to opt for written contracts which would protect our rights. Moreover with the corporate culture coming in, some writers are being paid astronomical fees but without receiving any credits. And in addition they are made to sign a contract relinquishing all their rights. In fact the time has come for us to learn a lesson from Hollywood.

A minimum wage structure does exist even for film writers in India but it can be brought into force only in a dispute. If it is proved that a producer has not paid the writer, then he is made to pay according to the minimum wages stipulated in the Act.

It is only a matter of a day before the fate of writers in Hollywood is to be decided, but the murmurs of discontent amongst their Indian counterparts may soon turn into a roar.

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