Aaron Sorkin’s Four Big Problems With the WGA

Yesterday, we pointed out a short excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter’s writers’ roundtable, where Aaron Sorkin and Todd Phillips ream the Writers Guild in front of its West Coast president, John Wells. If you thought that was awkward, though, we highly recommend watching the entire, one-hour roundtable, where both men’s arguments against the guild are far more sustained and provocative. After Phillips notes, “All I’ve gotten from the Writers Guild is gotten fucked,” Sorkin takes over the table with a bevy of interesting, eloquent, and potentially explosive complaints; the Social Network screenwriter even jokes, “I now will not get a WGA nomination, we can rule that out.” What were his biggest beefs?

On the WGA’s failings as a union: “I am a union guy, my grandfather was one of the founders of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which was not just a powerful union but an important union. But a union makes sense when people have more power as a group than they do as individuals. I have considerably more power as an individual than I do as a member of that group, and I am forced to be a member of that union in order to work. Moreover, because the vast majority of the members of that union are not employed, frankly, the Writers Guild works best as an organization not to protect writers from management but to protect people who want to be writers from people who already are. I have never had any trouble with a studio, with a network, with a producer, with a director, with a star; I have only ever had trouble with the Writers Guild.”

On having to share credit: “Just the credit process … which says that the first writer on the movie gets an irreducible story credit, just that. Even if you come in and do an absolute page-one rewrite and none of this first writer’s work ever appears on the screen, what you’re saying is that a writer’s credit is a reward for effort. That writer got paid for his effort. The writing credit should be information to the audience [about] who wrote what you just saw on the screen. You know, I just was one of a couple of writers on Moneyball, which just wrapped. Very famously, Steven Soderbergh was the first director on that, and Bennett Miller ended up directing the movie, and in a million years, the DGA would not allow a credit that said, “Original directorial concept by Steven Soderbergh, then directed by Bennett Miller.” The DGA doesn’t want to dilute the power [of a credit]. The Writers Guild is very happy to give the impression that a movie was written by five different people, which ultimately gives the impression that the director was the author of the movie, because they see one name at the end.”

On the strike: “I’m also one of the 9 percent of the Writers Guild who did not vote to support the strike. By the way, I now will not get a WGA nomination, we can rule that out. [Laughs.] It’s not a coincidence that it’s roughly that 9 percent of people who are employed. The fact of the matter is that for many, many members of the Writers Guild, being on strike represented a career step up. They weren’t unemployed [because] they could now say they were on strike. There was an odd camaraderie to it. I kept reading these articles that were cringe-worthy about how much fun people were having on the picket line and they got to see all these stars go through the gates; meanwhile, the members of the nineteen different craft unions who work on these television series or who work on a movie — who are union wage earners and to their unions make sense, who are the principal wage earners for their families — they’re out of work!”

On contracts: “My feeling is if you want to get the extra three cents on the streaming video — frankly, I never even understood the issue behind the strike because I don’t know anything about technology — if you want to get the extra three cents, write better. Your agent will get it for you. Be good, be in demand [and] your agent will get it! Let the markets work! … If you want to hire any of the writers at this table, there are things you’re going to give us because you want what we’ve got and that’s the way it should work.”

Still, it wasn’t all bad! Sorkin clarified that there’s at least one thing about the guild he likes, and it happens to be the man with whom he produced The West Wing: “John is a very good WGA president, okay? I’m very happy that John is the president of the Writers Guild.”

Awards Watch Roundtable: The Writers [HR]

Aaron Sorkin’s Four Big Problems With the WGA