In 1985, the WGA asked for residuals on home video. They were told it was an “unproven market.” They accepted a deal that quickly got revealed as unfair, as the actual cost of making VHS tapes dropped. The same formula was used for DVD. To this day, writers’ residuals for physical media sales are frozen at .3%. Not three percent, point three. Three tenths of one percent. In 2007 and 2008, the WGA spent fourteen weeks on strike and eventually had to go to court to get the agreement, which covered much less than they’d hoped, enforced, because the studios had apparently agreed and then backed off on their agreement. Because writers are seen as unimportant.
It’s definitely true that we’ve covered far fewer writers for the two biography columns than actors, and many of the ones we have covered are also actors, or also directors, or also both. Many, many writers toil away in obscurity, tucked into writers’ rooms and so forth, and unless you’re a huge Movie Person, you likely don’t even know their names. I suspect a lot of people don’t even know the names of the screenwriter[s] for their favourite movies. I mean, I do, because there’s a lot of drama about Roman Holiday and its credit, but that’s kind of cheating, right?
Even a lot of the YouTube content out there has writers, and that’s a whole other issue. Now, Max Miller, Dapper Dinosaur and Gutsick Gibbon are their own writers, and Caitlin Doughty shows a lot of transparency about her process, but can I say that about every YouTube channel I watch? I cannot. One of them is currently mid-drama, and I don’t know enough about anyone involved to have an opinion. Some YouTube is unscripted and some isn’t, and for the stuff that isn’t, the writers are absolutely important and almost always completely anonymous. At least Simon Whistler always acknowledges his writer at the beginning of episodes—and usually his editor, so that’s nice?
Obviously we do not here mean to disparage the importance of literally everyone else in the process of making movies and TV shows. A good script will only get you so far. Picture A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Ed Wood and starring Steven Seagal as Puck, if you think I’m wrong. (Hey, I thought of it; you all get to suffer along with me.) But also you could have The Room directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Henry Fonda, and that would only get you so far, too, provided they weren’t allowed to drop into self-parody. The script matters and will always be part of making a truly great film.
Writers are invisible. Writers are often solitary. When we do know writers’ names, it is often because they have been brought to our attention in some other way. Let’s leave Roman Holiday for a minute—I don’t know who wrote Candleshoe, and I’ve written about it several times. Of course, I don’t know who directed it, either, which is I guess something. But now I’ve gone and looked it up, it’s one of the writers, Rosemary Anne Sisson, whom I most felt the need to add to the schedule, because her career turns out to have been absolutely amazing and of course completely unsung. So look for a tribute of her in January of next year.