As screenwriters, most of us have found ourselves in some version of the following scenario: when pitching an idea for a movie or TV series, the executive sitting across from us leans forward and asks, “Why now?”
Meaning, why does this particular project need to exist now? What makes it timely? How does it capture or speak to what’s happening in the zeitgeist? It’s reasonable to want to know how our idea, in addition to whatever creative merits it may possess, will resonate with today’s audiences. In fact, we hear this question so often that the smart writer anticipates it in advance and seamlessly incorporates a snazzy answer into the pitch before it can even be asked.
I mention this because I’ve been a member of the WGA since 2001. I have written for broadcast series, premium cable series, a made-for-TV movie (and hopefully, as I write this, another one on the way). I’ve directed music videos, short films, an independent feature, and an episode of a hit prime time drama series. Most recently, I had the extreme good fortune of becoming a first-time showrunner. After all of that, this is my first time running for a seat on the WGA’s Board of Directors.
And so, you may be wondering in your finest network executive voice, “Why now?”
The short answer is, like many of us, I’ve been content all these years to keep my nose to the grindstone and focus on strengthening both my craft and my career. Some years I worked, some years I didn’t, but I relentlessly pursued my dream of becoming (and remaining) a working screenwriter while letting others assume the responsibility for the Guild’s leadership. I was confident that, come what may, our leaders had the membership’s best interests at heart, so I convinced myself that there was no need for me to do more than pay my quarterly dues and sit back and wait for the next Guild e-mail to update me on whatever was going on. The heavy lifting was being done by others far more capable than me.
More capable than I? Whatever. You get me.
Fortunately, I still have that same confidence in our leadership. But I also realized that it was unfair of me to not give back to the organization that’s been so instrumental in helping me establish and sustain a relatively stable career.
In recent months, it’s become clearer than ever to me that in order for our Guild to remain strong, and to ensure that we continue striving for gains in an industry that routinely treats the writer’s contribution as negligible, doing the heavy lifting is a responsibility that must be shared by all of us. My goal is to become an active participant in tackling the many issues facing us, from streaming residuals to mini-rooms to holding Hollywood accountable for its Black Lives Matter platitudes and helping turn those words into demonstrable action.
I’ve been very pleased to witness the progress the Guild has made in our ongoing efforts to bring the process of packaging to an end, mainly because I have no interest in becoming an employee of my own representatives. But there are other battles before us as well, and probably none is more critical than determining how, as an industry, we will return to work safely in light of the current coronavirus pandemic. It’s imperative that Hollywood not use this crisis as a way to marginalize writers and keep us on the fringes of production once it starts back up.
I could not be more grateful for everything that the Guild has helped me and others like me accomplish. If chosen to serve as a member of the Board, I would bring several years of hard-fought experience as a working writer to the table and a fresh voice to our future proceedings as we fight for our future.
I look forward to the opportunity to be of service.
Yours in solidarity,
We, the undersigned members of the WGA, are endorsing the candidacy of Eric Haywood for the WGA West Board of Directors. Eric has two decades’ worth of experience in the industry, and we believe he will add tremendous value to the Board. Please join us in our support.
Michele Val Jean
Terence Paul Winter
Leigh Dana Jackson
Nichelle Tramble Spellman
Ira Madison III
David H. Steinberg
Janine Sherman Barrois
Randi Mayem Singer