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Hollywood Writers Vs. Producers

By Merrill Matthews KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – Defenders of capitalism and the free market can't help but get a little satisfaction, and perhaps see a little irony, in the labor struggles currently taking place in Hollywood between the screen writers union and film industry executives. The writers believe they do most of the work while the actors, producers and directors, and, of course, the CEOs, get all the glory and the bucks. They feel like Hollywood's "second-class citizens," according to one news account, and if they don't get some respect, they'll strike.

It's the classic Fat-Cat-versus-the-Little-Guy struggle that Hollywood filmmakers have decried for years, and made millions of dollars doing it. Business owners, and especially Big Business CEOs, are habitually portrayed as cruel and greedy, robbing their employees of what's really due them, insensitive to workplace dangers or environmental hazards, and ready to fire malcontents at the first sign of dissent.

Consider Hollywood's monument to the ruthless CEO: Mr. Potter in the holiday film classic "It's a Wonderful Life." Potter will do anything to gain control of the Bailey Building and Loan - even steal, or at least not return, the $8,000 misplaced by Uncle Billy. Just so viewers don't miss the point, we see in the revised world created by Clarence the angel how the town, now called Pottersville, would have turned out: full of sin, hate and corruption, had not the humble George Bailey been around to check Potter's unbridled quest for money and power.

Now, however, it's Hollywood CEOs who are in the ironic position of trying to explain to the Writers Guild of America, and to the rest of us, why budgets are so tight in that cash-rich industry that they can't come up with any extra royalty money for the writers. Does anyone out there really believe that the movie studios are strapped for cash, that they can't share a little of that wealth, that they can't give the writers a bigger say in their productions?

Now, contrast the greedy movie moguls with the country's newest group of capitalist CEOs, those who run technology companies. Most of them are entrepreneurs and true believers in the benefits of capitalism. Yet, unlike Hollywood CEOs, these capitalists don't mind sharing the wealth. They often use company stock as a form of compensation, and thousands of formerly middle-income workers have become rich as a result. It's a rags-to-riches (or maybe we should say RAMs-to-riches) story of entrepreneurial capitalists making life better for all of their employees.

Hey, there's an idea! If the screen writers do go on strike, maybe they could spend a little time on this script: A Fat Cat movie mogul leans back in his chair, lights his cigar with a hundred-dollar bill and growls, "If those writers won't take what we're offering 'em, CRUSH 'em!" He gets depressed over what he's done and considers taking his life. An angel jumps in and shows him what Hollywood would have been like had he never lived. In this case, a true capitalist - who understands that people work harder and are happier if they are respected and well rewarded for their work - is running the studio, and it's booming.

Sound like an Oscar-contender to you? My guess is that's a movie that will never be made