On Saturday night, the WGA Awards were held in Los Angeles, and Charlie Kaufman picked up the honorary top film award. He didn't waste any words when he accepted the award. This subtly hinted at where Hollywood might be going in the next few months, with writers set to stand off against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The WGA Basic Agreement is set to expire on May 1st, 2023, though negotiations could postpone that until June. We'll keep you updated as that happens, but for now, check out Kaufman's brilliant speech.
I took a beat and transcribed the whole thing. Here it is below (minus his opening 'thank yous').
"Twenty years ago, I'm in the back of an auditorium, watching a seminar called 'how to pitch.' One by one, supplicants approach a microphone at the foot of the stage, on which sit a panel of experts; producers, executives, etceteras. No writers. the first student of the pitch speaks, voice shaking. 'We open on a barge, in the middle of--' "Stop, you've lost me already.' Student of the pitch two, voice shaking ' A young man falls into the middle of--' 'No, No! Jesus! Come on!' And so it goes, these nervous young people step up to be shot down. Sadistic, I think. Payback for the way the people on the panel were once treated, I think. Garbage, I think. Training, I think. We writers are trained by the business. We are trained to believe what we do is secondary to what they do. We are trained to do the bidding of people motivated not by curiosity, but by protecting their jobs. And we lose sight of what our work is, it is not to contribute to their fortunes or our own. It is not to please them or critics or even the audiences who have also been trained. Our work is to reflect the world, to say what's true in the face of so much lying. The rest is window dressing at best, Triumph of the Will at worst. Adrienne Rich wrote, ‘I do know that art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.’ The world is a mess. the world is beautiful. The world is impossibly complicated. And we have the opportunity to explore that. If we give that up for the carrot, then we might as well be the executives. The etceteras. Because we have become their minions. I have dropped the ball, wasted years seeking the approval of people with money. Don’t get trapped in their world of box office numbers. You don't work for them. You don’t work for the world of box office numbers. You work for the world. Don't worry about how to pitch, don't pitch. Be nervous, be vulnerable. Make your story honest and tell it. They’ve tricked us into thinking we can’t do it without them. But the truth is they can’t do anything of value without us.”
What a powerful statement that I think echoes the sentiment of many writers in this town. We're asked to do more and more work for less pay. We're respected less and less. We're out on the front lines to strike first. Now, in a changing Hollywood, writers are being pushed out of the back end on streaming, replaced by AI, and lots of other stupid and degrading things that have devalued their voices.
It's nice to see some ready to push back. All of your favorite shows and movies came from the mind of a writer.
Don't forget it.