Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#11: Writers' Strike Impact Not So Horrible
By David Mumpower
January 7, 2009

They do the weird stuff.

"Rare is the industry story so far reaching that we know ahead of time that it is likely to repeat its entry on the list at a later date." This is what BOP prophetically (it's what we do) said on January 1, 2008. Guess what. We were right.

For those of you who have already forgotten, the Writer's Strike began on November 5, 2007. The key issue was the Internet. Writers and their representatives recognized all too well what the major corporations running Hollywood had refused to acknowledge. Web site revenue is the future of the industry. All the major conglomerates were playing hardball with writer's wages, claiming that all ancillary revenue from the Internet was difficult to quantify and thereby out of play for writers. Given that the writers were the ones, you know, producing the content, they had a problem with this philosophy. Their sweat of brow was being used for profit, but they were not been financially compensated. As such, they felt corporate Hollywood was taking advantage of their good will. When the sides could not come to terms of agreement on the matter, the strike began.

At the time, we pointed out that the impact of the Writer's Strike had been primarily focused upon television. The true impact on the film industry would not be felt for 12-18 months, we argued, and that has recently come to fruition. One of the first dominoes to fall was the delay of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until the summer of 2009. Warner Bros. realized that they had no potential tentpole title for the lucrative summer period. With no better option in play, they pulled their biggest production out of November and slotted it in July of 2009. Oddly, the primary beneficiary of this would prove to be Summit Entertainment as their film, Twilight, promptly jumped to that release date and proceeded to light up the box office sky. How well the move works for Warner Bros. remains to be seen, but given that Harry Potter and the Dog Fight at Michael Vick's could probably open to $100 million, BOP believes they'll be okay.

For the industry itself, what is remarkable about the strike is how emerging technology impacted it. Through the magic of YouTube, writers had a voice for their issues that had not existed during the last strike in 1988. The principal issue of conflict back then had been the compensation for ancillary market sales on home video. At the time, the writers, the proverbial little man taking on big business, had no means to argue their point to consumers. Corporate bigwigs eventually outlasted the generally middle class writers, breaking the group as their members faced destitution. In 2008, the medium had changed.

With the ability to broadcast their message, oftentimes entertaining viewers in the process, the Writer's Guilds on both coasts managed to put a public face on their issues. And since that face looked like Steven Colbert, people were inclined to laugh at it. Many of the best viral videos of late 2007 and early 2008 focused upon the hilariously mixed message corporations were sending about the Internet. One particularly foolish corporation stated in a press release that it would be impossible to quantify how much money the Internet meant to a movie/television business. Almost immediately, writers countered with actual video of the person whose name was signed with the letterhead. That person was speaking at a business meeting...and he was boldly stating the company's Internet revenue for an upcoming period would be half a billion dollars. Whoops.

As the sides argued publicly and, somewhat recursively, on the Internet, several bits of video genius were release. My personal favorite was the creative team behind Everybody Hates Chris warning consumers that putting Hollywood children out of work would endanger them to the point that they may grow up to be like Todd Bridges. And they drove this point home by having Todd Bridges deliver the message. Sure, he has to lack self-esteem to do that, but at least he has self-awareness.

The truly fascinating aspect of the Writer's Strike is that the most creative people in the industry were liberated from work for a while. As they stood in groups and picketed major corporations, smart and funny people interacted and brainstormed. While no one would work while the strike was ongoing, plans could be made for the future. And BOP was pleased to see that one of our very favorite people, Joss Whedon, was among the most inventive in this regard.

While striking with family members Jed and Zach Whedon and their respective significant others, Joss had an epiphany. An idea that had been percolating in his head for a while should take on a new form. The idea was Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, and the implementation of this new creation was as novel as its title.

For those of you who have not had Internet access for the past six months, Dr. Horrible is a 43 minute video told in three episodes. The premise is that a would-be supervillain blogs his days and nights while he tries to earn an invite from Bad Horse to join the Evil League of Evil. And he sings about all his ups and downs along the way. Yup, it's a musical. Oh yeah, and there is this girl he likes named Penny whom he semi-stalks at the laundry mat. She seems to like him, too, but rather than date him, she does the weird stuff (I'm talking about sex) with his arch-nemesis, the heroic but vapid Captain Hammer.

Yes, Dr. Horrible is every bit as strange as it sounds, as is the case with most of Joss Whedon's creations. And yes, it's every bit as entertaining as most of Joss Whedon's creations are. Keeping in mind that BOP once named Serenity as the best movie of the year (we clearly drink the Whedon Kool-Aid), we cannot recommend this title any stronger. In fact, I gave the DVD of it to a couple of family members for Christmas and my wife already enjoyed the DVD's musical commentary (as in the cast members and creative team sing their way through the DVD commentary) multiple times. A link to Dr. Horrible has been conveniently placed at the end of this story if you haven't checked it out yet. You will probably want to see why there's all the fuss over such a strange work of fiction.

Odds are that you have already been made aware of Dr. Horrible, though. It's currently featured in Time Magazine and was recently named by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly both as one of the most interesting products of the year. Dr. Horrible received millions of views on the Internet, became a top seller on iTunes (for $4.99, a licensed copy of all three acts was available), produced a soundtrack (that also became a top 40 seller on iTunes) and is now available for purchase on DVD. It has become one of the strangest cross-industry promotional success stories in recent memory. And none of this would have been possible had there not been a Writer's Strike wherein Joss Whedon could look at Felicia Day and say, "Hey, tell me about this Guild thing of yours."