‘Lost’ set picketed by writers
They want to be paid when the popular TV show is downloaded
Members of the Writers Guild of America picketed yesterday in front of the Hawaii Film Studio, which houses the interior set for "Lost," in a display of solidarity with striking writers on the mainland.
Some of the approximately 20 active WGA members residing on Oahu held signs reading "ABC.com = LO$T WGA residuals." Formal negotiations between writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are scheduled to resume Monday.
"'Lost' is one of the most downloaded shows on television," said screenwriter Judd Klinger, who recently moved to Hawaii from Los Angeles. "It's a prototype for using new media, and it completely gets around paying writers, and that's exactly what the strike is about."
Though "Lost" producers and actors filming at the Diamond Head location avoided the small, well-behaved group, visibility has not been a problem on the mainland, where presidential candidate John Edwards spoke to picketers and media in Burbank, Calif., about preventing "big corporate conglomerates from taking over."
One of the key issues revolves around residuals. Writers are supposed to be paid every time their show airs. But circumventing traditional media outlets -- downloading to an iPod, for instance -- has obliterated a major source of income.
"Now with this alternate media, writers are paid nothing," said Neal Israel, a veteran member of the WGA since 1979, with a long list of hit movies and television favorites such as "Lizzy McGuire," "Even Stevens" and "The Wonder Years" to his credit.
Though studios have minimized the potential of online profits, "we're just asking for a percentage, if there's a profit -- with some fair determination of when a movie is actually in profit," explained Klinger, who noted that studios claimed during 1988 negotiations that people would never purchase a machine to watch videos at home.
Serial shows like "Lost," which people prefer to view in chronological order, are especially popular on DVD and the Internet. Currently, writers earn about 4 cents per DVD sold, against an alleged profit of $25 for the studio. They would like that to rise to 8 cents.
But "Lost" appears to be breaking ground with its new miniepisodes currently available on ABC.com. Led by executive producer Carlton Cuse (also a writer and key negotiator for the WGA), the writers of "Lost: Missing Pieces" earned a specific amount of money for each two- to three-minute short, and will make about 2 percent on residual sales, according to the New York Times. For writers willing to compromise, it certainly looks like progress.
"We are essentially a middle-class union," said Israel. "The average writer makes $60,000 a year. It's very difficult for us to make a living. We just want a fair contract."