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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 November 2007, 10:06 GMT
Hollywood writers defend strike
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Pickets outside Paramount Pictures
The last strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks

There is no end in sight to the increasingly bitter Hollywood writers strike.

Union members and their employers, the studio producers, are rigidly sticking to their position that they are not to blame for the deadlock.

"We're not going to go back until we get a fair contract," says Nancy De Los Santos, a striking writer, on the picket line outside Paramount Pictures.

With no fresh talks planned, the employers, represented by The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, have made it known, through newspaper ads, that they believe writers are already well-paid for their work.

Each side is displaying a dogged determination to get its way.

In the meantime, Hollywood is grinding to a standstill. The talk shows are already off the air and primetime favourites such as Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy are reported to be on the verge of shutting down production.

Pivotal role

If we're not there to continue writing for the next week's show, there won't be any more shows
Nancy De Los Santos

The rapid impact of the strike highlights the pivotal role played by writers, not only in writing original stories, but on the set.

"I'm a television writer and we write and re-write and re-write," says Victor De Jesus.

"We don't deliver a first draft and then go home and sleep.

"You've got comedy writers that write until the last possible minute. You're actually shooting a scene and if a joke doesn't work they're going to re-write a joke. These guys are working until the very end."

Many shows operate on a tight schedule. Once it has been interrupted, a production can be affected for months.

"If we're not there to continue writing for the next week's show, there won't be any more shows," says Nancy De Los Santos.

The role of writers on movie sets is equally important to the smooth-running of a production.

"We play a crucial role. If it's not on the page it's not on the stage."

The writers are seeking a bigger slice of the profits when TV shows are sold on DVD or downloaded from the internet.

'Spoiled infants'

Nancy De Los Santos
Writer Nancy De Los Santos joins the Paramount Pictures picket line

The dispute, while attracting strong support from other union members in Hollywood, has also provided fodder for US newspaper cartoonists who have portrayed the writers as rich, privileged and selfish.

"Many view the set-to as a tiff between two sets of spoiled infants who already earn far more than the average American," wrote Joe Queenan, in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal.

"But to be fair, the public is unfamiliar with the grievances that have brought the warring parties to this impasse," he added.

Striking writers on the picket line at Paramount Pictures say their average salary is about $60,000 (28,800). They balk at the suggestion that rank and file scribes are well off.

"We're not millionaire writers," says Ms De Los Santos.

"We're all freelancers so our lives go up and down. Sometimes I have $10,000 in my bank account and sometimes I have $10 in my bank account. And that's just the way it is."

Many writers complain that their role in Hollywood has been downplayed for years. But the mood on the picket lines is upbeat.

With the high-profile support of a number of celebrities, such as Jay Leno, Eva Longoria, Robin Williams and David Duchovny, the strikers say they are prepared for the long haul.

"We're asking for a fair deal for working writers for working Hollywood - it's not that complicated, it's the right thing to do and then everyone will be back working," says Ms De Los Santos.

There is, however, a sense of regret that the strike is already causing widespread hardship in Hollywood.

"Unfortunately it's a ripple effect and it goes down from us to all the production assistants," says Mr De Jesus.

Famous faces join the LA picket line

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