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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 November 2007, 16:01 GMT
Striking US writers get creative
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Striking writers who have downed tools in an attempt to get larger royalty payments from the Hollywood studios have gone online to get their message across.

Daily Show writer Jason Ross (courtesy YouTube)
In one video Jason Ross of The Daily Show hosts a mock bulletin
The results, many of which have been posted on the United Hollywood blog and on video sharing site YouTube, make for entertaining viewing.

One short film, posted last week, sees Daily Show scribe Jason Ross present a mock news bulletin from a New York picket line.

Another purports to present what striking writers are doing to make ends meet - activities that range from flipping burgers to male prostitution.

In one slickly produced posting, a strike-breaking member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is accosted in a coffee house by two members of the non-existent "Writers Guild Police".

The three-minute sketch ends with a plea to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to "end the violence" against writers and "do what is fair".

Satirical

So what are the studios and producers themselves saying? Not much. Nothing at all, in fact.

No doubt they would be happy to answer the strikers' claims with viral videos of their own - if, of course, they had anyone to write them.

In fact, it is the writers themselves who are putting their point of view across - in as satirical a fashion as possible, naturally.

"Why do writers insist on making our lives miserable?" whines a writer from Comedy Central show The Colbert Report in the guise of a studio vice-president.

"It's impossible to make money off the internet. If you don't believe me, Google it!"

This joke cuts to the quick of the conflict between the writers on the picket lines and their Hollywood paymasters.

The key issue - some might say the only issue - is the royalties the scribes think they should be receiving when their work is viewed online.

Promotional

The studios demur, claiming online video streaming is for promotional purposes only and thus exempt from the kind of residuals writers receive from TV repeats and DVD sales.

If a deal is to be made when the WGA and AMPTP resume contract talks next week, there will have to be agreement on this crucial sticking point.

The irony of using the internet to complain about the alleged misuse of the internet has not been lost on these online activists.

One web video, reads a placard, has been "delivered via the internet - y'know, the thing we don't get paid for".

"None of the writers in this video received residuals for it," reads another. "But don't worry - they're used to it."

Nor are the strikers above personal attacks, with Fox studio chairman Rupert Murdoch being likened in one posting to the miserly Mr Burns from animated series The Simpsons.

'Hypocrisy'

In the same video, a parody of the poster for 1988 film Die Hard showing Fox's Los Angeles skyscraper is accompanied by the legend: "40 stories of sheer hypocrisy."

You can put a writer on a picket line, it seems, but you cannot stop him using his creativity.

Create a stage, though, and you can be sure there will soon be actors along to fill it.

A host of Hollywood stars are making their own contribution to the campaign in a series of ads implying what happens when their writers withdraw their services.

The ads show the likes of Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and the cast of Ugly Betty standing silently before the camera, before holding up the word "Speechless".

For the casual observer unaffiliated with either side, this acrimonious dispute is fast becoming the best show in town.

And with further contract negotiations looming involving the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America, it is one with the potential to spawn some juicy sequels.

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