With their key contracts expiring in the late spring, critical negotiations continue in the entertainment industry between producers, writers and actors. Within this developing scenario, where even the most gifted insiders are challenged by all the signals, every move by unions, producers and their respective constituencies warrants special consideration.
Some say a strike is unlikely: But Screen Actors Guild (SAG) president William Daniels has openly and urgently called for an end to his union's unbridled factionalism. Others say a strike is a sure thing: Yet, at the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the often disparate contingents from the east and west are said to be cooperating and working more closely than ever, and there are signals that negotiations will be successful. Finally, there are those who say the unions have never been more united: But, as covered in a recent flurry of media reports, a SAG source was quoted, apparently second-hand at a Super Bowl party, claiming that SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) should do away with their time-honored tradition of negotiating together on major contracts.
Those who wonder if there will actually be a major entertainment strike are often forced to speculate.
In any event, the Writers Guild of America West has announced that it will present Emmy Award-winning co-creator and executive producer Paul Haggis ("Family Law") with its Valentine Davies Award on March 4. The award's namesake, Valentine Davies, wrote the Academy Award-winning story for "Miracle on 34th Street" and was nominated for Academy Awards for co-writing "It Happens Every Spring," "The Glenn Miller Story," and for producing the documentary short, "The House Without a Name" in 1957.
The award earmarked for Haggis is described as recognizing "writers who have contributed to the entertainment industry as well as the community at large, and who have brought dignity and honor to the profession of writing everywhere." In terms of dignity and honor, Haggis will be in good company. Past recipients include Michael and Garson Kanin, Garry Marshall, Hal Kanter, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Norman Lear, Ray Bradbury, Barry Kemp, Philip Dunne and Alan Alda. In a prepared statement, WGA president John Wells said Haggis had "worked tirelessly to right injustice and devoted his energies and his resources to making a difference." Known professionally for "championing unpopular causes and challenging audiences to re-think long-held beliefs and biases," Haggis once hosted surviving students from the Tienamen Square massacre at his home and helped establish their "secret fax campaign," the union said. He also hosted the Dalai Lama, again at his home, when the Tibetan leader first reached out to the Hollywood community.
All of this detail beckons both respect and speculation: While being legitimately honored, is Haggis also being acknowledged or finessed in connection with high-level strike duty?
Back east, three other special awards are being issued. Both Tom Fontana ("OZ," Homicide: Life on the Street," "St. Elsewhere") and Evan Hunter ("The Birds," "The Blackboard Jungle") will each receive special achievement awards. Fontana takes the Evelyn F. Burkey Award for bringing [here's that term again] "honor and dignity to writers everywhere"; while Hunter takes the Ian McLellan Hunter (no relation) award for "lifetime achievement in writing."
A third WGAE award is going to union vice president Richard Wesley ("Uptown Saturday Night," "The House of Digs," "Murder Without Motive"). Wesley will receive the Richard B. Jablow award for devoted service to the guild. In addition to his creative work, Wesley's contributions happen to include sitting in on the WGA's critical Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) talks.
There is no question about the legitimacy of any awards, and there is arguably no shortage of worthy WGA award recipients at any given time. But like everything else in entertainment, the timing of award recognitions, especially before a possible strike, is meaningful. Watchdogs might note that the established award theme "honor and dignity" [aka "dignity and honor"] correlates with the writers' contention over directors' "possessory credit." For those willing to speculate, it could be the guild is sending a clear affirmation of its resolve.
The 53rd Annual Writers Guild East awards at the Plaza Hotel in New York City take place simultaneously with the 53rd Annual WGA West awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. For further information about the Writers Guild Awards West call (323) 782 4574. In the East call (212) 981-5156.