Still on the job -- aspiring Hollywood writer Eric Francis types at his usual voracious speed. Photo by Danielle Voirin.
Dear Friend and Reader:
YOU HAVE heard me say a lot of times that TV sucks, and now its writers are on strike. Hearing that, I immediately forgot my silly old grudge and wrote to Jeff Apter, my union president in Paris, and asked him whether I had to walk off the job in support of these talented Hollywood scribes who provide so much of the material that we and our children use to educate ourselves about the wild world.
Whatever may have been my prior opinion of television, I feel like I owe these comrades-de-plume my support. As I said in a footnote to the last edition of this letter, writing careers don't happen fast. It takes longer to become a writer than it does to become a medical malpractice lawyer. If you're extremely talented, driven and lucky and/or have the right brother-in-law, maybe you will finally make it at 30, or 40, or 50; perhaps somebody, somewhere, someday will give you a gig. Then with any luck, it lasts six months.
Jeff replied promptly with his counsel in this time of dire need for our fellow unionists. "Just think of your support for your colleagues for two minutes and, if possible, tell others about why journalists are taking action to draw attention to threats to jobs, etc." So, I am taking two minutes to write this column.
In honor of the strike, I was considering respecting the picket line, and at least refusing to read the chart for
the strike and instead marching around with a sandwich board outside my house. But it's such a great chart, I am here to advance their cause, and it's a bit chillier here in upstate New York than it is in Burbank.
Houses the 2nd and the 5th
LEO IS rising. Are these writers just drama queens?
No ma'am, the Sun (ruler of the ascendant) in Scorpio conjunct Juno (the divine consort) in the 3rd house of writing says they are loyally wedded to their work in soap-opera fashion, but they know its value as well. Scorpio always does. Juno suggests they have a lot of complaints. You can be sure that their negotiators have a score card the length of Santa's list.
Price is not the only measure of value, but Hollywood has cash. It would not have cash if it did not have ideas. Writers come up with those ideas. I know studio execs don't like it a bit. I know that the studios are hard at work developing Artificial Kitsch software that will spit out new TV scripts all by itself. You just put in a few keywords and out comes a completed program; and soon the actors will all be virtual. But they are not there yet.
Picketers were expected to remain at Silvercup Studios until 5 p.m. Tuesday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Saturn in Virgo in the 1st house says these old-fashioned, low-tech human writers are hard workers, and detail oriented. But detail don't get you shit in Hollywood; you need the nectar and it has to be hot nectar. And this chart has it. Take a look at the 5th house, on the lower right. That is the house that grabs you. Which is a good thing, because these writers know that if they don't grab you every single day or week, they ain't worth their salt, and they're only as good as their last episode.
The 5th house of any chart is the house of creativity, art, risk-taking, acting like a little kid and being passionate and bold. The 5th in this chart has Sagittarius on the cusp. That is big; that is visionary; and there is a conjunction coming, between Jupiter, Pluto and the Galactic Center -- something is up, and it's creative.
There is a lot of pure garbage on TV, and there is also Steve Colbert. This presentation
at the National Press Club dinner last year was written by those hacks in Hollywood, and it's damned funny. Not only that, it's gutsy, it pissed off all the right people and it changed the world, if just a little. There is Jon Stewart. There is Conan O'Brien. There is Keith Olbermann.
Tell me, is there ever a day when Jon Stewart is not funny?
The people who are on strike know they are hot, and they know their front men depend on them. They know they are the real talent, and their voices are totally subsumed by the one delivering the lines; that Pluto disappears behind that Jupiter. It never occurs to most people that there even are writers until you hear about a strike and the programs start to disappear.
Even the windbags who spout out neurotic soap opera dialog we use to feel better about ourselves must write to spec. They have to be creative every single day. They have to do things over 27 times till they get it right by somebody else's standards. But this chart's 5th house is about more than that -- it is about the full awareness of what talent demands -- the drive to create (Pluto in the 5th), demanding a kind of all-consuming obsession with the work, a broad base of knowledge and experience and yes, the gift of gab (Jupiter in Sagg in the 5th).
If you've ever envied someone you perceive as talented, don't -- unless you are aware of the commitment involved. You may see what talented people do; you do not see what they give up in order to do it.
Then there is the 2nd house -- the money house in a chart that is really about money. That has Virgo lingering around the cusp, and two planets occupying it -- the Moon and Venus. At least there are planets at all. Were there not, we would have a problem, and one of them is Venus, which is a good thing to have in the 2nd. The Moon is less helpful, indicating the extreme income cycles that writers live with.
Virgo is intensely self-critical; it is both difficult and essential in any equation where creativity is a theme. You need to see the flaws in your work without getting obsessed by them; you need to know what constitutes good enough. But in a money house, you have the constant question of is this really worth what I am asking, worth what I am getting paid, or worth anything at all? Most of nature exists on a sustenance basis, and too often this is Virgo's style. The implication is that these writers, no matter how successful, do not feel they are worthy of their pay, and that they need to learn; they are taking a step in self-esteem by walking off the job. They are in effect recognizing their own worth.
But here is the catch.
The 2nd and the 5th meet in a tense angle -- a square. This is, first of all, a picture of the eternal struggle between creativity and its worth. To be a creative person who makes money at it, you need to sell something that is deeply personal. I assure you it is on the same level as someone who is not a prostitute doing a direct cash transaction for sex. Both writing and sex should be too personal to commodify.
That is selling or renting your creativity, which is a fact of life if you are a professional creative. But then imagine you have to establish its value every day and face the constant need to bargain, negotiate and be rejected -- and occasionally get hired. It can eat your soul.
Much of the public may think the people on strike are overpaid Hollywood guys who should be thankful for what they have. I can assure you that they are struggling with that very issue. In truth, they are hardworking writers like the rest of us, and they deserve to get paid for all their work, they deserve their extra four cents residuals on every DVD that is sold, and they deserve to be cut into the future of the Internet.
This chart says they need to hold out. They will get what they want, and in the process they are going to figure out they deserve what they already know they are worth.
Oh, and by the way -- I worked on this essay for about four solid hours.Please re-subscribe, give us a try,
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Member, National Union of Journalists of the UK, Paris branch
Member, National Writers Union of the United States, at-large branch