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Hey, Industry…it’s me, Writer.

by Jenna Bond

I find myself constantly wondering about the business models of our industry, and I am a writer. In some ways, that’s an odd thing to state, as the writer is to the film and television industry as a founder is to the tech industry. Writers create a document that blueprints a business plan from which jobs, above and below the line, will be created. Revenue will be guided for a short-term company that aims to operate at a profit for five years if a show, a year if a movie, all based on a script. Writers are not engaged for their creativity; we are engaged for our profitability. But the fates of a writer and a tech founder are quite different, and to be fair, the industry structures are different. A tech founder–even one who fails–can generally foresee a sustainable share of the revenue derived from their vision and a sizable standard of living when their product is significantly profitable. A modern writer of a hit show, an entity that requires a multimillion dollar investment, may live closer to the life of a struggling artist who has never sold work, and we’ve normalized that.

I’m quick to correct people who respond to me being a screenwriter sounds creative-–a word tinged with connotations of not requiring compensation or not producing work of clear value—with the note that any role in the industry is a business role. You can look up how much value a show or a movie generates. You can explore the profit share between the creators, the talent, the craft teams, and the producers. You can live a professional life aware of the business value of your work, which requires creativity and analysis while also affirming that the work requires a skill that creates discrete value. It is important to have a relationship with both the history of our industry and the current data related to revenue to operate in a way that honors your work effort. Ideas like luck and magic are what is sold to consumers to sell the products of the entertainment industry but that mindset cannot be adopted by workers within the industry. We create measurable value that allows one side of the industry weekly salaries and the other side, the challenge of pacing the structure of freelance employment with innovation.

While our union contracts are organized into triannual negotiations, power within the industry that serves us all requires being present with the business. And as issues of compensation, hiring practices, AI and IP, and other key elements of the business model are under review, it is important that we know the history of how we came into the models of the business that we take for granted. Models built on picket lines that could be considered through active, mindful conversations and collaboration in a more ideal partnership between creative professionals and producers. We need our unions and we need to bolster them with our ideas and our visions of business ongoing.

Books to read (or listen to) when the unions and AMPTP are negotiating for our industry’s sustainability:

Jenna Bondis a writer and producer whose career began in magazines before she went on to serve as an aide and later writer for Bill Clinton. Harlem-based, Jenna has worked as a strategist for organizations including the Apollo Theater and Marcus Samuelsson Group. She spent four years as a rep at the Writers Guild of America, East. She is an art collector, patron of Maysles Documentary Center and serves on the board of Harlem Stage. Jenna’s credits include RUN THE WORLD (Starz) and OUR SHARED FUTURE (Smithsonian).

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