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The Writers

The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Writers
    Book Description:

    Screenwriters are storytellers and dream builders. They forge new worlds and beings, bringing them to life through storylines and idiosyncratic details. Yet up until now, no one has told the story of these creative and indispensable artists.The Writersis the only comprehensive qualitative analysis of the history of writers and writing in the film, television, and streaming media industries in America.

    Featuring in-depth interviews with over fifty writers-including Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Carl Reiner, and Frank Pierson-The Writersdelivers a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at the role and rights of writers in Hollywood and New York over the past century. Granted unprecedented access to the archives of the Writers Guild Foundation, Miranda J. Banks also mines over 100 never-before-published oral histories with legends such as Nora Ephron and Ring Lardner Jr., whose insight and humor provide a window onto the enduring priorities, policies, and practices of the Writers Guild.

    With an ear for the language of storytellers, Banks deftly analyzes watershed moments in the industry: the advent of sound, World War II, the blacklist, ascension of television, the American New Wave, the rise and fall of VHS and DVD, and the boom of streaming media.The Writersspans historical and contemporary moments, and draws upon American cultural history, film and television scholarship and the passionate politics of labor and management. Published on the sixtieth anniversary of the formation of the Writers Guild of America, this book tells the story of the triumphs and struggles of these vociferous and contentious hero-makers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7140-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Screenwriters are storytellers, dream builders, and, more often than they would like, simple workaday hacks. They envision new worlds and the beings to populate them, bringing them to life through storylines and idiosyncratic details. Writers craft tales of heroism against all odds—so much so that they are sometimes swept up in the formula, becoming their own plucky protagonists in epic behind-the-scenes Hollywood dramas. Walter Bernstein, a sixty-year industry veteran and blacklist survivor, feels compelled to write by an artistic zeal and a fearless drive for individual expression. Screenwriters exist in their professional community as socially alienated intellectuals, spurned luminaries,...

  6. 1 The Artist Employee
    (pp. 27-65)

    In the winter of 1933, the steady foundation under Hollywood began to crack. Quite literally, the walls started to shake when the Long Beach earthquake rumbled its way across the Southern California landscape on March 10. But it was not the first seismic shift noted that year. In the weeks preceding it, the film studios were facing the rapidly falling box office sales. Although the wild success of sound film and audiences’ desire for escapism during the dark economic times of the Depression had ensured big box office numbers for a few years, the cost of sound conversion along with...

  7. 2 Two Front Lines
    (pp. 67-115)

    The real-life spectacle and legal theatrics of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, filmed in the hallowed halls of Congress in October 1947, read like an A-lister’s screenplay. But the ending would prove too depressing a scenario for a Hollywood silver screen drama. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, American conservatives on the political right attacked Hollywood Reds, studios fired scores of writers (among other employees), and—perhaps most painful of all—writers betrayed other writers. Without question, this era was the most damaging in the history of the writers and their union, and the story of faithlessness and...

  8. 3 The Infant Prodigy
    (pp. 117-153)

    By the late 1940s, television sets were quickly becoming the most coveted accessory for the modern American home. Media historian Lynn Spigel has masterly documented the installation of television into American families’ daily lives.¹ The simultaneous process of integrating television writers into professional writing communities provides an important lens for viewing the evolving nature of screenwriting and of labor’s voice within the media industries. Television was new territory for professional writers, and, during the early 1950s, three of the four writing branches of the Authors League of America—the Dramatists Guild, the Radio Writers Guild (RWG), and the Screen Writers...

  9. 4 Mavericks
    (pp. 155-193)

    In 1950, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond plotted the grim demise of a screenwriter inSunset Blvd. In 1961, Carl Reiner showcased the endearing adventures of television writers inThe Dick Van Dyke Show. In the 1970s and 1980s real screenwriters made their first appearance in the popular narrative of financial and critical success in Hollywood. These decades brought tremendous change and upheaval in the entertainment industries: corporate buyouts, mergers and acquisitions, the growth of independents, the rise of ancillary markets of cable and home video, and gradual deregulation during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. An industry that was organized...

  10. 5 Confederation
    (pp. 195-231)

    “It was bad. It was as bad as it could be,” Tom Fontana recalled, thinking back to relations between the Writers Guild of America East and West in 2004.¹ Other feuds had been worse, damaging relations between the Guild and other writers’ groups as well as between different factions within the Guild. But this time, the Guild’s infighting was between its two official branches, and the two people at the center of the battle were not even writers.

    The uncomfortable balance of power between the East and West branches began to topple in the late 1990s.² At the crux of...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-242)

    It should come as little surprise that writers speak about themselves and about their community in lucid, articulate terms; nor is it any wonder that throughout the process of interviewing writers of all generations for this book, I turned to their knack for encapsulating their own history.¹ I found that writers offered much more than a simple vocabulary of agency and professional identity.² Writers’ memories of the Guild, of their professions, and of themselves were structured more like well-crafted essays. Their self-disclosures provided A and B plotlines. As the interviews came to a close, many of my subjects presented thoughtfully...

    (pp. 243-264)
    (pp. 265-268)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 269-306)
    (pp. 307-312)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 313-328)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-330)