– Driven by a strong sense of personal values, they are
also highly creative and can offer support from behind the scenes.
The thousands of Writers Guild of America members who walked out in a contract dispute Monday didn’t drop just movie and TV scripts _ they were crafting answers for “Jeopardy!” and banter for “Dancing with the Stars.” They edit the work of their colleagues, livening things up as a movie “script doctor” or getting a soap opera’s sprawling relationships back on track as a script editor.
They may work on their own, or be part of a freewheeling brainstorming session. Workweeks may be an orderly 40 hours or a manic 80-plus. Pay can be $50,000 for an original screenplay, or soar past $1 million for a top screenwriter or writer-producer in charge of a hit TV show.
And contrary to conventional wisdom, writers are not all ensconced in sun-drenched Los Angeles: of 12,000 total guild writers, about 4,000 belong to the WGA East.
Most reality shows are nonunion, and independent films can be made outside the guild’s purview, but much of what consumers see is the work of union writers. Their efforts also appear online or on DVDs, with the wide compensation gap for old vs. digital media at the heart of the contract dispute.
The career path writers take can be as disparate as their jobs, demonstrated by the following five writers.
Bill Scheft, longtime monologue writer for CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.”
A Boston native, Scheft majored in Latin at Harvard (“I thought the church was going to come back,” he quips) before embarking on a brief career as a sportswriter and a longer one as a standup comedian in New York.
He applied five times to Letterman’s show, then at NBC, meeting rejection each time. On his sixth try, when the show needed a monologue writer, Scheft was in. That was 16 years ago.
His goal was to “sit in a room alone and write jokes, and that’s what I was doing,” said Scheft, 50.
That’s a literal description of his working conditions.
“I love the `Dick Van Dyke Show’ but it cemented a preconception in people’s minds about how it works,” he said. Sitcom writers bat ideas around together; that’s not the model for late-night, where writers generally work solo.
“Five guys in a room working on a piece is not generating as much material as five guys in five separate rooms would,” said Scheft, one of a quintet of writers who help produce Letterman’s monologue.
Writers work on a 13-week contract; if it’s not renewed, a month’s notice is given. To get health insurance they must reach a salary threshold of $35,000.
“A lot of guys have passed through the hall since I’ve been there,” Scheft said.
Courtney Simon, script editor for “As The World Turns.”
Simon studied theater at Indiana University and followed her dream of acting to daytime drama, with a long stint on “Search for Tomorrow.” When a fellow actor decided to try her hand at writing for TV in 1980, she pulled Simon along.
“I enjoyed it and I pretty much worked from that point on,” said Simon, with writing and editing jobs on some nine shows, among them “All My Children,” “General Hospital” and “Guiding Light.”
An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers (less often for actors). “Artiste” (the French for artist) is a variant used in English only in this context. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.
Fine arts teachers
Child care workers