George R.R. Martin on “the most important issue” striking Hollywood writers face

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 25: Writer George R.R. Martin attends the Sony Pictures presentation during Comic-Con International 2014 at San Diego Convention Center on July 25, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 25: Writer George R.R. Martin attends the Sony Pictures presentation during Comic-Con International 2014 at San Diego Convention Center on July 25, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images) /

The Writer’s Guild of America strike continues! Last week, the Hollywood writers of the WGA put down their pens and took to the picket line to campaign on a bunch of important issues, from more job security to regulations on the use of AI to better residual payments from streaming companies.

The other day, A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin took to his blog to weigh in on the strike, voicing his “full and complete and unequivocal support” for the WGA. Martin himself has been a member of the guild for quite some time; he worked in Hollywood for around a decade before he began writing the Game of Thrones books, which he also helped adapt for TV.

So when Martin speaks up about this stuff, he knows what he’s talking about. Yesterday, he posted about what he sees as the most pressing concern the striking writers have.

George R.R. Martin explains why “mini-rooms” are destroying the screenwriting career path

“I want to say a few words about what I think is THE most important issue in the current writers’ strike: the so-called ‘mini rooms’ that the Guild is hoping to abolish, and the terrible impact they are having on writers at the start of their careers,” Martin wrote on his Not A Blog.

What exactly are “mini-rooms,” you may ask? In short, they’re highly condensed versions of a traditional television writers room; writers gather to pound out scripts for a few weeks, and then most of them are essentially let go to go find other gigs while a few senior writers take those scripts and oversee them getting put into production.

This is a new trend that largely came about in the streaming age, when seasons of television generally have fewer episodes than before. Things were different when Martin was a working writer in Hollywood, as he explained:

"A look at my own career may be instructive. For the first fourteen years of my career, I wrote only prose; a few novels, and lots of stories for ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, and various other SF magazines and anthologies. Much as I enjoyed television, I never dreamt of writing for it until 1985, when CBS decided to launch a new version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and executive producer Phil DeGuere invited me to write an episode for them. A freelance script; that was how you began back then. I decided to give it a shot… and Phil and his team liked what I did. So much so that within days of delivery, I got an offer to come on staff. Before I quite knew what had happened, I was on my way to LA with a six-week deal as a Staff Writer, at the Guild minimum salary, scripts against. (In the 80s, Staff Writer was the lowest rung on the ladder. You could tell, because it was the only job with “writer” in the title)."

As a Staff Writer on The Twilight Zone, Martin’s work didn’t end when he finished the script. “I wrote five scripts during my season and a half on [The Twilight Zone], and I was deeply involved in every aspect of every one of them,” he said. “I sat in on the casting sessions. I worked with the directors. I was present at the table reads.”

"“The Last Defender of Camelot” was the first of my scripts to go into production, and I was on set every day. I watched the stuntmen rehearse the climactic sword fight (in the lobby of the ST ELSEWHERE set, as it turned out), and I was present when they shot that scene and someone zigged when he should have zagged and a stuntman’s nose was cut off… a visceral lesson as to the kind of thing that can go wrong. With Phil and Jim and Harvey Frand (our line producer, another great guy who taught me a lot), I watched dailies every day. After the episode was in the can, I sat in on some post-production, and watched the editors work their magic. I learned from them too."

As he learned about production, Martin was able to climb the ladder in Hollywood, becoming a Story Editor for The Twilight Zone season 2 and then an Executive Story Editor for Beauty and the Beast, and eventually a showrunner for the science fiction series Doorways, which shot a pilot for ABC before getting shelved.

“NONE OF IT would have been possible, if not for the things I learned on TWILIGHT ZONE as a Staff Writer and Story Editor,” Martin wrote. “I was the most junior of junior writers, maybe a hot(ish) young writer in the world of SF, but in TV I was so green that I would have been invisible against a green screen. And that, in my opinion, is the most important of the things that the Guild is fighting for. The right to have that kind of career path. To enable new writers, young writers, and yes, prose writers, to climb the same ladder.”

George R.R. Martin: “Mini-rooms are an abomination…if nothing else, the WGA needs to win that on that issue”

Now, with mini-rooms, studios want writers to write their scripts and leave, without giving them the chance to be a part of shooting and editing. This is something the WGA is lobbying against in its negotiations with the American Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP’s response has been…not great.

“One of the things the AMPTP put forward in their last offer to the WGA is that some writers might be brought onto sets as unpaid interns, to ‘shadow’ and ‘observe,'” Martin explained. “Even that will not be an absolute right. Maybe they will be let in, maybe not. These are the people who wrote the stories being filmed, who created the characters, who wrote the words the actors are saying. I was WAY more than that in 1985, and so was every other staff writer in television at the time.”

"The juniors may have worked for as long as half a year on the show. All of it in a room, with other writers. But they won’t be part of the casting. They won’t be meeting with the director. They won’t be at the table read. No one will bring them into the editing suite so the editor can explain what he is doing. The line producer will not sit down and go over the budget with them (as Harvey Frand did with me), or patiently explain why they can’t have nine matte paintings or that huge montage. They won’t be sharing lunch with the stars. If a stuntman’s nose is cut off, they will need to read about it VARIETY, since they will be off in another room on another show.Mini-rooms are abominations, and the refusal of the AMPTP to pay writers to stay with their shows through production — as part of the JOB, for which they need to be paid, not as a tourist — is not only wrong, it is incredibly short sighted. If the Story Editors of 2023 are not allowed to get any production experience, where do the studios think the Showrunners of 2033 are going to come from?If nothing else, the WGA needs to win that on that issue. No matter how long it may take."

Hear, hear. We’ll be watching for further developments in the strike.

dark. Next. No, The Winds of Winter isn’t finished; don’t heed the rumors

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