Salvo 05.10.2023 8 minutes

Mini Rooms in the Longhouse

Bill Diamond writers guild of america strike

How the endless garbage of television has infected the rest of American society.

As a new father and resident of Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time standing next to screen hacks, drinking light beer and listening to their writerly problems. They’re members of the Writers Guild of America, which began its latest strike at 12:01 a.m. on May 2.

Calling the WGA a “union” is pretty funny given that its “first draft studio median” for a single screenplay is $293,750. The WGA is a union like Queen Elizabeth was an auto mechanic; its members are just the kind of whiny white progressives that populists can’t stand. But the WGA is also probably pound-for-pound the most effective and least corrupt union in America. Its opponents bow to its demands time and again, most recently ending the inherently corrupt practice of agency-founded studios. Its members follow its orders religiously. Its commitment to loyalty, respect, and genuine merit is impressive for creatives anywhere, let alone in Hollywood. It’s tough to get into the WGA, but once you’re in, you’re family. 

During strikes, WGA members sardonically enact the tactics of a working class for whom they claim to speak. Unleashed on the public, they banter and show off their unexpectedly cute faces. They’re rewarded with loving pats on the head by mainstream media.

Even when famous cute-faced writer Adam Conover put his foot in his mouth, saying about the strike, “They’re trying to take away our jobs and employ us one day a week like we’re Uber drivers,” mainstream media refused to skewer him as classist. At least the WGA pays enough that members can be from working class backgrounds, even if most of them aren’t.

No Good

This strike, like the last one, was triggered by Silicon Valley’s overwhelmingly successful conquest of Hollywood. Big Tech slayed the Old Guard and replaced it with the Diversity Guard, which pays screenwriters way less to do way more. Gut decision makers who believed in great TV, like Cindy Holland at Netflix and David Nevins at Showtime, were cast aside for algorithmic thinkers who prefer “fan service” (e.g., endless rehashing of popular IP). 

The Old Guard—all the way up to fallen moguls like Weinstein, Moonves, Redstone—didn’t care how much work you did, how many SaaS buttons you clicked, or how many deliverables you deliverabled. They were deviant, evil monsters, to be sure, but their saving grace was a genuine belief in good and not good. If you were good, they paid you well and left you alone. If you weren’t, they threw a telephone at your head.

The current head of TV Netflix, Bela Bajaria, is a tech person who does not believe in good or not good. When asked by The New Yorker to name her favorite shows, Bajaria responded, “What is quality? What is good versus not? That’s all subjective. I just want to super-serve the audience.” 

As the Longhouse seeps into everything, disbelief in quality has become the modus operandi in many creative fields. We’re learning that workplaces can either be male dominated or female dominated, not and. The latter instance selects for compliance over quality. This is not to say that the former is better, but it is Lindy. Never in the history of Western Civilization have women managed the means of production, creative or otherwise. They do now.

The mediocre white dudes who write screenplays are not mediocre at writing; they know their worth. But they’re only worth it if there’s a difference between bad and good. Under the Bela Bajarias of the world, the distinction doesn’t exist. Streaming has no metrics, so there are no hits. The idea of “good” is replaced by a sea of volume. It’s an “avoid churn” model versus a “win audience” model; they prefer to keep us hypnotized and drooling rather than risk discomfort. 

Since they don’t believe in objective quality, they see writers, particularly mediocre white ones, as more expendable than their ancestors. Big Tech has thrown out industry practices that formerly separated the wheat from the chaff. WGA writers no longer get residuals for hit shows, because streamers don’t pay them. More writers than ever work for “minimum basic agreements,” the league salary floor. Showrunners have had their writer’s rooms slashed, increasingly left without long term staffs. But the biggest point of contention? An innovation called “the mini room.”

The Mini Room

It’s a bit tough to explain, but once you get it, you’ll see mini rooms everywhere. Not just in entertainment, but in marketing, law, finance, tech…pretty much any field where initial creative work initiates projects that others carry out.

Traditionally, here’s how it works. TV shows are born from a pilot script. A studio greenlights production of a pilot episode. If the pilot is good enough, the studio greenlights the entire show. The showrunner (often the writer of the pilot) gathers a writer’s room full of WGA writers, and they all get paid an insane weekly fee ($5,000-$10,000 or more depending on experience) to smoke weed, order Thai food, and toss paper basketballs into trash cans while occasionally having good ideas. They take cracks at writing episodes, which are inevitably re-written by the showrunner. They do this for 15-20 weeks (potentially more on network shows) until the show wraps. 

Somewhere amid the vape clouds and pad Thai, something sacred occurs. The writers “break” the show. They figure out the plot, the character arcs, and how it’s going to end. The long and arduous writer’s room process gives the art time to marinate, for the cream to rise, and for deeper themes to settle into place. The result, for at least the years of roughly 1990 (beginning with Twin Peaks) to 2020 (ending with Game of Thrones) produced the Golden Age of Television.

Enter the mini room. “Mini rooms innovate beyond the inefficiencies of the traditional writer’s room,” a technocrat might say. The mini room asks writers to “break” the show up front, in a matter of weeks, and often before the pilot is even made. That way, studios get to see how a show will turn out before betting on a full season. They also save on writing costs—only paying WGA rates for a few weeks instead of 20 or more. Then, instead of staffing up full writer’s rooms with expensive talent, they fill them with cheap hacks, diversity hires, or nobody.  And maybe soon with everyone’s biggest fear: AI. 

Mini rooms handicap the next generation of great showrunners, as green writers forever break unripe stories for substandard wages, without any reward for creating hits. No David Chase, no Vince Gilligan, no Matthew Weiner, all of whom worked in TV for years to master their trade. TV writing is now gig-ified; you do real estate on the side, or have a trust fund, to make it workable.

The mini room is a metaphor for the modern workplace. It dissolves long term work environments, which select for mastery and merit, and replaces them with a la carte gigs which select for compliance and reliability. It isolates creative talent to the absolute bare minimum, boxing in creators and siphoning ideas out of their brains, handing their creations off to apparatchiks or literal machines to complete the work. It cuts the fat out of the system, leaving nothing but bone, muscle, and sinew. For some businesses, like hardware stores, perhaps a fatless system is barely noticeable. But for steaks and TV shows, the marbling is what it’s all about. Hence the state of streaming TV: total endless garbage.

War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Service Is Talent.

In any other industry, progressive WGA members would rabidly resist reactionaries, finding ways to label them racist or sexist. Robert Conquest’s First Law never fails: screenwriters are reactionary and meritocratic about screenwriting only because they know it best. But, as annoying and hypocritical as they may be, the striking writers are in fact standing for something good. 

The globalist regime thrives on mediocrity. It wants us weak, atomized, and compliant. Talent is a threat, because it can’t be controlled. So they deny talent itself and claim that real talent is service. Then they attempt to separate talent from the talented (especially when the talented tend to be white, male, and disagreeable), plotting to inject it into more agreeable, less expensive, and more diverse workers that represent its ideology. 

The regime milks the talented like cows on an industrial farm: total control, zero quality of life, poor quality product. It breaks us down and sells us for parts.

Every white male writer in Hollywood has stories of being snubbed, but only recently have I heard of white men being paid—against WGA rules—to take their names off projects; to eschew credits for higher payouts, so others can take credit for their work. This mirrors my own experience in marketing and advertising. As a freelancer, I’ve written social media posts for black celebrities for Black History Month, supposedly in their voices, secretly from behind the scenes.

As Curtis Yarvin said on a recent episode of the podcast New Right, the reason why so many contemporary mainstream films and TV resort to magical realism is that it’s a great place to hide mediocrity. In a world of no constraints, nothing has to make sense. Abuela can arrive from beyond the grave to solve anything, no detailed story work required. Artificial intelligence—whether the human or machine version—is great at making formless illogical tone poems look like works of art. 

If you’re against humans being harvested by machines—whether figurative or literal—you should be against mini-roomization. Yeah, the WGA Is rich, white, annoying, progressive, and hypocritical. But they’re also good at what they do.

Boiled down to a single concept, recent WGA strikes are exactly what Conover said they are—resistance to being transformed into gig workers. Conover said it poorly, but his core complaint is legitimate. By flooding the market with mediocre talent, their new overlords have atomized the profession, bled out all the quality, and replaced it with “content.” You see this pattern everywhere, and it’s not good for anyone besides high-ranking technocrats. Are our lives “better” because of Uber? I don’t think so. And Ubers aren’t art.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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