Written By January 2011 : Page 2

fAde in t he M AGA zine of t he Writers Guild of A M eric A , W est TRUTH SEEKERS. The moniker appears only once in Alex Gibney’s article about the making of his documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Just two words unpretentiously and judiciously employed in the midst of 1,800 others. But not just any two words. In a world where corporate media controls and manipulates information for profit and power, where can seekers go to gather the elusive, fragile, complex, increasingly depressing insights that add up to truth? They go to documentaries. They make documentaries. Which is why 2010 should be known as the Year of the Documentary. The lineup is formidable, ranging from PBS’ Frontline and HBO’s For Neda (written by Antony Thomas), through feature-released docs The Tillman Story (written by Amir Bar-Lev) and Inside Job (written by Charles Ferguson), to tiny-but-mighty festival faves like Comcast-killer Barbershop Punk (written by Georgia Sugimura Arthur). Gibney would be the 2010 poster boy. In 12 months he’s made and released three documentaries, plus one short for the anthology Freakonomics (“about the hidden side of everything”). In addition to Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Gibney made for HBO Documentary Films My Trip to Al-Qaeda, based on WGA member Lawrence Wright’s stageplay, and Casino Jack and the United States of Money, about lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Washington political corruption that led to his 2006 conviction. But Casino Jack is also about greed. Not by accident does Gibney’s title contain the intriguing pun, the United States of Money . He follows the money alongside right-wing extremists until profit becomes the only good, loss the only bad. If an activity makes a profit (war, layoffs, sweat shops, child labor, fixing elections), then what’s the problem? By the end of Casino Jack, we recognize that the almighty dollar might be on the decline, but it now dominates, underwrites, devalues, motivates, and rules every form of social discourse in America—except documentaries. Or do we share this shock of recognition? Maybe it’s only in the eye of this beholder. Maybe you’ll see things differently. For his Written By article, Gibney describes his working aesthetic: “In my view, a nonfiction film is not a list of facts; it is about character, location, and story—just like fiction films… And at the end of the film, I want viewers to be left what I am left with at the end of a good film noir: more questions than answers.” Like Gibney, Charles Ferguson explores that “United States of Money” and also has a specific aesthetic. Ferguson explains his purpose in making the devastating, infuriating, nauseating Inside Job : “I wanted to make the subject accessible so that the largest possible number” of people might understand the derivatives trading, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations fueling the global recession. His hope? “The American people have to lead their leaders,” Ferguson declares. John Wells borrowed the documentarian aesthetic to script his feature film narrative, The Company Men . His research into the human cost of corporate downsizing evolved into a character study reflecting 2 • WGA W Written By JANUARY 2011 W ritten B y © WGAW officers President John Wells Tom Schulman David N. Weiss Vice President secretary-treasurer MARK HANAUER WGAW BoArd of directors John F. Bowman, Linda Burstyn, Ian Deitchman, Carleton Eastlake, Katherine Fugate, David A. Goodman, Howard Michael Gould, Mark Gunn, Karen Harris, Chip Johannessen, Kathy Kiernan, Aaron Mendelsohn, Billy Ray, Howard A. Rodman, Steven Schwartz, Patric M. Verrone, Dan Wilcox executiVe director GenerAl counsel David Young Tony Segall WGAW Phone inforMAtion The Guild (All Departments) 323.951.4000 FAx 323.782.4800 WeBsite: WWW.WGA.orG WGAW dePArtMents Administration Agency Awards & elections claims contracts credits dues diversity executive offices film society finance human resources legal library Member services Membership organizing Public Affairs Publications registration residuals signatories theater operations Written By Pension & health 323.951.4000 782.4520 782.4502 782.4569 782.4663 782.4501 782.4528 782.4531 782.4589 951.4000 782.4508 782.4637 782.4615 782.4521 782.4544 782.4747 782.4532 782.4511 782.4574 782.4522 782.4500 782.4700 782.4514 782.4525 782.4699 818.846.1015 800.227.7863 800.890-0288 Writerscare info. Written By welcomes your comments. Send letters to: 7000 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048 Or E-mail us at writtenby@wga.org

Fade In

Richard Stayton

TRUTH SEEKERS.

The moniker appears only once in Alex Gibney’s article about the making of his documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.Just two words unpretentiously and judiciously employed in the midst of 1,800 others. But not just any two words. In a world where corporate media controls and manipulates information for profit and power, where can seekers go to gather the elusive, fragile, complex, increasingly depressing insights that add up to truth?

They go to documentaries. They make documentaries.Which is why 2010 should be known as the Year of the Documentary.The lineup is formidable, ranging from PBS’ Frontline and HBO’s For Neda (written by Antony Thomas), through feature-released docs The Tillman Story (written by Amir Bar-Lev) and Inside Job (written by Charles Ferguson), to tiny-but-mighty festival faves like Comcast-killer Barbershop Punk (written by Georgia Sugimura Arthur).

Gibney would be the 2010 poster boy. In 12 months he's made and released three documentaries, plus one short for the anthology Freakonomics ("about the hidden side of everything"). In addition to Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Gibney made for HBO Documentary Films My Trip to Al-Qaeda, based on WGA member Lawrence Wright's stageplay, and Casino Jack and the United States of Money, about lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Washington political corruption that led to his 2006 conviction.

But Casino Jack is also about greed. Not by accident does Gibney’s title contain the intriguing pun, the United States of Money. He follows the money alongside right-wing extremists until profit becomes the only good, loss the only bad. If an activity makes a profit (war, layoffs, sweat shops, child labor, fixing elections), then what’s the problem? By the end of Casino Jack, we recognize that the almighty dollar might be on the decline, but it now dominates, underwrites, devalues, motivates, and rules every form of social discourse in America—except documentaries.

Or do we share this shock of recognition? Maybe it’s only in the eye of this beholder. Maybe you’ll see things differently. For his Written By article, Gibney describes his working aesthetic: “In my view, a nonfiction film is not a list of facts; it is about character, location, and story—just like fiction films… And at the end of the film, I want viewers to be left what I am left with at the end of a good film noir: more questions than answers.”

Like Gibney, Charles Ferguson explores that “United States of Money” and also has a specific aesthetic. Ferguson explains his purpose in making the devastating, infuriating, nauseating Inside Job: “I wanted to make the subject accessible so that the largest possible number” of people might understand the derivatives trading, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations fueling the global recession. His hope? “The American people have to lead their leaders,” Ferguson declares.

John Wells borrowed the documentarian aesthetic to script his feature film narrative, The Company Men. His research into the human cost of corporate downsizing evolved into a character study reflecting The reality of millions of unemployed American workers—a growing underclass ignored by corporate media. His jobless are baffled, their stunned faces asking: How did this happen?

More and more, as you watch these artfully wrought documentaries, you see that absolute money corrupts absolutely. It destroys that most human of attributes, empathy. Without any sense of shame or flickers of conscience, we listen and look as billionaires and millionaires, economists and strategists speak candidly, answering the filmmaker’s questions with the unwavering conviction that profiteering made them invincible and superior to those with less. It’s an elitist attitude that must have been common among the French and British aristocracy of the 18th century.

So I followed the money to that vanishing, underfunded public forum, the library, and checked out a book by scholar Jack Weatherford, The History of Money. Author Weatherford writes: “Propelled and protected by the power of electronic technology, a new global elite is emerging—an elite without loyalty to any particular country.” Weatherford concludes, “The current electronic revolution in money promises to increase even more the role of money in our public and private lives, surpassing kinship, religion, occupation, and citizenship as the defining element of social life. We stand now at the dawn of the Age of Money.”

The History of Money was published in 1997. Fourteen years later, and judging by a host of investigative documentaries, that dawn is done and we’re approaching high noon.

Meanwhile, our documentarians continue to seek the truth, to educate and offer at least some clarity to understand what is happening, in order to answer the critical questions of our time.

Such as: “What has happened to our historical memory?” asks Chris Hedges in his indispensable modern classic Death of the Liberal Class. “How did we forget that those who built our democracy and furthered the rights of American workers were not men like [FedEx founder and union buster Frederick] Smith, who use power and money to perpetuate the parochial and selfish interests of the elite, but [these men were] the legions of embattled strikers in the coal fields, on factory floors, and in steel mills, who gave us unions, decent wages, and the 40-hour work week? Union workers, who at times paid with their lives, halted the nation’s enslavement to the rich and the greedy.”

Lest we forget: Those unions also earned the working class weekends off, the right to strike, the eight-hour workday, and Social Security. But that recent $70 million ageism suit victory? Writers did that. As the mother of a basketball player on my kid’s team said to her son and mine, “If it’s the end of the world, you might as well win.”

—Richard Stayton, Editor

E-mail letters to writtenby@wga.org, or fax them to (323) 782-4802. Letters related to Written By articles will be published, space permitting. Letters may be edited for clarity and length, and the editor will select representative content. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor are not necssarily those of the WGAW.

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Fade+In/579457/55930/article.html.

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