Jewish Journal


November 8, 2007

On the picket line with Jewish screenwriters


“Are you Jewish?”

With some discomfort, I asked that question repeatedly of the 300-plus picketers in front of CBS Studio Center in Studio City on Monday, the first day of the strike by the Writers Guild of America.

It was an awkward query not because I feared dismissal—after accounting for noses and facial hair and eyeglasses, I was able to reduce uncertainty to about 20 percent—but because I knew these TV and film writers did not see a connection between Yiddishkayt and the failed contract negotiations that spurred some 12,000 members of the WGA to go on strike at 9:01 p.m. Sunday.

“What’s the Jewish angle?” Andrew Jacobson, a co-writer of “Not Another Teen Movie,” asked me. “I don’t see one except in the most stereotypical sense. This is an issue that affects people regardless of religion or race or gender. It’s writers united.”

Indeed, “Hollywood writer” is among the most Jewish job descriptions anywhere, which is why, as this long-anticipated strike approached, my editors asked me to report the news through a Jewish lens. The difficulty, however, is that this really isn’t a Jewish story. It’s a business story that just happens to deal with an industry built largely by Jewish immigrants and sustained by their successors.

This was probably the most challenging story I’ve reported since joining The Jewish Journal six months ago. I could not, for the life of me, find my angle, and then I labored long and hard over the wording of this 700-word story. I know, it doesn’t show.

It just seemed like such an awkward topic, a story with characters so obviously Jewish but a theme and plot that has nothing to do with Judaism. And asking film and TV writers if they are Jewish is like asking someone in Vatican City if they are Catholic. When I asked Marc Alan Levy, who wrote the TV movie “Searching for David’s Heart,” he deadpanned, “Yeah. I’m the only one in line.”

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