The big news about the Writers Guild of America West annual report is that there are fewer overall writing jobs in film and television in Hollywood, and the people who have those jobs are making less money. The number of writers in both industries who reported their earnings to the Guild fell from 4,442 in 2010 to 4,338 in 2011, down 2.3 percent, and their overall reported earnings fell from $969.2 million to $911.7 million, down 5.9 percent. The number of television writers actually rose by 0.4 percent, from 3,306 to 3,320, even as their earnings fell by 1.2 percent, from $566.2 million to $559.2 million. But the number of writing jobs for film shrunk more significantly, from 1,699 people reporting income from writing to 1,562, down 8.1 percent, following a 7.9 percent decline from 2009 to 2010. Reported income in film fell from $399.4 million in 20100 to $349.1 million in 2010.
More than the fact that writers do pretty well for themselves, what these numbers reinforce for me is how small the number of people writing for film and television is. When we talk about getting more women and more people of color in television writers’ rooms, and getting more scripts by them in production, we often discuss the problem in terms of how deeply entrenched it is, what a stranglehold white men have on these spaces and this industry. It’s true that privileged people in Hollywood have a lot of power and will not surrender it easily. But the actual number of people you’d have to hire to get television and film writing looking more like the people who tune in to watch shows and pony up to go to the movies is relatively small. If those 4,338 film and television writers were going to look like America, you’d need 2,204 women, 651 Hispanic and Latino writers, 538 African-American writers, 191 writers of Asian descent, and 100 writers of two or more races. These are findable, achievable numbers. Any studio or network that claims it can’t find, or its showrunners can’t find, enough scripts and specs by women and non-white folks, or enough women and non-white writers to staff its shows and do its rewrites, can’t possibly looking hard enough considering how few each company would have to come up with.