Some Hollywood writers wonder if the changing times will make it more difficult to be creative.
Hollywood writers are worried. Although many support the #MeToo movement, some privately wonder whether it will not end up hurting their craft. They wonder whether the changing of the times and will make it more difficult to be creative.
This particular fear is not unfounded. It goes back to 2006, when the California Supreme court ruling of “Lyle v. Warner Brothers’ came.
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The case was initiated by a writers’ assistant on the sitcom “Friends.” They had been warned, the show was about six young people in New York with healthy libidos, and that they would hear a lot of discussion about sex. Still, after she was fired (for allegedly not doing her job well), they sued some of the writers on the show, but also others higher on the command chain, for sexual harassment.
Her complaint went into very specific details about what they have experienced. They claimed that it is not directly about the jokes that can go in the script. For example, she said, the writers would sometimes discuss their own sexual fantasies as the sexual history of the actors on the show.
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The court ruling on the decision, not the question of the assistant of the claims. The unanimous decision, written by Justice Marvin Baxter, accepted that she had heard that sexually coarse and vulgar language. However, the ruling said, the language was not directed at her, but was part of a freewheeling ambience in a room where people write comedy, and was therefore not harassment.
Justice Ming Chin added in his concurrent opinion that, although the court did not need to raise First Amendment issues in this case, he believed that a different result would have violated the defendants’ free speech rights.
“Supposedly, someone might be offended [and] ended up in the show, but it doesn’t matter — speech is part of the writing process has to be protected.”
– Eugene Volokh, UCLA professor
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA professor and noted First Amendment scholar who consulted on the case, explained to Fox News that the Chin of the constitutional argument would not apply to every company. He said that it would fit “for what people have labeled communicative workplaces such as universities, newspapers, television writers’ rooms and such, where the aim of the workshop is to produce speech, and the process of producing the speech will involve conversations in which people may find offensive.”
Volokh noted, problematic speech could occur behind the scenes on many types of programs — a show like “Homeland” would be writers to discuss what anti-Muslim statements a character might make; on the “Game Of Thrones,” there would be a discussion about how a character would be tortured or raped; and certainly, on a comedy that has a lot of sexual activity, the writers will naturally talk about sex.
“Supposedly, someone might be offended [and] ended up in the show, but it doesn’t matter — speech is part of the writing process has to be protected,” Volokh said.
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When the “Lyle” the case was decided 7-0 for the suspects, Hollywood breathed a sigh of relief. Many saw this is a crucial test of freedom writers — amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the defendants by, among others, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, Inc. and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
That brings us to today. Is there a different climate in Hollywood (and elsewhere). With so many stories of abuse coming out, people are much more sensitive to the possible problems. The Writers Guild itself is now the focus on a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
So some writers ask (in secret, for the most part): they Can still be as free as they want, while making?
If there is a new attitude, they will have to look over their shoulder, or censor themselves, before they get a rash comment? And if they do worry about what they say, and this stifles their creativity?
The creative process is mysterious, and comedy writers are never sure where their next joke is coming from.
In this new atmosphere, the court may reinterpret the law in a stricter way. As Profesor Volokh notes, “If there is a legal liability, it stops in a matter of just informal accommodation, and it is a matter of statutory command. That is a lot harder to negotiate.”
A lot of feelings about the time of the #MeToo movement came to the fore, and took it down on people who abuse others. But there are also a number of writers of that fear, if things go too far, that their creativity can suffer from ‘collateral damage’.
Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people with the name Steve)”.