October 15, 2015

Howard Rodman Named WGA West President

Former Chair of the Writing for Screen & Television Division and USC School of Cinematic Arts Professor Howard A. Rodman has been elected President of the Writer’s Guild of America West. This marks the first presidential term for Rodman after a long career in leadership in the WGA including his most recent role as Vice President. The term is for two years.

Howard Rodman

“My first reaction was to see, in my head, the last scene of the movie the Candidate, written by Jeremy Larner, starring Robert Redford. Redford’s character is in room alone for the first time in the course of the movie and says, ‘What do we do now?’”

“My second reaction was that the ways I spoke about what needed to be done made sense to the membership. I received more votes than any previous Presidential candidate, and eight of the nine Board candidates I endorsed were elected with me. So it feels as if I have, to use that very loaded word, a mandate.”

Rodman is using his new position to focus on making sure that screenwriters are represented in the new boom years of internet distribution. His other causes include making sure writers of diverse backgrounds are represented in television and film and that writers have a seat at the table as the new forms of production, distribution, and media take shape.

“Never in human history been a better time to be an entertainment industry company then now,” said Rodman. “A lot of it is due to the metastatic growth of television. A lot of it is due to the growth of the global marketplace in both features and television. If you make a series for American TV but if you want sell it in Malaysia the marginal cost of adding another set of eyeballs is relatively small and the revenue stream is significant. In the past seven years the profits of the six companies, with whom we negotiate, have doubled from roughly 23-24 billion dollars a year to almost 50 billion dollars a year.  At the same time there is so much downward pressure on our salaries.  So my sense of mission is to make sure that these rising tides don’t sinks our boats.  Because the unprecedented profitability of the entertainment industry and the unprecedented riskless-ness of it all should certainly benefit those whose creativity made it possible in the first place.”

Rodman’s screenwriting career began in another time of great change for the entertainment industry when writers needed protection. He began his professional career in the 80s and became deeply involved with the “Wild West” years of independent film in the 90s. His credits include Joe Gould’s Secret, August, and 2009’s Savage Grace (which starred last year’s Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar honorees, Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore).  Although Rodman didn’t become active with the guild until the 00s, his relationship with the WGA has deep family roots.

“My mother was on the executive committee of local 161 of the IATSE in New York, which is the local that covers script supervisors,” said Rodman. “My stepmother was on the national board of the Screen Actors Guild. My father was on the board of the WGAW, and was one of the founders of the Writers Guild Woman’s Committee. And my brother, Adam, was some years back the Secretary of Treasury of the WGAW. So for better or for worse, it’s in the blood. I was raised in a household where writing was the incredibly difficult and painful thing that you did in order to get the reward – which was that you got to be a member of the Guild.”

Rodman has been instrumental in building the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Writing Division and has worked diligently for diverse voices in the program his entire career. He will continue this work as president of the WGA.

“[The gender issue] is kind of a personal one for me. The graduating classes of Writing Division here [at USC] are almost universally somewhat more female than male. Not because we do it for an artificial sense of balance but just because we look at applicants and we look for good writers and it turns out that they there’s an awful lot of good writers who are women. The Writing Division student body looks kind of like the world looks. But by the time our graduates go out into the industry, all the sudden instead of it being one-to-one, in features its three males for every woman, and in TV its two males for every woman.  As professors here we know that this is not about merit – because if it were meritocracy, it would look like USC looks: fifty-fifty. In television, where in large measure we hire our own, we have to figure out how not to just hire the people who kind of look like us, or simply take the first three scripts that our agency sends to us when we are staffing.  That’s something I feel very strongly about, and a lot of work needs to be done: externally, to be sure, but also among our own members.”

For more information about the WGA, West, please visit: http://www.wga.org/