Guest column: 'The Machine' writer explains heartbreaking reason why he's skipping premiere

Guest column: ‘The Machine’ writer explains heartbreaking reason why he’s skipping premiere

When you tell people that they’re actually going to film the script you wrote, the first two questions are always, “Is there a premiere? Are you going to the premiere?” It’s partly from excitement, partly from shock that you, a writer, a goblin troll who sits in a dark cave and writes fart jokes for a living, will actually step out into the light. Previews are things mythic to most people, full of flashes and red carpets and, for a writer, the rarest thing of all: recognition. People win contests to go to previews. News is about previews. The magazine that reads you aunt does full-page sketches on thumbnails, and if you’re lucky enough to get half a face in a photo while standing behind a star, the relatives back home will crop it and frame it. “Look, it’s Zendaya and my nephew Kevin.”

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I’ve dreamed of writing a movie since I was a kid, ever since my dad started taking me to see things too ripe for my sugar-soaked brain. Full metal jacket at age 9? Why not. I came to Hollywood with the dream of writing films and I’ve been pursuing that for 20 years. I enjoyed working in TV, but movies are different. Bigger. “Someday,” Dad said, “maybe you’ll take me to a premiere.” Here is the man who taught me to love movies, and now I’ve got to make a wish of him and a dream of mine come true. There was going to be a big premiere for a movie I co-wrote with Scotty Landes, a summer movie no less. And I was going to bring dad. The film is also a father-son story. It seems too perfect to be real, my slice of Hollywood magic, the greatest gift, reward and recognition ever.

And I’m not going. Well shit.

At first, the ego said I had to. I worked too hard for this. And Dad would have stood beside me, seeing this career of his son’s choice unfold in a way that perhaps solved some of the countless nightly worries he had about how my life was going to turn out. The WGA has suggested that writers not go to their premieres during the strike… but that’s not a rule, right? This was different. I had to go. I earned it, didn’t I?

A huge reason I love this job is because of the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. (Director) Pete Atencio and (Starring) Bert Kreischer and Cale Boyter (a production executive of Legendary) in this film. On other projects, the writers, actors, directors, editors, hair and makeup. A transpo guy who taught me how to make paella. The hold that he was the funniest person on the show. I love these people. We are striking because each of them will be adversely affected by uncontrolled study plans. Guess who doesn’t work if your movie is generated by artificial intelligence? All above. It’s not a speculative concern; this is something that studios are getting the numbers right now. Writers’ contracts are getting shorter, staffs are shrinking, crews are scrambling to scrape together enough money to pay the rent while working less and less on runs of shorter plays.

Almost everyone at all levels in our industry is hurting and worried that they will hurt much more.

Then here I was, at my premiere, wearing the kind of “fancy” outfit that writers wear when they want to dress up but pretend they don’t care That a lot, a dickhead in a James Perse hoodie. Drinking the booze, partying, pretending that the crews and other writers’ concern about a viable future in this industry isn’t mine. You have to compartmentalize joy and worry if you want to have any sanity in this job. But now? With all this at stake? It feels wrong.

Teams make movies and TV. Individuals don’t. Never. This fight is for all of us. Sometimes having a lot of money or power makes it hard to figure out, but the playing field is clear. The studios are to one side; on the other all the others. Studios care about profit. If we are not interested in defending each other, in big and small ways, we have nothing. And that’s why I can’t go. If you find yourself in a similar situation and make a different choice than mine, that’s fine. You will sacrifice something in your own way. Just know that if you don’t make a sacrifice of your own now, you will make one of a billionaire’s or council’s choice later. And it will be painful.

Writers are stupid. We let writing consume us, we think about it in our spare time. Study Managers do not manage studies in their spare time. They go sailing. It’s probably healthier. But if something consumes you, you’re willing to give up anything to defend it. Our choices now as writers will determine our very existence. AMPTP’s choices will determine whether studios earn slightly less.

I’m just a writer who chooses not to go to their premiere. I know. So. Big deal. But don’t take my father, give up a soul satisfaction I’ve been chasing for decades? It broke my heart. Everyone’s dream is different. This was mine. But at a time when so many don’t even get the chance to fight for their dreams — when they’re fighting just to make enough money to live on — this is the right sacrifice to make.

Dad understood. But he is a realist. He asked, “Do you really think not going will change anyone’s mind?” I hope the people on the other side of this strike understand the answer I gave them very, very clearly: If I’m willing to give up a lifelong dream for the sake of our cause, imagine what else the writers will give up? Imagine how far we will go.

We don’t back down. We are in this fight for all of us, however long it takes. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take too long. The world needs more inappropriate movies for fathers to take their children to. And when are you going to write that movie one day and go to your premiere? Take a photo with Zendaya. I promise I will frame it.

Kevin Biegel co-wrote The car alongside Scott Landes. His TV credits include Cougar Town, enlisted AND scrubs. He previously wrote a guest column The Hollywood Reporter on a deeply personal episode of Enlisteda comedy inspired by his brothers he created for Fox.