Guest Column: ‘The Machine’ Writer Explains the Heartbreaking Reason He’s Skipping the Premiere
When you tell people they’re actually gonna film the script you wrote, the first two questions are always, “Is there a premiere? Are you going to the premiere?” It’s partially out of excitement, partially out of shock that you, a writer, a goblin troll thing that sits in a dark cave and writes fart jokes for a living, will actually get out into the light. Premieres are mythical things to most people, full of flashbulbs and red carpets and, to a writer, that rarest thing of all: acknowledgement. People win contests to go to premieres. The news covers premieres. The magazine your aunt reads does full-page splashes on premieres, and if you’re lucky enough to get half a face in a photo as you stand way behind a star, relatives back home will cut it out and frame it. “Look, there’s Zendaya and my nephew Kevin.”
I’ve dreamed of writing a movie since I was a kid, since my dad started taking me to see things that were way too mature for my sugar-soaked brain. Full Metal Jacket at age 9? Why not. I came to Hollywood with a dream to write movies and pursued it for 20 years. I’ve loved working in TV, but movies are different. Bigger. “Someday,” dad would say, “maybe you’ll take me to a premiere.” Here was the man who taught me to love movies, and now I got to make a wish of his and a dream of mine come true. There was going to be a big premiere for a movie I wrote along with Scotty Landes, a summer movie no less. And I was going to take Dad. The movie is even a father-son story. It feels too perfect to be real, my own slice of Hollywood magic, the greatest gift and reward and acknowledgement ever.
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And I’m not going. Well, fuck.
At first, ego said I had to. I worked too hard for this. And Dad would be next to me, seeing this career his son chose come to fruition in a way that maybe salved some of the countless midnight worries he had about how my life would turn out. The WGA suggested that writers don’t go to their premieres during the strike … but it’s not a rule, right? This was different. I had to go. I earned this, right?
A huge reason I love this job is because of the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. [Director] Pete Atencio and [star] Bert Kreischer and Cale Boyter [a production exec at Legendary] on this movie. On other projects, the writers, actors, directors, editors, hair and makeup. A transpo guy who taught me how to make paella. The grip who was the funniest person on the show. I love these people. We are striking because every one of them will be impacted negatively by the unchecked plans of the studios. Guess who doesn’t work if your movie is generated by AI? Everyone above. It’s not speculative worry; that’s a thing studios are getting the numbers on right now. Writers’ contracts are getting shorter, staffs are getting smaller, crews are trying to cobble together enough money to pay rent as they work less and less on shorter runs of shows.
Most every person at every level in our industry is hurting and worried they’re going to hurt a lot more.
Then here I come, at my premiere, wearing the kind of “fancy” outfit writers wear when they want to dress up but pretend they don’t care that much, a James Perse hoodie-wearing dickhead. Drinking the booze, partying away, pretending the worry of crews and other writers about a viable future in this industry isn’t my own. You have to compartmentalize joy and worry if you’re going to have any sanity in this business. But now? With this much at stake? It feels wrong.
Teams makes movies and TV. Individuals don’t. Ever. This fight is for all of us. Sometimes having a lot of money or power makes that difficult to understand, but the playing field is clear. The studios are on one side; on the other is everybody else. The studios care about profit. If we don’t care about standing up for each other, in big and small ways, we have nothing. And that’s why I can’t go. If you’re in a similar situation and you make a different choice than mine, that’s fine. You’ll sacrifice something in your own way. Just know that if you don’t make a sacrifice of your own choosing now, you’ll make one of a billionaire’s or a board’s choosing later. And it will be painful.
Writers are stupid. We let writing consume us, we think about it in our spare time. Studio heads don’t run studios in their spare time. They go yachting. That’s probably healthier. But if something consumes you, you’re willing to give up near anything to defend it. Our choices now as writers will determine our very existence. The AMPTP’s choices will determine if the studios make slightly less money.
I’m just a writer choosing not to go to their premiere. I know. So what. Big deal. But to not take my dad, to sit out a soul satisfaction I’ve pursued for decades? It breaks my heart. Everyone’s dream is different. This one was mine. But at a time when so many aren’t even getting the chance to fight for their dreams — when they’re fighting just to make enough money to live — this is the right sacrifice to make.
Dad understood. But he’s a realist. He asked, “Do you really think not going will change anyone’s mind?” I hope people on the other side of this strike understand the answer I gave him very, very clearly: If I’m willing to give up a lifelong dream for the sake of our cause, imagine what else writers will give up? Imagine how far we will go.
We’re not backing down. We are in this fight for all of us, however long that takes. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take too long. The world needs more inappropriate movies for fathers to take their sons to. And when you write that movie someday and go to your own premiere? Take a picture with Zendaya. I promise I’ll frame it.
Kevin Biegel co-wrote The Machine alongside Scott Landes. His TV credits include Cougar Town, Enlisted and Scrubs. He previously penned a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about a deeply personal episode of Enlisted, a comedy inspired by his siblings that he created for Fox.
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