Jews have also played a starring role on the side of management, dating back to the early days of Hollywood
At the end of a long day of picketing, a top leader at the writers’ union scrambled to recite his afternoon prayers on a side street just around the corner from Culver Studios, where he had been marching and chanting union slogans for hours, his yarmulke in full view.
David N. Weiss, a Modern Orthodox Jew who is beginning his second term as vice president of the Writers Guild of America West, is not the only religious Jew in a union that has traditionally been composed of large numbers of secular Jews, but he may be the most visible. A scribe on the family movies “Shrek 2” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” Weiss has been a key player in the prickly negotiations with The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that broke down last weekend, leading to the first writers’ strike since 1988.
The walkout, set into motion November 5 by Weiss’s union and the Writers Guild of America East, came after talks with the producers’ union failed to give writers a share of residuals from such new-media outlets as cell phones and iPods.
According to Weiss, the issue at hand is one that resonates with his theology. “Our people have such a rich tradition around justice and the rights of workers,” Weiss said. “And the reality is that these companies are proposing rollbacks that prevent workers from having jurisdiction over the entire future,” he said, referring to the increasing ubiquity of the Internet.
It is widely predicted that in the years to come, most entertainment will be consumed through cyberspace rather than through the television set.
Weiss is but the latest in a long list of Jewish writers who have held leadership positions in — to say nothing of the membership ranks of — the writers’ union. Jews have also played a starring role on the side of management, dating back to the early days of Hollywood, when moguls such as MGM chief Louis B. Mayer wrangled with writers and actors over wages. But what is new about Weiss is his religious bent.