There's a story running on Media Decoder (NY Times blog) quoting the Writers Guild as saying that earnings were way down for 2008, nearly an 18% drop year-to-year.
Obviously the three month strike was going to be a huge factor, but they also say that this was similar to a drop in television earnings in 2007 as well, so maybe this is just part of a new trend where TV writers are the first to be forced to tighten their belts when the $20 million per year actors and studio chiefs want a new jet, or the latest experiment in $300 million dollar movies falls flat on its face and ends up making an entire vertically aligned corporation conglom suffer.
I'd be interested to see if pay for actors followed a similar downturn, because I have a hunch that it hasn't. Just look at the disparity in numbers. Writers across the entire film industry made just $361 million in 2008.
How often do we read about actors who haven't really earned it that reach astronomical pay grades in the realm of $20 million per picture? That's one actor making 5.5% of what all writers made the entire year, just for a single movie. If you figure that such earnings are rarefied air -- maybe they are, maybe they aren't -- and that only three or four actors made that much for a single picture in 2008, that's 22% of what all writers made.
A top tier director with good connections can do just as well -- Michael Bay claims to have made over $80 million from his Transformers -- and that's not including the sequel.
Writers make very good money (when they can get work) compared to most Americans, and yet they still feel like the same underclass, the lowest on the food chain that is always the first to be asked to sacrifice and the last to get rewards or acknowledgment for success.