Writers create characters, conflict, resolution, syntax and whether we consciously intend to or not, morality. Some producers pay writers to feed a known appetite. Other producers are inspired to deliver a tale told as told by a writer they admire, and they will pay.
Being paid before you write implies that someone wants what you have to say before you've said it or it implies that producers have something they want said they want a certain writer to write it. In either case producers will pay a writer and at the moment a price is agreed upon a writer almost always relinquishes the historic right not to have a word of his or her creation changed.
Even with that difficult equation the words written are still the writer's invention and like all inventions when it is used, consumed, appropriated - the writer needs to participate in its ongoing monetary value.
The paradigm of "we pay, you write, we own" is not really the best for the culture. Writers want to move things forward. We are scouts - champions of evolution because each time we create a character that helps to forge understanding, we move us all a little further from the mouth of the cave.
Clearly there are some producers who want to feed nothing but the impulses stuck inside the cave. It's an easier mark and makes return on investment more likely and there are writers who will join them. And there are certainly producers who want everything a writer wants for the world but can't put it into words or structure.
However it comes together and whatever the motivations, the words make all things possible. Whoever pulls "local habitation and a name out of airy nothingness" deserves something for that each and every time the words and narrative and characters penetrate the consciousness of a viewer. Yes - when a contract is signed the creation becomes a product but it is still a creation which deserves respect and steady compensation.
Producer and writer are partners in the entity they have called into existence. It's important to be clear that writer and producer may be employer and employee but they are also partners - in success and failure - in reputation - and in profit.
To be a writer for hire seems contradictory. A writer is already hired and self-employed because a writer needs to write. Still - even with the arrangement of a producer giving money to a writer to steer his talents toward a story that a producer wants to sell - still - the writer exists, or even after committee 'improvements' something of the writer remains in the essential DNA of the material and the writer must participate in the continuing yield no matter what new channels of delivery emerge. The new ways of consuming what we create does not alter the fact it is being consumed.
In the beginning there is the word and without the words nothing will happen. The word on the page is the original virtual reality. The negotiation the Writer's Guild is wanting to have is about residuals and respect.
In new media, conglomerates see a window that is also a black hole where profits can be gained and hidden. With a shrug and wink writers are told, "Sorry. We don't know what all this new media will mean." Whoever runs a multibillion dollar entity and does not know what the new media might mean should not be running a multibillion dollar entity.
Writers are on strike because producers say we paid, you wrote it, we own it. But in the beginning was the word - and no amount of money can make a producer an author - and as long as the author's words reach the ears and eyes of the people and no matter how they reach the ears and eyes of the public, respect and residuals must be paid.