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Two weeks after The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Crazy Rich Asians‘s Adele Lim had left the franchise amid a sizable pay disparity with her co-screenwriter, scribes are taking to social media to reveal their own experiences with the pay gap.
Deirdre Mangan was the first to use the hashtag #NotWorthLess to share her story. “Much respect to Adele Lim for walking away from CRA. That’s a heartbreaking decision to make,” she wrote Tuesday afternoon. “The rampant pay inequality in the entertainment industry is archaic. Writers who are not able-bodied white men are #NotWorthLess.”
Mangan wrote that for two series at two different studios for which she was hired as co-producer (she did not name them but she most recently served as co-producer on both Universal TV’s Midnight, Texas and ABC Studios’ The Crossing), she was told both times that “budget limitations” precluded the studios from paying her more. She later found that a male colleague at the same level on a show with a similar budget at the same studio earned $1,500 more than her per episode. She asked him how he managed to negotiate successfully and he replied, “Must’ve been my agent. He doesn’t really talk to me, I just get emails from his assistant.”
Veteran writer Terri Kopp, who created BET’s In Contempt and currently serves as co-EP on Showtime’s The Chi, reported that the first time she ran a show, she discovered that she was making less than her male co-EP. Fellow upper-level writer Patti Carr detailed her negotiations with CBS Studios, for which she’d executive produced or co-EP’ed four CW series, when it approached her in 2018 to co-EP NCIS: New Orleans. She countered “the usual low-ball opening number” with an equivalent to her previous CBS Studios fee, plus a 3 percent annual increase. After the studio’s final offer came in 25 percent under that counter, she walked. Carr wrote that CBS Studios then hired a white male writer, who had fewer credits and years of experience, as an executive producer and paid him more than Carr had even asked for. Eight months later, he was fired after HR complaints. (Carr didn’t name the writer, but her description fits the profile of Adam Targum, NCIS: New Orleans‘ second-in-command, who was let go in January after complaints of “bullying” behavior in the writers room and on set.)
Haven Entertainment manager Garrett Greer has seen the discrepancy at work as a rep. The lowest development deal he ever closed was with a female client who was offered executive story editor credit for a show she created. “Business affairs said she didn’t have enough experience to merit our counter. The female head of drama development told me that in her view, ‘writers need to earn their credits,'” he wrote, adding that he later learned that two years prior, “a straight white man with literally no experience who set a project up with the same producers and studio was granted EP credit and a robust fee.”
“The #NotWorthLess tweets are disappointing and not at all surprising,” wrote veteran comedy writer Travon Free, whose credits include The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Black Monday, “especially seeing how on a show I worked on I know of white male writers with years less experience getting bumped up to my pay level in half the time while I got no raise the same year.”
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-EP Audrey Wauchope wrote that she always asks about numbers and has found that in her 10-year career, she and writing partner Rachel Specter have always been paid less than male colleagues at the same level. “Oh, and there are two of us — two for the price of 0.75,” she added, uploading an excerpt from one email to their agents: “We never realized until this week that everyone else at our level makes 1 to 4K more than us an episode … Is there no wiggle room to negotiate more than scale since there are two of us? It just feels like we’re really being taken advantage of.”
The Bold Type creator Sarah Watson reported that when an offer came in lower than expected, the male executive in charge told her agent that the offer was on par with two other writers, both women, at the same level. A friend in business affairs later told her “how much more a man with the same experience was paid,” she wrote.
The discrepancy is often a result of unconscious bias, explained Adam Ruins Everything writer Andra Whipple, who described the process of explaining to a former boss why, when she was a production assistant, it was inappropriate to pay her $50 less per week than her male counterparts. “My boss was baffled when I brought it up. He insisted the discrepancy was because we were different types of PA, and that’s normal to pay us differently,” she wrote. “I had already done my research and this is not true.”
Other excuses for not granting an increase are more creative. “One time I asked for [more money] to help a first-time showrunner,” wrote Monica Beletsky. “I was told I was pushing it and that the studio ‘wouldn’t be able to afford our breakfast pastries anymore’ if I got my ask.” And when women do achieve a raise, they are sometimes shamed for it, according to former Teen Mom executive producer Kenda Greenwood. “After I successfully negotiated my showrunning rate up for an unscripted pilot (although it was still less than my usual rate), I was told in a full-team budget meeting that there would be more money for the shoot if I hadn’t insisted on being paid ‘so much,'” she wrote.
As long as Hollywood’s method of determining pay is based on a quote system that is tied to putative experience, women and people of color are at a disadvantage, especially since many are given fewer opportunities than their white male counterparts. “I was not to return for the second season on a show that had a critically acclaimed first season. And none of the other women on staff were asked back either,” wrote Hala filmmaker Minhal Baig, who did not name the series in question but served as a writer for Hulu’s Ramy. “Who did get asked back? The male office PA and a male EP with no previous writing experience.”
Family Guy executive producer Patrick Meighan wrote that there are ways that more privileged writers can help close the gap. “If you’re a dude on staff and a female co-worker (at same level) has a contract up for renewal on the same schedule as you, team up and refuse to sign until you’re both paid the same,” he tweeted. “A colleague and I did this a few years ago and we made Fox blink. Men: step up!”
On the other hand, Nathan Scoggins chimed in with his own testimony of being offered only $500 for his and his writing partner’s first studio writing gig, in which they cracked the story on a project that needed a complete page-one rewrite. They were told to accept the money because it was “a great opportunity,” but their agent demanded and got more. “Fight for more, P/WOC,” Scoggins advised women and people of color.
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