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This piece is part of a new series featuring frank accounts of the strike from Hollywood writers at different levels in their careers. The diarists have been granted anonymity to encourage candor.
The picket line at Netflix is orderly and celebratory. There are regular deliveries of pizza and donuts. SAG-AFTRA members hand out candy. Imagine Dragons plays. Unhoused people wander past in confusion or join the ranks for a few laps before growing bored. Pre-WGA members abound, offering fresh perspectives and unfamiliar optimism. Warner Brothers is more sprawling and less organized. Disney is comparatively staid, leafy, with far more standing and waiting for the light to change than actual walking. Don’t come to Disney to get your steps in, unless you want to chat with a friend while endlessly circling the campus border. People do that, turning striking into a catch-up at Runyon. Paramount is exposed and windy. It turns out that picket signs make great sails. Wrists are the losers here. The curves of the gates connect you to history. A history of studios attempting to marginalize creatives.
I run into former colleagues I am happy to catch up with and strangers eager to talk to a showrunner they (for some ungodly reason) recognize. I have so far not run into any of my exes. The strike lines have echoes of a cocktail party. Eyes dart around looking for someone better to talk to. Others hope to get laid. Many grit their teeth and just hope to get through it. Writers are not a monolith, but there is some shared DNA. Many of us are socially awkward but have learned to fake it in writers rooms and pitch meetings and marriages. Almost all of us would rather be alone with our final draft and our Sweetgreen. But we are withholding our labor from our employers and demonstrating our solidarity by carrying signs and walking, gossiping, trading rumors, sifting through the Muskian wasteland that is 2023 Twitter for red WGA avatars offering small chunks of news or relevant threads about mini-rooms, late pay and general ill-treatment at the hands of our masters.
During the last strike, I went out every single day, rain or shine, and walked dutifully for four hours. This time around, I am older and more beholden to the unscheduled needs of children, animals, spouses and aging parents but am doing my best. And in the 15 years between strikes, I have learned a handful of things. I’m a much better writer than I was back then. I also now know how to produce television from inception to final mix. And my knowledge of the various crafts involved is solely due to having been, shortly after that strike, hired by a showrunner who understood the importance of apprenticeship. Not only was it the right thing to do for the future of the industry, but also it made their lives a hell of a lot easier to have a staff who knew how to make a script fit the budget, could location scout, run a casting session, wrangle the most obstinate and writer-hostile directors, mollify an angry star, give notes in a coloring session and edit a scene as if the asshole who wrote this overly long piece of shit was someone else. And while I can do a fairly good job of projecting myself into the mind of a studio executive, seeing that one low-rated show on my docket has 16 writers and genuinely wondering why we can’t just pay one Mike White to write them all (a remarkably ignorant but widely held thought these days, it seems; fucking Mike White …), I cannot for the life of me make my inner suit develop a cogent argument that refusing to train the next generation of showrunners is in my imagined company’s best interest. And the same goes for many of the WGA’s demands.
In the above-mentioned 15 years, I have come to understand that my desire for reason and logic and order leads me to think the AMPTP could just end this now, that they have a floor in mind, and they’re just waiting us out to force majeure some dead weight and improve that all-holy deity The Fiscal Quarter, jack the stock price and hope the CEO sends them a thumbs-up emoji. And suddenly, “Yes! We can buy that Aspen ski place because Mommy’s most likely got a job for another year!” (This is, of course, if they haven’t already blown said quarter on multimillion-dollar payouts or consumed another company they couldn’t afford.) But I have also come to believe the truth is murkier. The companies [are] in less communication and more diffuse in what’s important to them, in how long a strike they can stomach. What is clear is that the AMPTP has utterly lost the PR war on this one. Or rather, the WGA has won. It is so widely believed that writers do face an “existential threat” that the AMPTP has simply given up even trying to poke holes in that dire framing, let alone being able to offer a salient counter-argument to the narrative. And the rampant and vocal factions of dissent among the WGA ranks that we saw during the last strike are functionally nonexistent. The unity within the Hollywood labor community feels true and water-tight and only growing in strength.
(Despite this, and despite my unwavering belief that this strike is absolutely necessary and in the best interest of everyone, I still carry guilt at the optics of “entitled writers putting everyone else out of work.” That is a completely understandable position. I am quite petty and would for sure daily mutter, “fuck the writers,” even as I drove past the picket line, honking.) Streamers and studios and networks cannot pay their CEOs millions upon millions and tout the rainbows on the streaming horizon in their earnings calls while at the same time crying poverty. They cannot argue that the writers are being greedy and unrealistic when they refuse to pledge not to replace us with LITERAL FUCKING ROBOTS. It’s naïve to think the film and television industry has ever really been about anything but commerce — and yet we do. And there is no denying the hedge-fund-ificaition of the industry is being felt daily. (Last week, while the strike countdown was ticking toward zero, my bank was in freefall toward insolvency. And as I was working 16-hour days — pointlessly, really, it was a fever dream, a panic mentality, an exercise in self-sabotage — to get drafts and outlines in to the soon-to-be-enemy, I was also scrambling to try to get my money out of a failing institution. Too on the nose, that. A hat on a hat, really.)
Despite the indignities and endless free rewrites, the nonexistent marketing budgets and the bald-faced effort to gig-ify our jobs, we still believe. My cynicism has now been fertilized by my 107 total days of striking against the employers who seem to deeply — aggressively even — resent us, but it has done nothing to undermine the excitement I feel every morning when I get to open my computer and craft silly stories. As a job! How lucky we writers all are! But, also, you know, fucking pay us.
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