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The familiar blare of car horn filled the air in many parts of Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, though not for the usual reasons.
It was a supportive response to the picket lines that formed shortly before 1 p.m. Pacific outside of at least 10 television and film studio offices — the first physical manifestation of the strike declared Monday night when talks broke down between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Hundreds of writers and their sympathizers gathered at union-specified sites, blasting the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox, Disney, Sony, NBCUniversal and Paramount over the thus far fruitless contract discussions that began back in March. “I think it’s time writers were paid a fair wage,” Brett Goldstein told The Hollywood Reporter outside of the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. The writer and Ted Lasso actor, one of many recognizable faces in the crowd, had been at work on the second season of Apple TV+ comedy Shrinking when the call for pens down was made official. “Feels a shame that all of this stuff that is made is made by writers and there are writers genuinely struggling to afford to live,” he added. “It just seems insane.”
Calls for the sharing of profits were echoed by nearly all of the writers THR reporters spoke to on the picket lines — the specific bones of contention for the union, per a late-Monday missive, being viewership-based residuals, guardrails for the use of artificial intelligence and minimum staffing for writers rooms. Compromises had been reached in some areas but, per guild negotiators, were not enough. “It became very clear tonight that they really weren’t interested in making a deal,” negotiating committee co-chair David Goodman told THR on Monday. “So it was really the companies’ decision, not ours.”
Picketers outside Netflix offices on the Sunset Strip chastised “corporate greed” between chants of “hey, hey, ho, ho” and many outside the Fox lot in Century City focused their ire (read: their picket signs) on Rupert Murdoch. The Fox Corp. founder and chair’s estimated net worth currently sits just below $18 billion.
This being a writers strike, quite a few of the picket signs were adorned with personal statements and plenty of sarcasm. “You want pages? Give us better wages,” read one, while another simply stated, “Take the note.” Star Trek: Strange New Worlds showrunner Jenny Lumet, picketing outside of Amazon Studios in Culver City, carried one on which she wrote “Nice Tesla! (You’re welcome…).” Other signs were adorned with specific requests. Chris Duffy, a writer most recently on Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, took issue with AI in his — apparently mocking the studios’ proposal to hold “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology” in lieu of promising any actionable AI regulations in scriptwriting.
“AI can’t and won’t replace us,” said Adam Ruins Everything writer and star Adam Conover, who took to the picket line outside Netflix after commenting on Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s pay on CNN (one of his own networks) earlier in the day. “But the fantasy of the technology will be used to devalue us, to pay us less.”
But, for most, it all comes down to money. Actor Phil Lamar, a newly-minted WGA member at work on an unspecified NBC sitcom, bemoaned the disparity between writer pay and studio profits. “All of these corporations are moving their emphasis away from employees and treating us all like cogs in a machine as opposed to parts of their profits,” he said. “In the old days, when the head of a studio was a single person, he cared how the studio was perceived and what the studio created. Now all they care about is, ‘What’s the stock price today?'”
Yvette Foy, a writer whose credits include BET’s First Wives Club and American Soul, spoke about the issue of “mini rooms.” The controversial staffing trend, which has no one size fits all definition, is one area in which AMPTP has yet to budge. “They ask you to work for less,” she said. “Double the work in half the time … for half the pay.”
It wasn’t all corporate shaming. “I’m a capitalist,” asserted Mike Stockton, a member of IATSE’s Local 728 who came out to show solidarity for his fellow guild. “I enjoy all the things that capitalism gives our families and our country. And I want my share. That’s why I’m in a union.”
“More than any specific demand, I’m really interested in the whole pattern of demands and the idea that we’re trying to build back a steady career for writers in this industry,” said Raphael Bob-Waksberg, WGAW board member and Bojack Horseman creator who was one of roughly 100 gathered in front of Sony’s Overland Gate. “The promise of being able to be a writer and having that be a sustainable career has been massively eroded, and we want to build that back, and we have proposals that we think can do that … I want to disrupt the flow of business, and I want to grind this city to a halt so we can get back in the negotiation room.”
The crowds varied from location to location, but it was a predictably strong showing for day one — little surprise considering the guild has more than 11,000 members and no shortage of support from other unions like IATSE, the DGA and actors guild SAG-AFTRA. In New York, the picketing started even earlier with East Coast writers taking up an entire block outside the 5th Avenue venue where NBCUniversal streamer Peacock hosted its Newfronts presentation.
With any work stoppage, however, it’s never too early to ask how long it all might last. Answers to that question brought little clarity or hope.
“I’m prepared to be out here as long as we need to be out here to get what we deserve,” said Foy, who noted that she moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana not just to write – but to earn a living as a writer. “I saved my money to make sure I could be out here, and I will cut back as much as possible to make sure I can stand out here and strike.”
The 2007-08 strike, the guild’s most recent, lasted 100 days. The previous two lasted even longer. Showrunner Stephen Falk, best known for his work on the late FX comedy You’re the Worst, was around 15 years ago and offered his take on how this turn on the picket line feels different.
“I almost think the AMPTP had a better argument last time, and this time they don’t have one so they haven’t even bothered,” said Falk. “I wasn’t even that mad until I woke up this morning. How [the WGA’s] proposals were responded to by the AMPTP really, really pissed me off. And I think that it’s really dumb to strengthen our resolve like that on day one.”
Gary Baum, Mia Galuppo, Carolyn Giardina and Seija Rankin contributed to this report
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