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Michael Tabb is experiencing déjà vu.
The longtime writer, whose credits include 2012’s Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, returned to the Disney lot in Burbank, California, on Tuesday for what is now his second time hitting the picket lines in support of the Writers Guild of America. Tabb, who previously served as a strike captain at Disney during the 2007-08 strike, has been a member of the guild since 2005 and credits the 11,000-member organization for “protecting” him when writing opportunities dried up.
“I’ve actually been homeless for four years in between gigs,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday as he walked the picket line in Burbank. “The Writers Guild is protecting me. When I get a guild job, I can support myself. And if I don’t, then I can’t.”
Before the WGA strike, Tabb had been working on a TV show with an independent production company and writing his passion project, which he describes as being about how people treat others and how the hippies of the 1970s affect the modern era.
On Tuesday, Tabb was carrying a sign that read, “Writers were paid better in the days of VHS,” which referenced the 1988 WGA strike that lasted for more than 150 days. “Back in the days of VHS, we actually made a better percentage of residuals and of payment than we did on DVD,” he said. “In 1988, they took it way down when we tried to strike for equal pay. Then we finally got [to] streaming in 2007, which is the last strike, but we didn’t quite get up to fair wages yet. Now, we’re fighting for fair wages so that we could all actually make a living of writing and actually being able to feed ourselves and keep ourselves housed.”
One of the central issues the WGA is proposing would increase the number of writers working on each show and keep them employed for longer spans, while also ending the wave of so-called “mini-rooms” in which studios/streamers hire a small number of scribes for a short period of time without any guarantee of future work.
Tabb told THR that he had “some early success” and “thought everything was going to be great.” After consulting with his accountant, Tabb bought a home for his wife and three children. And a few years later, everything changed. “The work dried up and I was homeless. I lost my home and I had three children and a wife depending on me and they all had to go live with their parents and I stayed on the streets trying to get work.”
Tabb said he spent time teaching in order to make ends meet and bumped into one of his former students — a fellow WGA member — on the picket line Tuesday where his comments about previous strikes elicited support from his fellow creatives.
“The majority of screenwriters are independent contractors, which means we’re hired to do a job. It can last two months; it can last two weeks. It can last six months if we’re lucky on a TV show, but that’s it. And then we’ve got to find another job,” he said.
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