The Tea On The Writers Strike
The stakes have never been higher and the fight will be worth it all.
By Melissa Rich
“I’m chain smoking like a mother fucker,” a staff writer friend tells me over the phone from Puerto Vallerta. A guy he’d hooked up with “a handful of times” had invited him on the trip after the show he moved to Los Angeles to write for had halted production due to the ongoing Writers Guild strike. He needed a break from the near daily picketing and chose the repose of blow jobs in a Mexican bath house while trying not to blow the minimal savings he’d acquired before his work (hopefully) resumes.
Simply, it sucks. It sucks to have to fight for the worth of your work in any industry, particularly one in which much of the workforce is passionate, to varying extents, about the work they’re putting out. Now, as the TV and movie business adjusts to the world of streaming, this dedication is being used against writers to make them perform better under lesser circumstances; in less time, with less resources, for less money, and under the assumption that the writers will buckle for the integrity of their art.
I began performing stand up comedy and moved to New York, finding community in other unhinged individuals who had done the same. We all quickly learned that many other streams of income, in addition to performing, are necessary to live a respectable life, particularly to live where the industry lives. We began writing pilots of sitcoms to demonstrate our voices and worldviews and maybe get staffed in a writer’s room. We took meetings with production companies in an attempt to sell features. We mined our trauma, producing any work we could to insert ourselves into the fast-moving current of the entertainment world, all while clowning at night in bar basements and alt-comedy venues for young professionals with good health insurance.
When the strike began, all of that stopped. We could still perform, but all development meetings, writing jobs and many acting jobs ceased. It felt oddly similar to Covid in the sense that everything was now “on pause,” yet with a hunger and anger that had been building for years. I’d seen many friends turn down staff writing positions because the money was so bad. A gig economy was taking shape where there was once security, with contracts that would usually extend to 20 episodes dwindling down to eight. If nothing were to change, a career in screenwriting would look similar to that of the medium you’re reading now….
Our chain smoking friend had to pay for his own move to LA, though his reps did try to negotiate compensation. His weekly rate is generally okay, but with added car expenses, and the odd night at Akbar, he has yet to break even. Another friend filmed for three weeks on location for a feature on a major streaming platform and took home less than $5,000 after she paid her reps 10% each. Ubers have become train rides, a boozy working lunch has become a trip to the public library and career highs have become question marks. Imagine having the opportunity of a lifetime, as several of my friends had at their first season of Saturday Night Live, only to have it cut short, with no finale, and no set date of return. Torture!
This is, obviously, (Christine Baranski) the Good Fight. The necessary fight. As we open our various apps to watch sexy, savvy people on television living out alluring dramas, we love to forget who’s in charge - crusty old men. The people writing it, however, live vibrant, compelling lives and are being essentially stolen from. What if Eric Adams was taking credit for a restaurant’s food because he gave them the permit to open when it was clearly the chef making inventive cuisine? Does that analogy work? Whatever. Then if Adams was like, “we can meet once a year to talk about AI replacing you,” and the chef was like, “whoa, I just put that in there to cover my ass, I didn’t think you were actually planning on doing that…” It’s dark.
We’re lucky that the strike is sexy, which is to say that I brushed up against Mark Ruffalo at the WGA rally at Rockefeller Center. There is press and celebrity sightings and major support from the public in bullying David Zazlav. With streaming, the civic investment is global. Everyone watches these shows! It’s also one of the first strikes to blatantly fight for AI protection, tapping into a mysterious mass fear. The vibes on the picket lines are fun, united, full of riffing, primed for networking. It’s much more than most unions could hope for. Certain restaurants in LA have even been offering discounts to strikers, which is nice considering everything they’re going through with Horses.
Is it frustrating to have to cancel meetings, put dreams on hold and live without pay for this extended period of time? Of course. But the future of TV literally depends on it. Without training the next generation of writers with proper time spent in writing rooms and on sets, who will know how to show run in 20 years? Not the crusty men! Like our writing ancestors before us who fought for residuals on DVDs and on VHS tapes before that, the stakes have never been higher and the fight will be worth it all.