UPDATED: Day 4 of the WGA strike began with a plot twist on the weather front. A typically overcast May morning in Southern California gave way around 8 a.m. to a heavy downpour that rolled quickly across the region. The rain was gone in West L.A. and Culver City by 9:30 a.m., but the drops fell fast and hard enough to disrupt some of the best-laid plans of dedicated strike captains.
Still, on a soggy Friday morning in the Heart of Screenland, about 200 pickets were circulating around Culver City’s institutions: Sony Pictures Entertainment, the hallowed ground of MGM in its prime, and the Culver Studios, now home to Amazon Studios, Prime Video and MGM in its present.
“Jeopardy” writers Michele Loud, Jim Rhine and Billy Wisse walked on Madison Avenue near Washington Boulevard, in front of the studio gates where they three have all worked for more than two decades. Their jobs have been unusually consistent on a Monday-Friday strip that has transcended from TV quiz show to become a bona fide national institution.
“Our words are on the screen every night,” Loud told Variety. “There is no ‘Jeopardy’ without writers. Without us it’s just an empty blue screen.”
Wisse’s view is that the strike is part of a larger fight for the matter of being “fairly compensated for the labor you give,” he said.
The trio were quick to emphasize their good fortune to be employed for so long by a stable, year-round show. But they see the bigger threat posed by the structural changes afoot in the television business.
“They’re asking some people to work day-to-day,” Rhine said, noting that he’s heard chapter and verse in recent days from fellow WGA members about mini room experiences. “They never tried to make it a gig economy before,” Wisse said. “There was always some sense that writers were partners in it.”
Down the street and around the corner, WGA West volunteers Victoria and Chris worked behind a folding table stacked with water and snacks to fuel the line that snaked in a V-shape down Ince Avenue and Washington Boulevard, around the entrances to Amazon properties. A sprinkling of security guards in the area bordered by the Culver Steps outdoor shopping and dining area kept a close eye on WGA pickets and Amazon’s property line. Honks and shouts were heard steadily but otherwise the pickets were pretty quiet in the first few hours of the morning.
WGA pickets had their own backup looking out for them. Since the strike began, talent agencies, law firms, managers, PR agencies and assorted entrepreneurs have missed no opportunity to market themselves by showing up with water, snacks, amenities and a supportive ear (or fist).
Four days in, resolve among WGA members is clearly strong. Across the dozen picket sites, writers have focused on the loss of opportunity for young writers breaking in and the threat that poses to the profession’s long-term future. WGA members are plainly angry at the issues that AMPTP did not address or make counter offers on after weeks at the negotiating table. AI, the minimum staffing and guaranteed weeks, the demands of feature writers who are fed up with pressure for unpaid rewrites.
Patrick Meighan, a longtime writer-producer on Fox’s “Family Guy,” echoed the sentiments of many WGA veterans who were active as strike captains and organizers during the 2007-08 strike. The climate in industry labor circles is very different this time around, he said.
“I really feel like the entire town is united in this fight. This is a fight that we’re all going through to greater extent,” Meighan said as he walked the line around Amazon. “The corporations are trying to turn Hollywood work into gig work. They’re trying to turn Hollywood work into pay-by-the-day, or maybe paid by the week with no guarantees. They’re trying to turn Hollywood into Uber. They’re not just trying to do that with writers. They’re trying to do that with actors, they’re trying to do that with directors and with crew members. And so the universal realization of where this industry is headed has made this a much more united fight.”
— Cynthia Littleton
(Pictured top: “Jeopardy” writers Michele Loud, Jim Rhine and Billy Wisse)
DAY 3 (May 4)
And on Day 3, it rained.
Precipitation in Los Angeles didn’t stop striking writers from turning out in force at key picket locations on the third day of the work stoppage against Hollywood’s major employers. About 75 people were out making the rounds outside Fox Studios shortly after 9 a.m. Picket signs were covered with plastic bags.
The sense of solidarity and resolve was strong, with many writers saying they were energized by the WGA membership meeting held Wednesday night at the Shrine Auditorium.
“The meeting last night was wonderful. It left us all on a high,” said Amy Berg, a strike captain who is among the organizers of the Fox picket effort.
Berg admitted to being a little nervous about the turnout when she heard the rain coming down early Thursday. As if on cue, the drops that had been steady all morning eased up about 10 minutes before the official 9 a.m. start time of picketing.
Berg praised the guild for the advance work that was done to prepare for the logistical needs of getting hundreds of writers out on the streets of L.A.
“We did enough prep work in advance that we were hoping we wouldn’t have to employ any of it,” Berg said.
James L. Brooks joined the crowd outside Fox Studios, the lot where he has toiled on “The Simpsons,” among other projects, for nearly 30 years. Brooks told Variety he was seriously concerned about the damage that may be done to screenwriting by AI as well as the conflict over how many writers should be required to produce episodic TV. “How many is a room?” Brooks asked rhetorically.
The resistence by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to addressing the big questions around AI is also weighing on Brooks, who has a long and distinguished resume in TV and film.
“If a machine can write and put a human being out of work — and we’re not talking about it? Come on,” Brooks said. “It’s already happened in other industries.”
The morning shift at Fox was helped along by bottled water, bagels and doughnuts that were being handed out on the sidewalk by Gersh Agency’s Katy McCaffrey and Lynn Fimberg. The Everything bagels were the first to go, McCaffrey reported.
Richey Jones made the rounds at Fox with a sign that declared “Freewrites Suck.” He has worked largely in features in recent years, and he has first-hand experience with the pressure that studios put on film writers to do rewrites for no extra pay. He said studio executives lean on writers who are always eager to see their films get to the finish line. “You want to get the movie made? You’ll do this for us,” Jones said. “They’re always finding ways to squeeze more money.”
For Jones, the guild’s push to ensure that film writers get a mandatory “second step,” or second paid pass at the script, is vital, as are the contract demands around TV writing. Jones left several feature scripts and a TV pilot in a state of limbo when the strike was called. “Writers are being undervalued across the board,” he said. “If we don’t do something about it now, we’re going to get to the point of no return.”
NETFLIX (Los Angeles)
“Pencils down, fists up” was the chant of the morning outside Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters.
Alex Convery, writer of “Air,” told Variety he had just turned in the first draft of his next movie when keyboards went quiet. He takes exception with the suggestion that writers were eager to go on strike.
“This is simply a consequence of the AMPTP’s unwillingness to make a fair deal,” Convery said. “We don’t want to be here. We are here because of what’s happened over the last you know, six years essentially.”
King Hassan was about halfway through the writing work on Netflix’s upcoming comedy “That ’90s Show” when the strike began. He admits to being unnerved by the loss of income, but he feels great support from the guild and from his fellow scribes.
“It’s scary because we all have families at home. I have three babies,” Hassan said. “It’s pretty clear that we work for a union and our union wants to make sure that we are able to take care of our families and that our profession is saved.”
Andrew Goldberg, whose credits include Fox’s “Family Guy” and Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” also cited the Wednesday membership meeting at the Shrine as a galvanzing gathering.
“It was really heartening last night at the large meeting to hear from all the leaders of the various other entertainment unions,” Goldberg said. “The meeting was an uplifting experience. We believe in and we trust our leadership a great deal. The expressions of support from our sister unions and Teamsters was really important to us.”
Lisa Ann Walter, co-star of ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” was outside the studio that producees that sitcom with a picket sign in hand. “We are all in this together and I’m here standing with them,” Walter told Variety.
Walter feels the urgency that the WGA has brought to the forefront in the upcoming contract talks that her guild, SAG-AFTRA, will begin with the AMPTP on June 7.
“After a deterioration of our contracts and the monetary value of our contracts, we’ve gotten to the point where most people who are not in the incredibly lucky position that I’m in, they can’t negotiate for a fair living wage,” Walter said. “And we are in a position where a lot of people have to take second and third jobs just to be able to afford the astronomical rent of places like New York and Los Angeles where most of us work.”
Gina Prince-Bythewood, the multihyphenate who directed 2022’s “The Woman King,” said the fight this time has shades of 2007, the last time the WGA went out. Gina Prince-Bythewood: I remember the last strike actually pretty clearly, because we had our young son out there with us to really teach them about what we were fighting for, and what it means to fight for fair wages.
“At that time, it was really interesting, because streaming was just on the come up. And we were told, don’t worry about it at that time,” Prince-Bythewood said. “And now look at where we are. We’re out here mostly because of streaming, and not to able to be a part of that success of streaming. We all know it starts with the writers.”
Prince-Bythewood said she has strong memories of the 2007 work stoppage. “We had our young son out there with us, to really teach (him) what it means to fight for fair wages,” she recalled.
DAY 2 (May 3)
Day 2 of the WGA strike saw pickets arrive bright and early outside key industry locations in Los Angeles and New York.
Many guild members say they have been energized by the organized picketing efforts and the opportunity to compare notes and vent frustrations with fellow scribes.
WGA leadership was out in force on Day 1, walking the walk as they talked the talk. David Goodman, former WGA West president and co-chair of the guild’s negotiating committee, said the collective will of the membership will be crucial in determining the course of the work stoppage
“We’re here as leaders of our union to stay in touch with our members to see how they’re faring, to give them whatever help we can. There’s a lot of support that the union provides and also the Hollywood community provides for our members in a situation like this,” Goodman told Variety. “I have a great deal of confidence in this membership. They understand what we’re fighting for. And we’re here to listen to them, and they will make the determination of the success of this fight.”
NETFLIX (Los Angeles)
Michele Mulroney, VP of WGA, told Variety that the mood she encountered a picket locations on Tuesday was a mix of frustration and expressions of extreme support with the WGA’s mission.
“There’s a lot of solidarity and positivity. There’s a lot of frustration about where the deal stood when we were forced to go out on a strike, but the deal that was on the table on Monday would not have been accepted by this membership,” Mulroney said. “You never know how long a strike has to go. We’ll stay out for as long as it takes to get what we need.”
As for the timetable of the WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers trying again at the bargaining table, Mulroney said, “We’re ready to go back to the negotiating table whenever they’re ready to get serious about our agenda.”
Lila Byock, whose credits include HBO’s “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers,” put the onus of the strike on the AMPTP member companies. “It’s clear from the studios’ response they weren’t engaged in a serious negotiation and that they were inviting this labor action. We had no choice.
We will stay out here as long as we need to, until the studios are prepared to make a fair deal.
Wrter Phil Morgan praised WGA leaders for the organization they’ve brought to the contract process. “They’re doing an excellent job. They communicated their message clearly and concisely,” Morgan said. “And the things that they have asked for (in the contract) are the things that all of us as the working writers have been asking for for years. So I think that they’re listening to their membership.”
NETFLIX (New York)
A few hundred pickets turned out within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time Wednesday outside Netflix’s New York outpost on Broadway near Union Square. The chant of “No wages, no pages” was heard up and down the block along with drums and other noisemakers. After a while, the chant turned to simply, “Netflix sucks.”
At one point, the picketing group was so large that it was able to wrap around the entire city block in a continuous rotation.
Among those in attendance were WGA East president Michael Winship, WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson, and Emmy-winning late-night writer Greg Iwinski, who is a WGA East council member that participated in the negotiations with AMPTP.
“I think that the studios want to control all aspects of writers careers, unfortunately,” Peterson said to Variety while on the line. “They’ve discovered this new technique in having so much of the writing on the season done preseason, they like the fact that they had more work for less money, and they liked the fact that writers become more desperate because the gigs are shorter and the gaps between gigs are longer. So it’s really about power, power is money.”
Everyone Variety spoke to said they were prepared to hold out the strike for “as long as it takes” because, as Iwinski put it, “it’s an existential threat.”
“I’m a late-night TV writer,” he said. “And what they’re pitching to us is taking a 13 week at a time contract that we’ve had since Jack Paar was hosting late-night shows and said, what if we paid you by the day and you went home at night and the next morning found out if you had a job. That’s existential to me and every late-night writer, just the idea of breaking up 13 weeks and us getting paid week by week. It’s not how it works in a job that’s so stressful that they make other shows about how stressful it is write late-night TV.”
Those who spoke with Variety also addressed the issue of AI possibly becoming a major force in entertainment, which has become a significant sticking point in recent months.
“I think initially, when we were talking about it, we didn’t perhaps take it as seriously as we needed to,” Winship said. “But now we increasingly realize what their intentions are and their intentions are to use it to basically wipe us out and create robot-generated screenplays that just ultimately aren’t going to work. So we have to get on top of it. We’re not totally against it for some subsidiary uses but what people have to realize is that the writers are the only generative aspect of the industry. We’re the ones who generate the material that everyone else interprets — the director, the camera person, the props, the hair, the makeup. It all comes down to, like they say in the theater, if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”
“I am a writer on strike right now,” Shonda Rhimes stated Tuesday evening. The “Queen Charlotte” creator and Shondaland head, who is a WGA member, was accepting a BAFTA Special Award in New York, being honored for her career in front of press, cast members, students and other guests. The event was sponsored by Delta, Virgin Atlantic and her “Bridgerton” home Netflix.
“I feel the pain of the people who are dealing with the strike. But for me, for writers to get paid what they do in a fair way, is far more important,” Rhimes said. “To have somebody devalue art, it’s bad enough as it is right now. That’s happening everywhere. But for writers to not be able to make a living wage, while making a television show or making a movie is a problem.”
DAY 1 (May 2)
Just hours after the Writers Guild of America called for a strike, members started picketing in New York City.
The first picket took place at the Peacock NewFronts advertiser presentation on Fifth Avenue, beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET. More than 100 writers and supporters showed up within an hour, with that number swelling to approximately 200 as the day progressed. It was the only scheduled picket in New York today, and had a lively turnout despite chilly weather.
Chants included “No contract, no content. The workers united will never be defeated,” “Get up, get down, N.Y. is a union town,” and “No money, no funny!”
Among the signs were several clever and pointed messages, including, “‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate’ was NOT written by a producer,” “What would Larry David do?,” “Pay nerds a fair wage,” “We are NOT in ‘Severance,’” “Pay your writers or we’ll spoil ‘Succession’” and many more.
“Dopesick” writer and creator Danny Strong spoke with Variety at the NewFronts picket line about why the strike is essential to the union.
“These issues are so profound and so important,” he said. “The entire media landscape has wildly changed because of streaming. These issues were issues we should have addressed three years ago, but because of the pandemic, the writers graciously agreed to not pursue it. In those three years, streaming has only taken up a bigger share of the market while the other ancillary distribution outlets have only gotten smaller and smaller. So the issue has blown up into a bigger and even more important one for writers to get a more fair share of streaming.”
Variety also spoke with Our Lady J, who received multiple Emmy nominations for her work on the groundbreaking FX series “Pose” and has also worked on shows like “American Horror Story” and “Transparent.” To her, the biggest issue is fairness in writers’ residual pay.
“It’s interesting that the CEOs and the executives at the streamers are telling stockholders that the future is in streaming and that they are a strong industry and worth investing in,” she said. “And yet they’re telling the Writers Guild the opposite, saying that they are unsure of the future of the industry, and therefore they cannot meet our requirements for fair residuals and due pay.”
Hilary Bettis, who has worked on shows like FX’s “The Americans” and the Hulu limited series “The Dropout,” attended the picket line in New York with her two small children in a stroller.
“This is the whole reason I’m here,” Bettis said of her kids. “I’m the reason that they have health insurance. I’m the reason that they have daycare. I’m the reason that they have a roof over their head and have food and all of it is because I’m a writer.
“This isn’t a sustainable career,” she continued. “This is how I support my family. We deserve fair residuals. We deserve to be paid fairly for the rooms that we’re in. I’ve staffed on a lot of shows. I’ve developed a ton of pilots and still, from year to year, I just barely make my health insurance. I have to take on more than I have the bandwidth for just to get by.”
Picketing is scheduled to take place outside studio gates across the Los Angeles area, including the Fox lot in West Los Angeles, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amazon and Apple headquarters in Culver City, Netflix and Paramount Global in Hollywood, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. in Burbank, among other locations.
Here’s a rundown of Day 1 picketing activity by location in Los Angeles. Check back regularly and refresh for updates.
Outside Netflix headquarters at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, at least 200 pickets were out in force by Tuesday afternoon.
Many SAG-AFTRA members joined WGA scribes to make their voices heard. Writers traded notes and spoke of their emotional last day at work in writers rooms. Pickets were energized by being together and the strong response from passing cars, which mostly honked and shouted messages of support for the strikers.
“I’m here because I feel like there are eight giant corporations controlling the industry now,” said “CODA” writer Sian Heder as she demonstrated outside of Netflix. “And the work of creatives working in that industry has been continually diminished over the last 10 years.”
Heder said she was “shocked” to see in information distributed Monday night by the guild that the major studios did not engage on the timely question of how AI fits in to literary endeavors. “These are issues that if we don’t resolve them now, they’re only gonna get worse,” she said.
Heder also addressed the deep concerns that writers at all levels have about the worsening showrunner drought. With fewer writers kept on staff through the entire post-production process, far fewer people are getting the requisite experience to advance to the top of the TV writing ladder as showrunners. Heder noted the dramatic changes that have ensued just in the decade since she got her start as a baby writer on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.”
“I was a staff writer. The next year I was a story editor. I was a co-producer then I was a producer,” Heder said. “That was a career ladder, where I was actually starting to make a living and support myself. What’s happening now with these mini versions is that writers are being stuck at staff writer level for years. … Half these writers can’t even make their (health) insurance (minimum earnings) because these mimi rooms are not long enough to make your insurance quota.”
Among the chants heard on the line were “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this corporate greed has got to go.” Picket sign messages of note included “Netflix and Shill,” and, in a nod to the slogan famously scrawled on Woody Guthrie’s weather-beaten acoustic guitar, “This Sign Kills Fascists.”
The turnout at the Melrose Avenue plant was strong. The crowd included a snow-white pup named Dash who had a sign fashioned around his collar that read: “You’re barking mad if you think we’ll settle.” Another picket sign hoisted in front the studio’s distinctive iron gates read: “We Have Beef.”
DISNEY and WARNER BROS.
The two mega studios in Burbank were encircled by pickets. Outside Disney’s iconic gate, protestors stretched far and wide down Alameda Avenue. A large group milled in front of the main gate in front of the corporate headquarters building featuring the Seven Dwarfs of “Snow White” fame.
WGA members and supporters actually continually walked around Disney’s sprawling Burbank lot, also picketing the studio’s other two major gates on Buena Vista Blvd. and Riverside Drive. The picket line also stretched across the street on Riverside to the front of ABC headquarters. In front of Disney, one writer grabbed a paint bucket and drum sticks and kept a beat going, while media gathered to interview some in attendance. WGA strike captain Chris Maddox (“Dynasty,” “A Million Little Things”) said this was his first strike, “and I thought it was important to show solidarity and build community while we’re striking for equality. That’s why I decided to join the ranks.
“I was holding out hope that I deal would happen,” he added. “So we’re here, showing that we finally need to come up to 2023 and equality in pay. And that we ask what’s fair now, so we don’t have to do this again in another three years.”
As traffic passed by the strike, vehicles frequently honked their horns in support. “It’s exciting, everyone is here, I think SAG sent out a release saying where we were going to be and I think some actors are going to join the ranks and show their solidarity. We’re in it for the long haul, for how ever long we need to be, we’ll be here,” Maddox said.
At Disney, clever picket signs included “Picket Up to Series,” “Time for Revisions,” “Steamboat Willie NOT Chatbot Willie,” “My Home Economics Don’t Work Without Pay,” “Frankly, Studios, You Should Give a Damn,” “Blank for a Reason,” “No Pages Without Fair Wages,” “AMPTP Better Have My Money,” “This Sign Is Your Last Piece of Free Work,” “Nice Try, AMPTP, But in Hollywood, The Bad Guys Always Lose,” and more.
At Warner Bros., another featured a hand-drawn clenched fist with the slogan “Batman Supports Fair Pay.”
Bada Bing! No less a literary eminence than “The Sopranos” creator/showrunner David Chase was spotted walking the beat outside the Pico Boulevard plant studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox. Chase also repped for Tony Soprano’s beloved Garden State flag with a Newark M.O.S.T. baseball cap. Count Chase among the WGA veterans who went through the 2007-08 strike as well as the nearly six-month walkout in 1988.
“To me, it’s always the same — it’s just greed. Greed and fear,” Chase observed of the contract wrangling process.
Feature writer E. Nicholas Mariani hoisted a sign with “Norma Rae Reboot” in the message field. “It’s all about free work and it’s about compensation,” he said.
John Dale pointed to the short duration of many writing jobs these days as unsustainable for anyone who wants to make a living. “if we can only get one job a year and it’s eight weeks, that’s not sustainable,” Dale said.
AMAZON STUDIOS and PRIME VIDEO
“If we don’t get it, shut it down.” That was a popular chant along Ince Boulevard in Culver City outside the citadel of Amazon Studios and Prime Video. By 3 p.m. PT, approximately 200 writers and their supporters (including SAG-AFTRA members) had checked in to the picket line. The crowd was smaller than at other picket sites, but the red placards couldn’t be missed outside the Southern Gothic mansion that was once home to David O. Selznick’s Selznick International Pictures. Another frequently-heard rally cry: “Alexa, Pay Us.”
“For all of our demands to be met only requires studios to give us less than 2% of profits on our work, so it seems unreasonable not to give us that,” said Jonterri Gadson, a WGA strike captain and a writer for HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and the animated series “Everybody Still Hates Chris.” “I think sometimes the writers are made to look like we’re unreasonable or we’re spoiled, but when I heard that number, I wanted people to know that.”
Gadson has been in a whirlwind the past 24 hours. Monday was a long scramble to get as much writing done as possible before the May 1 contract expiration deadline.
“I was actually working to finish things up until 11 p.m. They had called the strike. And we were still trying to finish by 11:59.” The “Everybody Still Hates Chris” writers room started in September 2022 and was about halfway done. Showrunners Sanjay Shah and Chris Rock ensured the show was under the WGA contract because writing happens throughout the animation process, Gadson said.
Gadson maintains that guild members are ready to tough out a long work stoppage in their pursuit of a fair deal.
“We’re prepared to go as long as we need to get the deal we need,” she said. “This union is hardcore. We will walk out; we have walked out. And so we’re gonna hold the line until we get a reasonable deal.”
Jennifer Maas, Joe Otterson, Jazz Tangcay, Selome Hailu, Adam B. Vary, Michael Schneider, BreAnna Bell, Angelique Jackson, Gene Maddaus and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this story.