Throughout this negotiating cycle, writers have been speaking up about our personal experiences working over the past several years. The stories below highlight precisely why we are on strike and why our proposals are so critical to the future of this profession. They highlight why every proposal matters to screenwriters, to comedy-variety and other Appendix A writers, to episodic writers, to emerging writers, and upper-level writers—to all writers!
WGA members: help us amplify the real harms of studio greed. Share your story by emailing MBA 2023 and we will share it anonymously. Until we get the deal we deserve, let’s make sure the town never forgets why we strike.
I have been making television for 20 years. For 19 of those years, I made it with a writers’ room in place during preproduction, production and post production. While all for broadcast networks, I made series with six-episode orders, 22-plus episode orders, and everything in between.
In 2022 I made two shows for two different streaming services. Both were 8-episode straight to series orders. In both cases a writers' room was hired for a finite number of frustratingly negotiated weeks that ended before production started. I was told there was not enough room in the budget of these $3- and $5-million-dollar-an-episode shows to pay a writing staff for the time needed to do our work. To make fewer episodes does not mean the process changes and writing suddenly ceases to exist the whole way through.
On the last show I made, I spent three months living in Brooklyn during production, working seven days a week, 12-hour days on average, in a desperate attempt to succeed with the limited tools provided. I was given the choice of having one writer on set with me or a producing director. These are two very different jobs, but I had to pick. I chose a talented writer and still, the workload of writing plus production demands required more hours than we had available. I got the job done, quite frankly, by making myself unwell. This is unsustainable.
We have asked for the writing staffs we need. We have asked to have them work for the amount of time necessary. We have been told no. Now we need the Guild to set these minimum terms to ensure we have the staffs we need for the time needed to make our shows
As a creator/showrunner at a streamer, the size of my writers room was the hardest part of negotiations. They initially restricted my room to only three writers—luckily, with the help of a more powerful producer, we were able to argue it up to six. We had 15 weeks to write 10 episodes. While longer than some mini-rooms, that length was still impossible, especially at a bloated streamer who is late and finicky with notes. Every week from weeks 15-25, I had to ask permission to hire back one or two writers at day rates. The executives approved this every time—because they know that writers are still needed.
You never saw my show because when it was nearly done, they decided to cease production. The reason, they were insultingly clear, was not because they could not afford to produce it. They told me they simply had run the algorithm and the data said the genre “wouldn’t perform well on The Service.”
These massive corporations only respond to money. They don’t care about the product’s quality—they are only interested in soulless cost/benefit analysis. The WGA’s proposals about protecting the writers' room will do so much more than guarantee the survival of the middle class in our industry—they will make every single show better by allowing us to work at a humane pace with adequate resources. And perhaps if they’re paying writers for a reasonable amount of time at a reasonable rate, they will stop abusing the process with the hybrid development-production pipeline that leads to endless rewrites on the whims of data.
With this strike, we are saying that we will no longer be held hostage by these corporations who keep dangling the carrot. We are saying no to this sinister pipeline in which they diminish our visions, squeeze our workforce, and stunt our careers—all to be able to disappear the show at any point, just to really drive home that we’re merely a means to an end for their pockets.
I have been a member of the WGA for over 20 years, and have written for, produced, and created shows for just about every broadcast network and streaming entity, most recently on an overall deal with a streaming company. In the past few years, things have drastically changed. Last October, I was given an ultimatum. In order for my overall deal to be renewed, I needed to “help with strike planning” by accelerating the time frame on a new series I had in development. Even if I had been willing to compromise my values to do this, it was logistically impossible. Due to their unwillingness to pay for writers other than myself to be on set, there was no way I could simultaneously run a new room on an accelerated time frame while also being the sole writer/producer/showrunner on my current show.
I said no. They called my bluff and cut my deal. But, once I was done shooting, they still wanted that limited series. So, they ordered a mini-room and a series document. In this mini-room, I was given one additional writer. And when I asked for a writers’ assistant to be hired, they said no, explaining, “We don’t want to set a precedent for having writers’ assistants in mini-rooms.”
I lost it. No writers’ assistant? Not only does the lack of staff make it IMPOSSIBLE to do the work of inventing the world of a TV show, a process I have spent twenty years learning to do, it makes it impossible for anyone to learn and train from me.
Tech companies come along with data models that they think improve the way content is distributed. Fine. But they show no understanding, respect, or appreciation for the way worlds are built in writers’ rooms. The way the television stories people love are actually told. We had a system that worked beautifully and I have personally witnessed them breaking it. It’s time to stop and say enough.
I am a first-time showrunner who developed and produced a drama for a cable network. Pitching the show is forever etched in my memory – I was an uncomfortable seven months pregnant with my second child. After endless months waiting for the network to make a decision and then make a deal, the development process crawled along through rounds and rounds of studio and network notes, regime changes, a complete re-imagining of the basic concept, the addition and subtraction of creative partners, etc. After three long years, the show was finally greenlit. I had to fight for enough writers in the room to complete the episode order, then fight harder, threatening to quit, for those writers to be given at least some opportunity to cover set during production. After we finally finished the season, the network announced they were pushing the air date by nine months. Then by another four months. When the show finally airs in 2024, my second child will be almost five years old. When you amortize my pay for creating, writing, producing and posting the show over those five years – all the uncertainty, the waiting, the pressure of a crushing workload – I will have made significantly less per year than I’d make working in someone else’s room on a show I had far less responsibility for.
Short order seasons and endlessly extended timelines have completely eroded a future where showrunning is a feasible career.
In summer 2020, I worked a three-week mini-room for Apple TV+. The showrunner, three other writers, and I were tasked with breaking an eight-episode season and writing four episodes. In three weeks. I agreed to take scale, which I hadn’t done since the start of my career, because the showrunner was a friend and I LOVED his premise. After the room wrapped, each writer spent months writing and rewriting their episode, taking notes from the platform and talking to each other to make sure our episodes tracked (the show was a period thriller mystery romance, so super serialized). After the fact, I learned that WGA policy is that writers who have been staffed on a show can’t be arbitrarily reclassified as freelancers and write for that same show without a weekly. Lawyers from the Guild got involved and fought the streamer on my behalf, asking for the compensation I was owed. I hear we reached an agreement, but I’m still waiting for the payment. Three years later. Apple TV+ never greenlit the show.
Shortly before the strike, I worked in a pre-greenlit Season 2 mini-room. We had five weeks to break the season and write the first two episodes, with only three writers in the room (including the showrunner). With so little time to break and write, the two writers assigned to episodes 1 and 2 had to finish their drafts after the completion of the mini-room. The studio refused to negotiate my weekly pay for anything above minimum, and told my lawyers that everyone in the room was getting paid minimum, no exceptions. They also did not offer credit for my work done in the room; we had to negotiate for that. Ultimately, if the show gets picked up for a full season 2 and I'm not in it, I will only get credit for working on the first two episodes, despite the fact that I helped break the season.
Since becoming a member in late 2020, I have experienced multiple mini-rooms and repeated levels multiple times. I have gone from 10-week job to 10-week job and I have never been on set on any of my episode credits. I have offered to pay my own expenses, asked to shadow, anything short of begging and I have been met with an overwhelming, ‘not gonna happen’ and reminders that I’m new and will have to wait until I have advanced beyond staff writer to get those perks. It’s devastating to say the least.
Last year I worked on two shows—both for streaming. One has over three billion minutes of streaming time just in the first week alone. The second hasn’t aired yet, but is the second season of a franchise show, which had a budget over $150 million. Although I worked on both shows at the Producer level, my combined income on these shows was less than my income from five years ago when I worked on only one show as a story editor. The inescapable cycle of mini-rooms, the push towards minimums, and the divorcing of writing from on-set producing, have all made it so my yearly earnings are significantly less than what they used to be, even as my experience level and title continue to rise. I'm trying to make the jump to the Co-EP level, but almost no show wants a writer with so little on-set experience, which pushes me back towards the mini-room cycle and this exasperating loop.
There is so much I'm grateful for as a TV writer but the corporate abuse is not one of those things. After agent, accountant and lawyer fees, I can only afford to live in a rent-controlled apartment in Los Angeles. The first week of the strike, I received a residual check from a streamer for $101.79. That show debuted in 2019 and is still in their catalogue. I worked in a mini-room for another streamer that ran for seven weeks. We pitched and wrote the entire season within that time frame. I just finished writing for a show on yet another streamer and even though the room ran for twenty weeks, the pay was abysmal. I did a mini-room for a show that will never see the light of day. Even though I've been in this business for five years, I'm a co-producer level and have never covered a set. How can I become a showrunner without that on-set experience? I've also seen firsthand how small the rooms are becoming. We all feel it: the same people get hired over and over again. Executives are cutting costs by cutting off lower and mid-level writers from advancing in this business. The sad thing is that this affects the quality of the work. We all feel it: the closed doors, exclusivity and greed.
I had a spec optioned once with a rewrite. That "one-step" deal lasted 10 months and included five drafts that went directly into the studio (not counting the producer passes). It took a year after commencement to get health care—and I almost didn't qualify because the delay between commencement and delivery was so long. Months later, the studio attached a director. I did multiple drafts for him over the course of a month. But the studio wouldn't trigger the optional polish in my deal. So all told, that was 11 months, seven drafts, 75K divided between me and my writing partner. Take out commissions, and we got 28K a piece. Before taxes. There is no such thing as a one-step deal.
February, 2016, we pitched a production company on a book their studio wanted to adapt. After four months of development with the production company, we pitched a lower level studio executive in June and then pitched the president of production in July. In August, 2016, we made a deal in principle with the studio only to discover that the studio hadn’t locked down all of the book rights. Eight months later (April, 2017), we signed our writing deal. However, they were still working out rights issues with the book publisher and as a result, we weren’t commenced—aka PAID—until September, 2017, over a year and half from first engaging. We then had additional studio meetings over the next month and a half to refresh everyone’s memory on a project they “hired” us to adapt over a year prior.
In February, 2018 the president of production (who championed the book) left the studio. We delivered our first draft to the production company in February as well. However, our exec on the project was no longer at the production company and the head of the production company didn’t respond to our draft for over a month. Worried about delivering late, we pushed our reps to send the draft into the studio in March, 2018. In June, 2018, our reps relayed that the studio executive wanted us to do some polish notes before putting it in front of the new president of production. To be clear, a WGA signatory company asked us to do free work in violation of the MBA. One of our reps encouraged us to do it. We refused. We then had a conversation with the new executive on the project at the production company and agreed to do a “producer pass” polish based on their notes. In August, 2018 (two and half years after engaging), we delivered the “official” first draft to the studio. Guaranteed two-step deals and weekly pay are basic minimums screenwriters should be afforded in this business where so much is asked of us to get projects off the ground.
And they wonder why we’re frustrated?
My twin brother/writing partner and I have Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that—when untreated—wrecks the respiratory and digestive systems like a raccoon at a Wendy’s hot bar. Our healthcare costs can blot out the sun, so meeting the WGA threshold for insurance coverage is always front and center for us.
A few years ago, we delivered a draft to a studio exec in early January, giving us a three-month cushion before the March 31st deadline to meet the annual health coverage threshold. We felt good. But by late February, we still had not received payment. So, we checked in with our reps.
“The studio exec has some ideas she’d love for you to execute on before she submits for “official delivery,” our reps said.
Yes, this was the dreaded one-step deal. And as up-and-coming writers trying to establish ourselves, we didn’t want anyone—producers, reps, execs—to think of us as “difficult writers.” On top of that, all we could hear was the ticking clock of that March 31st deadline to qualify for insurance. All that is to say, it didn’t feel like the moment for us to take a stand on free work. So, we raced through another draft, executing on the exec’s notes. This time the exec accepted the draft as “official delivery” and we were paid three days before the deadline.
We were relieved to qualify for continued healthcare coverage, but felt that we’d let down our fellow and future guild members by continuing the culture of free work.
We support the strike because we don’t want feature writers to have to make impossible choices like the one we had to make between free work and healthcare coverage.
Two proposals in particular would have a direct impact on situations like this: guaranteed second steps and weekly pay.
With a guaranteed second step, all the stakeholders involved would know that we would be able to execute on their notes on subsequent paid drafts. And with weekly pay, we would’ve qualified for healthcare coverage by week seven of the contract terms. Then, instead of simply scrambling to complete another draft just to get the exec to submit it before the coverage deadline, we could have focused on what would make our story and characters stronger.
And that’s not just good for us as writers, it’s good for the entire business.
One of the things feature writers are fighting for this strike is to finally make the studios admit that it doesn’t matter if you’re writing for the big screen or streaming. The work is the same, so the pay should be too.
Last year, my writing partner and I were asked to pitch on a big, legacy property at Disney. An experienced producer and name talent were already attached. It felt like a big opportunity! We spent months developing our idea and pitching it to talent, executives, re-pitching wherever needed, and we were finally offered the job. Except… when the initial offer came in, not only was it nowhere close to our quote, it seemed to be below what I understood to even be the guild screenplay minimums. Well, it turned out since it was for Disney+ we had actually been pitching on a “TV movie” the whole time and no one told us there’s a huge contractual difference.
Currently, a giant loophole the studios can use to pay screenwriters less is to call a streaming movie “Made For TV” which has lower base rates than theatrical movies.
The distinction comes with far worse rights for rewrite jobs as well. On a different job I only found this out in arbitration, when I was told my work wouldn’t be credited because it didn’t reach the much higher 50% threshold that TV movies have versus theatrical features.
Some streamers currently choose to pay the higher rates for the time being to remain competitive in the market, or so they can choose to distribute it in theaters. But we all know how long higher pay lasts when it’s at the studios’ discretion.
It’s not just the money they’re paying you up front. Residuals are lower for streaming features, more akin to an episode of television than a movie.
So, among the many things we’re fighting for this strike, screenwriters need the studios to admit a screenplay is a screenplay regardless of where it ultimately ends up.
Comedy-Variety and other Appendix A Writers
I’ve been writing in TV comedy-variety for 12 years. Working on cable and network talk shows and sketch shows, plus awards shows and specials, my pay steadily rose until peaking in 2017—when I began writing primarily on shows for streaming services. My annual writing income has declined ever since.
The work is the same, but the pay is less. Comedy-variety writers in streaming are working with no minimums, for either weekly rate or length of contract. No minimums! The floor is a hole.
I worked on a pretty popular basic cable comedy-variety show. It was so popular that they were selling it in other countries, so our residual checks were pretty nice. This was my first job in TV, and I don't come from money, so those residual checks allowed me to have savings which made me feel a bit more comfortable about working on the 13-week contracts standard in C-V. Then the parent company started a streaming platform and moved the episodes on to it, and our residual checks abruptly went from real money to actual pennies. Since then I've been very lucky to work on a couple of hit, Emmy award winning shows, but the residuals on streaming have never reflected that success.
Life as a comedy-variety writer is inherently transient. The strike has already gone longer than many of my variety contracts. Specials, seasonal series, short-order sketch shows, format-driven shows with famous hosts, award shows—none of these offer much job security, even in success. Yet, the expansion of the genre and the proliferation of streaming outlets have made a career as a comedy-variety writer even harder to imagine.
One week, you're running a room, garnering award nominations, and expanding a streamer's reach...the next you're agreeing to a couple weeks of the same type of work at the lowest salary of your career. You reject those piecemeal opportunities at the risk of your relationships and perceived interest…and your health insurance.
For streamers, comedy-variety shows are often greenlit on the condition that they're cheap but flashy. Money is shelled out happily for a big-name talent to grace the billboard and add to the network roster, then budgets are squeezed at every creative turn. The need for words in the mouths of that talent is treated as a necessary evil at best.
A "decent year" as a comedy-variety writer in the streaming era is often dependent on a staggering number of factors—the biggest being sheer luck that available opportunities don't overlap at their 10-week average duration.
The residual return on a streamed comedy-variety show is almost non-existent. Base salary and room size seem to be tied to the goodwill and creative passion of a rogue Executive Producer with pull or perhaps key talent who have advocated on a writer’s behalf.
In the comedy-variety streaming game, there are no minimums, protections, or perks in success. There are no levels or defined job titles. There are no clear genre definitions. There is no ladder. Variety writing in the streaming era is a flat circle.
Despite the crushing grind, the writers I know still find a way to care about the end product. That creative optimism becomes an invitation to be taken advantage of. The number of times I've agreed to week-to-week extensions for the "creative good" of a project is troubling. If that same strategy could be applied to a day rate, my livelihood would become a joke. And I don't trust the AMTP's ability to recognize whether that joke is remotely funny.
When I created a show for one of the smallest basic cable channels, my entire staff enjoyed the protections of a Guild contract: weekly minimums, 13-week guarantees, and a residuals formula that meant we shared in the success of our show. But when I created an almost identical show for a massive international streaming platform, I was told by the line producer that we had none of those protections, and that producers could do "whatever we want with writers." He literally bragged that he could pay us a dollar a week if he wanted to. When the show finally aired on the largest streaming platform in the world, my first year of residuals totaled less than 1% of what I had previously received working for the smallest channel in basic cable. It’s unconscionable and unsustainable for comedy writers in streaming to receive none of the protections and a fraction of the compensation that writers on linear television receive, despite doing the exact same work.
One of the problems with comedy-variety in this current landscape is the studios are constantly trying to figure out how to make these shows (which are already relatively cheap) for even cheaper. Shorter seasons, shorter contracts, smaller staff sizes. Programming churn also creates a situation in which comedy-variety writers are constantly working on brand-new formats and having to develop entire show concepts on the fly. This means we are often reworking or entirely re-inventing scripts (and even the entire concept of a show) while in production. So for instance, I was working on a show for a large streaming platform. After the first day of shooting, we had a big meeting in which we were told that "it wasn't working" and we had to throw out everything and start over. This is something that can happen on any new comedy-variety show, but in years past while working on basic cable and broadcast shows, we were given weeks if not months of pre-production to hammer out the structure and tone of a show. Now it's a break-neck pace. Because of my experience, I can handle it. But I am *never* compensated for that experience and am always making what the first-time entry level writer is making. And on streaming platforms, sometimes this is less than minimum, which is ALREADY the lowest minimum in the WGA.
Streaming residuals are also ridiculously small and there's no way to get a sense of fairness, because you're not even told what the ratings for the show are. So for instance, I worked on a comedy-variety show for Netflix that was trending in their top 10 for weeks, and I've never received a residual check for more than $800 dollars. Compare this to a show I wrote for in 2013 on basic cable, that did NOT re-run frequently, and I got thousands of dollars.
My first writing job was for Netflix on a comedy-variety show that lasted for just 11 weeks, many of which were comically chaotic. Netflix always pays insane fees to lock in big names but gets as close to the bone as possible on BTL budgeting, leaving little money left to produce a show in a quality manner, and that’s what happened here.
They wanted us to block-shoot 13 episodes in the last seven-eight days of our contracts, which meant we were shooting two shows per day. Some late-night shows do that on Thursday nights to bank a show for Friday, but to do it six days in a row was insane because this show was not built for that. Almost all of the writers were being paid below their normal rates irrespective of experience; we worked on weekends and did a ton of producing work without being credited or compensated for it on the front or back end because streaming residuals were and still are embarrassing.
But for some reason, all of the Netflix executives received an EP credit on the project, a practice that was frankly insane. To this day, I can't believe they got away with that for as long as they did. In that way, Netflix follows the Facebook model: move fast and break things, which is what they’ve done to the industry. And now we have to piece it back together in a sustainable way.