Writers on the Line

On the Line
Game for the Strike
A reunion at Fox reveals a path through The OC and gamer Carlos Cisco brings his skills from the writers’ room to the Disney lot
Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Path Through The OC

WGAW members Melissa Rosenberg and Lauren Gussis at The OC reunion picket at Fox. 

The reunion of writers, actors, and crew from the series The OC at Fox Studios Wednesday gave WGAW members, colleagues, and long-time friends Melissa Rosenberg and Lauren Gussis to enjoy what Rosenberg called a “picket date.”

“That’s what’s been going on at these theme pickets,” said Rosenberg, a former WGAW Board member. “I’ve been seeing old friends and meeting new people. It’s very much a bonding process, and I feel more a part of a community than I ever have.”

During the first season of The OC in 2003, Rosenberg was a writer and co-EP and Gussis was a writers’ assistant. Twenty years later, both are showrunners, with Gussis crediting Rosenberg for helping her advance in her career.

“Melissa was my mentor on several staffs, so that alone meant that I had a person whose wing I was under,” said Gussis, who worked with Rosenberg again on Dexter and later created the series Insatiable. “She taught me how to be a showrunner. Now we have opportunities to work together in a way that we understand each other because she trained me. That’s invaluable.”

Rosenberg remembers her time on The OC with fondness.

“It was everything I dreamed of in a writers’ room,” she said. “I was with an incredible team who were excited to be on this new project. You’re with the smartest people, and you’re digging into story. You’re boarding, you’re drafting, you’re learning. Those rooms have to continue.”

Series creator Josh Schwartz noted that, in its first season, The OC produced 27 episodes followed by 24 in season two.

“That would be equal to three seasons of a streaming show,” Schwartz said. “So I think that really kind of makes the point of just how drastically the business has changed even in the 20 years since we did the show.”

Rosenberg, who has worked as both a TV writer-producer and as a screenwriter (Step Up, The Twilight films), sees that writers in both genres are being unfairly compromised by changes in the industry. The current strike, she says, “comes down to the survival of the craft of screenwriting.”

“I had the great good fortune to work my way up the ladder and into a position of showrunner, and what an extraordinary education!” she said, “But there are generations behind me who are not having that opportunity so I feel it’s my obligation to support them.”

Writers, cast, and crew of The OC. Photo by J.W. Hendricks. 

This Strike's No Game

WGAW member and Disney Lot Coordinator Carlos Cisco. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

For Disney Lot Coordinator Carlos Cisco, it’s not always easy to determine where TV writing ends and role playing gaming (RPG) begins, so inextricably are the two pursuits linked.

Cisco has spent the bulk of his young career on Star Trek: Discovery, starting as a writers’ assistant and ending as a story editor when the show was canceled. Within his “side hustle” in the gaming world, he does table top design and narrative design, creating history and lore for games. In early August, a Dungeons & Dragons book titled Free Mortals was published featuring several monsters that Cisco designed.

“I don’t do the art. I do the narrative design,” explained Cisco as he took a lap around the Disney lot early in August. “Both in terms of ‘Here’s a scene description of what this place is when this adventuring party enters this dungeon,’ and I’ll also design a monster. That goes from what is the ecology and loose history of the monster to a stack block that represents how a dungeon master would use the creature mechanically in the context of a game’s rules.”

“A lot of my work tends to be pretty anti-capitalist and/or horror,” he added. “Outside of Star Trek, that’s kind of my bread and butter in terms of my personal writing. Horror finds its way into almost everything I do.”

In the early days of his career, Cisco hit a dry spell and considered changing careers entirely. He applied for a job as a narrative designer with the gaming company Wizards of the Coast, despite having no experience in that realm. As he was going through the rounds of interviews, he heard from incoming Discovery showrunner Michelle Paradise inviting him to apply for a job. The week he was turned down for the Wizards job, he was hired on Discovery.

“The two felt connected,” said Cisco. “While I was an assistant, a call for pitches went out for an anti-capitalist adventure titled Eat The Rich. That went really well, and it kind of started me getting into that community and meeting other people.”

World-building, Cisco says, satisfies a certain creative need whether in the context of a TV series or in a horror or fantasy gaming realm.

“I like to joke that when I’m writing pilots, it’s really filling the need as a dungeon master for all of the players to do exactly what I want them to do,” he said. “I get to create a complete picture and story, but the nice thing about going over and doing narrative design is I get to do the pure sort of imaginative world-building unfettered by any sort of character motivations or needs or anything like that. It’s a chance to let the world be the focus of its own.”

Cisco joined the WGAW in 2019. Fellow member Sean Cochran went on paternity leave and, with the series promoting its writers from within, Cisco bumped up from assistant to staff writer. He later took over Cochran’s captain duties as well, and found himself as a lot coordinator at Disney when the strike began. 

“I think that there’s a lot of parallel skills when it comes to managing a room compared to managing these lots,” Cisco said. “Obviously we’re not breaking story or anything, but it is a lot of logistics. It’s a lot of keeping morale up even when yours is not. Because if people start breaking, collapsing and all that in terms of morale, then the whole picket line can fall apart.”

“It’s been really rewarding,” he added. “I’ve met more people in my discipline in however many days I’ve been out here than I have met in the entire decade-plus that I’ve been in this business.”

Cisco was born in Hawaii and grew up shuttled between that state and New Mexico after his parents – a teacher and an architect – divorced. His first significant exposure to union values came from, of all places, Episode 17 of Season Four of The Simpsons. Titled “The Last Exit to Springfield,” the episode finds Homer Simpson leading a strike against the nuclear power plant after Mr. Burns revokes the plant’s dental plan.

“That was probably the first piece of strike media that I ever consumed,” Cisco said, “and it was the thing that sort of made me aware of unions, even if it’s presented comedically, what their purpose and strength is in collective bargaining.”