In Support of Support Staff
By their very definition, the support staff of Hollywood – the writers assistants and script coordinators – exist to make writers’ jobs easier. Since the start of the strike, this help from assistants who hope one day to become WGA members has been enormous and unending.
On Monday, during a rally and picket at Netflix organized by the advocacy organization PayUpHollywood, the support staff were recognized, celebrated, and reminded that the WGA strike is about securing their future as well.
A series of speakers including both WGA members – several of whom started out as assistants – and representatives from supporting organizations lauded the support staff of Hollywood as “the heart and soul of the industry.” In addition to WGAW Board Member and PayUpHollywood’s co-founder Liz Hsaio Lan Alper, who served as MC, the rally featured remarks by WGA Negotiating Committee member John August, WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser, and WGAW members Bradley Estrin and Joelle Garfinkel.
“Nothing would get done without you and we are grateful to have you,” Alper told the crowd during her opening remarks. “Even though this labor action has directly affected all of you, we want you to know that you are supported not just by writers, but by the entertainment community at large.”
Many of the speakers amplified PayUpHollywood’s message that support staff are not paid enough to live in Los Angeles. With the strike shutting down production, many assistants have experienced financial hardships. Monday’s rally included a resource fair in which representatives from supporting organizations discussed some of the ways they have tried to help assistants in need.
During his Scriptnotes podcast in 2019, August and co-host Craig Mazin asked listeners to identify an issue that was important to them that was not being talked about. Listeners began submitting stories about assistants being unable to earn a living wage. Alper and Deirdre Mangan founded their organization around the effort to address this situation. PayUpHollywood releases an annual survey about the composition and pay of support staff.
“Those jobs were classically the first rung on the ladder to success,” August said Monday. “It’s how I worked my I worked my way up. But that ladder was broken, because nobody could afford to take these jobs, and they couldn’t make a living in this town.”
Joseph Mwamba, co-chair of the non-member support group WGA Virtual Mixer, noted that assistants are trained to anticipate and address needs in production. That mindset has carried over to the picket lines as non-member coalitions organized during the early days of the strike to bring snacks, coffee, food and other necessities.
After helping to stock the picket lines, the WGA Virtual Mixer turned its attention to the support staff because, as Mwamba said, “it’s time someone solved the problem for you as well.”
“The mixers and the pickets are nice,” Mwamba said, “but when this started, we thought, ‘What’s something we can do to actually help you?’”
Mwamba began collecting donations to give out $100 Ralphs gift cards. When he learned that CBS Radford strike captain Garfinkel was also raising money for groceries through her Green Envelopes for Groceries initiative, the two organizations partnered up and have since raised close to $40,000 and given out grocery grants to 376 people in need.
Garfinkel worked 16 years as a writers assistant, showrunners assistant, script supervisor and post-PA before becoming a staff writer.
“A month ago, I got a green envelope, and I thought, ‘We need to pay it forward to our support staff, and to the people who need it most,’” she said.
As he worked as an assistant, Estrin dreamed of joining the Guild, which he eventually accomplished. Since becoming a member, he has been a supporter of PayUpHollywood. Estrin praised the assistants for their resiliency, a character trait they will need to have given the current state of the industry.
“You are literally the backbone of this industry,” he said. “People don’t get fed without you. Scripts don’t get read without you. Meetings don’t get set up without you. Sets don’t get built without you. And yet support staff are often the most under-appreciated and definitely underpaid part of a system that couldn’t sustain itself without you.”
In addition to PayUpHollywood and Green Envelopes for Groceries, organizations offering help and resources that sent representatives to the PayUpHollywood picket included The Black List, Pre-Rainbow Pages, Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, the Entertainment Community Fund and Women in Film.
Pinning Down a Striking T-Shirt
Here’s a piece of strike merch that is equally suitable in your local bowling league as it is on any studio picket line.
Heck with it…you could proudly wear that image of a WGA bowling ball toppling the pins with the various AMPTP studio logos under the word “STRIKE!” anywhere.
The bowling strike logo was the brainchild of WGAW member David H. Goodman, who created it to spruce up the work he does with a non-profit. During the pandemic, Goodman began making lino cut designs to decorate the lunch bags that are part of a weekly lunch drive run by Hang Out Do Good (HODG). HODG’s “crop-rotation activism” includes actions like blood drives, clothing drives, voter registration, and grocery deliveries.
When the WGA strike began, Goodman began decorating lunch bags with the strike design, posting the designs on his Instagram page. His friend and fellow WGAW member, Shannon Goss, saw the designs and suggested he turn them into T-shirts. She tracked down Worx Printing, a worker-owned union co-op based in Massachusetts, and the sale was on, with all proceeds benefiting the Entertainment Community Fund. Goodman hasn’t kept track of the sales, but he periodically sees people on the lines wearing the shirts. Another friend, CBS Television City lot coordinator Bill Wolkoff printed a bunch of picket signs with the logo as well.
A working writer and producer for more than 20 years, Goodman has become disillusioned by fact that up-and-coming writers may not be able to pursue the same course that he followed.
“I was mentored by a number of different, wonderful writer/producers when I was moving up the ranks, working on 22 – or in some cases 24 – episode seasons of shows. And I had the opportunity to be a mentor myself, and return the favor, teaching other writers the ins and outs of how to work in a room, cast a show, produce it, shoot, and then edit it,” said Goodman, an executive producer on Once Upon a Time and The Winchesters.
“These are things that have to be taught,” he continued, “and the way the current system is, with writers being let go before their episodes are produced, or even before they're rewritten with production in mind, let alone cast or shot, doesn't allow for this teaching to happen and for writers to learn how to be producers.”
To buy the shirt, click here.
For more WGA-branded strike merch, click here.
A Nerd Reports for Duty
What has kept WGAE member Marc Bernardin coming out to the picket line since the beginning of the strike?
A better question might be “what doesn’t?”
“Since day one, I’ve been on the lines and working and pushing for all the things that everybody is,” said Bernardin, as he checked in Monday morning for picket duty at Universal. “For room sizes, for protections against AI, for residuals, for transparency, for equity, for all of those things.”
“I’m here today because it’s science fiction writers' day,” he added. “I’m a nerd and a sci-fi writer so it seemed like the place to be today.”
Bernardin has been a producer on Carnival Row and Star Trek: Picard. As a writer on Castle Rock, he shared a 2019 Writers Guild Award for Original Long Form.
Bernardin grew up in New York, which he describes as “a union town in almost every way,” but until he joined WGAE, the experience of being part of a guild had been “kind of alien to me.”
He has taken to union life and, since hitting the picket lines, Bernardin has enjoyed the unity and the solidarity, and has been more than happy to spread it around.
“I believe in the union, I understand why it works and how it works, and I believe in our leadership,” said Bernardin. “I’m happy to explain to people who don’t understand exactly why we’re here. Even the vibe from the people who drive and keep honking their horns at this point, what is it, 70 days? The vibe I’m feeling is just positivity and esprit de corps. Everybody out here knows why we’re out here.”
Why We Strike
Throughout this negotiating cycle, writers have been speaking up about our personal experiences working over the past several years. These stories highlight precisely why we are on strike and why our proposals are so critical to the future of this profession.
"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."
Read the full story here.