Writers on the Line

On the Line
It Feels Good to Give
The WGAW blood drive exceeds its goal, Ilana Peña hopes her showrunning path isn’t the last, and Hollywood Nebraskans picket at Amazon
Friday, August 25, 2023

WGAW Gives Blood

Donors at the American Red Cross WGAW blood drive at the Writers Guild Theater.

With plenty of help from a team of people he gratefully credits, The Simpsons showrunner-executive producer Matt Selman organized the WGAW blood drive for the American Red Cross held Wednesday in the lobby of the Writers Guild Theater.

Setting a goal of 54 units of blood, 72 registered participants easily surpassed the number, donating 64 units – that equates to up to 192 lives saved, according to Nina Minton, account manager, Biomedical Services for American Red Cross Blood Services.

Selman came up with the idea after participating in a blood drive earlier in the strike. While chatting with Minton, he learned that a scheduled ARC drive involving nurses at one of the studios had been called off because the nurses were unwilling to cross WGA picket lines.

“I said, ‘The WGA can make that up, no problem,’” said Selman. “There are 11,000 of us with nothing to do except picket.”

Working together, ARC and WGAW staff put the necessary arrangements in place. Word spread fast and the 50 slots for donors were quickly filled, compelling organizers to open up an additional 25. Guild member participants came from all staffing levels, and the event included raffling off a Simpsons animation cell from Selman’s collection.

The solidarity of WGA members has been high since the strike began, said Selman, a 28-year WGAW member, and the results of the blood drive only reinforce that unity.

“The Red Cross nurses and the donors are an amazingly hard-working and compassionate bunch,” Selman said. “I was there to watch other people do good work.”

From Crazy-Ex to Showrunning

WGAW member Ilana Peña at Radford

When she left Crazy Ex-Girlfriend after the hit comedy’s fourth season, staff writer Ilana Peña departed with the good wishes of her CEG crew. After all, the onetime EP assistant who, step-by-step made it into the writers’ room, was departing to run her own show.

“She’s one of the alumni we were most proud of,” said series Co-Creator-Executive Producer-showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna, speaking at a reunion of the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writers, cast and crew Thursday at Radford, “not just for the success she’s had, but for the spirit and the joy that she has brought to all of us. She’s a good example of how the system should work.”

“I felt so lucky,” said Peña, who created and executive produced Diary of a Future President for two seasons. “You’re kind of thrown into being a showrunner, and you have to learn on the job. I was one of the few younger writers who had set experience, and it saved my life.”

First as an assistant and then as a staff writer, Peña went to set, observed editing and ultimately produced her episodes. She knows that her progression up the staffing ladder is now being threatened by the structure of the industry in the streaming age.

“We were a network show, we had a pretty hefty order, and we were shooting as we were writing,” recalled Peña. “Hopefully I wasn’t on the last vestige of that model.”

Even 115 days into the strike, Peña said she is heartened and grateful whenever she sees the unity on the picket lines.

“When I was parking today, a big truck honked,” Peña said. “And I thought, ‘OK, as long as we have to do this, we have solidarity,’ and that gets me up every morning. We’re all ready for a fair deal, but we’ll be out here as long as it takes until we get one.”

Writers, cast, and crew of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at Radford. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Nebraskan Pride at Amazon

(L-R) WGAW members WGAW members Brett Maline and Ashley Eakin at Amazon

WGAW members Ashley Eakin and Brett Maline both became Guild members at around the same time, and they knew each other from the disability community. But Thursday’s region-focused special picket gave the two writer-directors their first opportunity to picket together. They joined the line as industry peers and as Cornhuskers.

“We found out that we were both from Nebraska, which is wild because you don’t meet many people working in the industry from there,” said Eakin, a writer and director

“There are not a lot of Nebraska peeps in entertainment,” agreed Maline. “I do hope we do more stuff like this, maybe get the word out a little bit more.”

Organized by the Nebraska Coast Connection, a 32-year-old community building networking organization, The “Nebraskans Supporting Writers and Actors picket” at Amazon Studios followed in the steps of the NCC’s monthly Hollywood Salon gathering. The meeting usually draws around 30 people in a drop in, drop out basis. This community of Hollywood Nebraskans is close-knit and very much behind supporting WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors in their fights to win a contract that provides a sustainable living, said administrator Roslin T. Real.  

That fight is personal, say Eakin and Maline. As a staff writer with one writers' room on his resume, Maline has no on-set experience, and he sees the devastating effects of mini-rooms on writers at his level.  

“They only want brand new writers who they can pay the cheapest or producing level writers who can produce on set,” said Maline. “So minimum staffing is a big one for me so people like me can get experience on set. AI is existential and needs to be curbed. That’s true across all industries.”

A screenwriter who writes with her husband, Shawn Lovering, Eakin has worked on projects under multiple-step script deals, but she admits “that doesn’t always happen.”

“It’s super-hard to make a living in L.A., and I realize that I have to have five or six projects going and getting payments on all of them just to survive,” said Eakin. “I feel like they’re going to take a script that you write, make changes with AI and not pay the writers for that second step. It’s terrifying and I think it’s definitely something we need to protect ourselves from.”

After 115 days on the picket line, the two Guild members both say they remain hopeful but also exhausted.

“As a married couple, when both your income comes from writing, it’s stressful,” Eakin said. “Everyone is applying to normal jobs right now, so we’re definitely feeling the pressure.”

“I’m feeling hopeful because at least they’re back in the room,” Maline added. “I don’t understand why the AMPTP doesn’t see the hole they’re digging for themselves with the general public with all these shenanigans. That’s the frustrating thing to me. Let’s be intentional. Let’s get a deal done.”

See Photos from The Week of August 21-25