Rallying for Choice at Amazon
On the WGA picket lines Friday, a coalition of showrunners joined striking WGA writers to turn the one-year anniversary of the overturning of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision into a rally in support of abortion rights and labor rights.
Outside Amazon Studios, the Showrunners for Abortion Rights (SFAR) joined representatives of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Women in Film, along with activists, actors and musicians for an Abortion Rights picket. The lineup included attorney and activist Gloria Allred, actress Lily Tomlin, singer Susanna Hoffs, and many others.
SFAR formed in June of 2022 in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision which overturned Roe v. Wade. The coalition called on the studios to help put safety protocols into place for productions still shooting in abortion-hostile states.
“We shared our grief and our rage, and there was a lot of grief and rage,” said SFAR steering committee member and Friends Co-Creator Marta Kauffman at Friday’s rally. “And when you get a bunch of passionate, articulate, angry showrunners together, shit happens.”
"Our event received support from so many different communities because everyone gets that the Dobbs decision makes us all less safe," added fellow coalition member Nicole Jefferson Asher, creator of Self Made and one of the picket's organizers. "Abortion is not just a medical issue or a labor issue, it’s a human rights issue. The polls are clear, an overwhelming majority of Americans understand that our rights are being stripped from us."
The coalition helped raise $3 million for the National Network of Abortion Funds. After wishing the crowd at Amazon a “happy unhappy Dobbs Decision Day,” Kauffman talked about the newly-released one-year report card on the studio’s progress, in which the studios received decidedly mixed results.
Tomlin, who starred in the 2015 film Grandma about a woman who helps her granddaughter raise the funds to have an abortion, called on striking writers to continue telling important stories about the rights of women.
“I believe when people like us get together and tell the powers that be–the judges on the bench, the CEOS in the board room–that we can’t live like this, that we won’t live like this, it makes a difference,” Tomlin said. “I’m so proud of the people telling these companies what we need so the casts and crews of this industry feel safe, and we can make them do it even if we have to show up here every day and annoy the hell out of them.”
See photos from the Abortion Rights picket here.
Two Unions and a Violin
On a Thursday morning, as the writers of the showRUNNERS running group prepared to set off from Sony on their weekly picketing jog across the westside studios, violinist Paula Yoo seized her moment, playing them on their way with the theme to Chariots of Fire.
Yoo knows her movie and TV themes. She also knows music. A member of both WGAW and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 47, when she’s not marching, she can be found on the picket lines often wearing both her royal blue WGA shirt and her teal AFM shirt, brandishing her violin, playing away.
“A lot of musicians show up with their instruments, and so I’ve been doing that,” said Yoo. “I figure I can kill two birds with one stone. I can get some practice time.”
This double dose of solidarity serves both of her unions: While WGA is currently in negotiations with the AMPTP for its 2023 MBA, Local 47 is slated to begin its own contract talks with the same employers in the fall.
“Musicians, like writers, are facing very similar concerns, especially with AI,” Yoo said. “It’s a big concern for both of us. People often believe that if you are a writer or a musician, you’re working your dream job, and you should be grateful. But what we do is labor. We spend years, if not decades, honing our craft.”
Yoo has put in her decades honing multiple crafts. A former journalist who worked for newspapers in Seattle and Detroit, she moved to Los Angeles to write for People magazine in 1995 and then began transitioning over to film and television.
During her 21 years as a member of WGAW, she has staffed 11 shows, sold three pilots, and adapted a feature. She is also a published author. A violinist since childhood, she plays weddings between staffing gigs (“I have one coming up in a couple of weeks,” she said).
But even after achieving success, Yoo has encountered many of the roadblocks within the industry that the WGA is striking against. As a Korean-American, Yoo says that many of her writer friends from diverse backgrounds have experienced repeating staff levels an inordinate number of times.
“I was forced to repeat staff writer three times, and this was before mini-rooms,” she said. “I’m glad the WGA is now really looking into this. Residuals are a big concern as well because a lot of times you spend months if not years between jobs, sometimes because you’re kind of beholden to your contract you can’t seek out new work until you find out if your show is canceled or not. Now it’s gotten to the point where people are waiting years because their show hasn’t even debuted yet to be canceled for them to seek out new work.”
Picket lines are nothing new to Yoo. She walked the lines during the 2007-08 strike where, she recalls, the diversity on the lines was less evident than now. Going back further, as a member of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, which was part of the Teamsters, she went on strike in 1995. Yoo played her violin on those picket lines as well.
“The Detroit newspaper strike taught me the value of the Teamsters,” she said. “We were striking for fair wages and protection and safe working environments and all of that. I’ve been a loyal and very pro-union member since then.”
On the 2023 lines, Yoo sometimes does mini jam sessions with other Local 47 musicians. When going it solo, she’ll break out themes from popular TV shows including those she has written for like The West Wing and the Pretty Little Liars sequel, The Perfectionist. “If I was a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof is another favorite.
“I’ve even played The Love Boat theme,” she said. “I can go old school.”
Best Foot Forward
When the call went out for assistance on the picket lines, new WGAW member Jimmy Clabots was determined to put his best foot forward to help his fellow striking writers get some relief with theirs.
Prior to joining the Guild just two months ago, Clabots spent several years as a physical therapist assistant working in hospitals. Knowing full well the toll that spending hours on one’s feet can take, he brought his chair and Theragun massage device to Universal and began giving five-to-six-minute foot massages.
“It really helps people’s energy levels. They feel replenished, and they feel calmer” said Clabots. “After four hours of walking, your body starts to get tighter. Percussion massage can help with lymph drainage, and it can help with swelling.”
Even as a new Guild member, Clabots believes strongly in the principles of the strike, and he was happy to step up and become a strike captain. Although he entered the WGAW by selling a feature, Clabots hopes to move into TV writing, a transition which he acknowledges will be no easy feat given the challenge that writers are facing within a broken system.
“I think streaming is a technological innovation that has not caught up with what is a sustainable support system for writers to have fair wages, to have a career, and to not be in constant financial distress, especially if you’re a mid- or lower-level writer,” Clabots said.
Briefly a member of the American Guild of Variety Artists when he performed in a Disney musical, Clabots calls collective bargaining “a powerful tool.”
“If you think about the typical employer/employee spectrum, employees always work hard enough to not get fired, and employers always pay just enough to not have the employee quit, and that there’s that never-ending struggle that’s always going on,” he said.
“So the studios keep trying to make us quit, essentially by being less and less reasonable,” Clabots continued, “and I think part of the reason that the abuse exists is because there are so many people that want to work in this town, and there are only so many jobs, and there are only so many shows in a slate and on each network, on each season. So people are always willing to go above and beyond, especially if they think it’s going to lead to future success.”
You’ll typically find Clabots on the lines at Universal where, he says, the foot massages will continue.
“People love it,” he said. “So it’s just something I’m going to keep doing because it’s easy and it puts my talents to use.”