Writers on the Line

On the Line
SAG-AFTRA Solidarity is No Act
WGA members take to the streets with SAG-AFTRA and thousands of allies for the L.A. Solidarity March & Rally and the “elves” publish a new children’s book about labor to benefit the ECF
Thursday, September 14, 2023

Taking It to the Streets

Netflix Strike Captain Taylor Orci at the Solidarity rally.

On Wednesday, it was the striking actors of SAG-AFTRA’s turn to take to the streets in a grand show of strength and unity. And as has been the case since the start of the strike, WGA writers stood side-by-side with our striking industry siblings as it happened.

The event began Wednesday morning at Netflix Studios in Hollywood where strikers and their supporters gathered before marching down Van Ness Avenue and turning on Melrose Avenue to arrive at Paramount Studios for a solidarity rally organized by SAG-AFTRA. The rally featured inspiring speeches by SAG-AFTRA leadership and members as well as other special guests including two WGAW speakers.

Rally-goers lined the closed-off section of Melrose between the Motor and Gower gates as far the eye could see. In their remarks from the stage in the middle of the street, many of the more than dozen speakers praised the turnout at both Wednesday’s rally and on the picket lines for the last several months.

“Your strength and your solidarity and your resolve is going to get us to the other side of this, and history is in the making right now,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher told the crowd in her opening remarks. “Hang in there, and do not give up because this is the moment that is going to change the future.”

Following Drescher to the podium were SAG-AFTRA national and local leaders Joely Fisher (Secretary-Treasurer), Francis Fisher (L.A. Local Board member), David Joliffe (L.A. Local Second Vice President), and Sheryl Lee Ralph (L.A. Local First Vice President), as well as SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. The union’s L.A. Local President, Jodi Long, served as the rally’s host and emcee.

Other speakers included actors Jon Cryer and Jean Smart, SAG-AFTRA Strike Captain Terry Wilkinson, voice actor Ashley Burt, influencer and activist Victoria Hammett, and California Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

Representing WGAW, WGA Negotiating Committee member Danielle Sanchez-Witzel remarked upon the unity between the two Guilds, calling that unity a force that the AMPTP did not anticipate.

“They never saw us coming,” Sanchez-Witzel told the crowd. “They did not believe, sitting from their perch high atop the Sherman Oaks Galleria, that our two unions would be out here walking together, sweating together, on strike together, fighting to ensure that writing and acting will be viable careers not only for our generation, but for generations to come.”

But now, after sharing the picket lines, WGA and SAG-AFTRA know the collective power we possess, said Sanchez-Witzel.

“The AMPTP can feel our power. They see us, they hear us. Let them hear us right now!” Sanchez-Witzel said, drawing a roar from the crowd.

Also delivering an impassioned speech was Netflix Lot Captain Taylor Orci, who is a member of both unions. Upon learning that the WGA would be going on strike, Orci said they felt a mixture of rage and terror.

“Rage, because [our] demands were reasonable,” Orci told the crowd. “But despite reasonable demands like wanting protections against AI, increased streaming residuals and performance transparency, despite demands that would cost a fraction of these companies’ profits, we were going to have to fight, and people were going to suffer. My friends and people I loved were going to suffer. The family I want to start is going to suffer.”

The terror that they felt that the WGA would be alone in its fight has since dissipated, said Orci. Over the course of the strike, Orci has seen members of the Teamsters, IATSE, LiUNA, as well as many other unions that have little connection to Hollywood join the picket lines in solidarity.  

“I still have plenty of rage, but I am on the other side of that fear that no one is coming for us, because we are coming for us,” they told the crowd. “The other unions are coming for us, and I learned that on Day One from you.”

NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson compared the struggle of striking workers to that of the Civil Rights movement as both concerned a fight for fair wages and human dignity.

“It is unconscionable that studios make billions of dollars, that executives make over $300 million and the average worker in the entertainment industry makes less than $30,000,” Johnson told the crowd. “We stand in solidarity with you, but we also know from our legacy and our history that when we fight, we win.”

Toward the end of the rally, Crabtree-Ireland noted in his remarks that the strikes are expected to cost the entertainment industry $5 billion, and that the studios are starting to feel the effects. Warner Bros. Discovery has announced it will be taking a $300-$500 million hit to its earnings, a figure that “is almost enough to cover our entire proposal package for three years for all of the studios,” Crabtree-Ireland said.

“So how does that make sense?” he said. “They’re dragging everyone else down with them, industry-associated businesses, union and non-union workers alike, and the whole California economy, and all for what? It’s not about money, it’s about making sure that labor knows its place.”

Crowd members hold up their union cards at the Solidarity Rally at Paramount.

WGA Elves at Work

WGAW member Peter Cameron. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Meet Peter Cameron, a man of many titles – proud WGAW member, father of two, children’s book author and reluctantly outed elf.

Those last two titles are linked. Working with fellow WGAW members, Cameron has co-written a new book, The Elves & The Shoemakers: a Grimm Little Tale of Givers and Takers. The book, inspired by a Grimm fairy tale, is a satirical story about the importance of collective action.  All proceeds will benefit the Entertainment Community Fund. The project was inspired, in part, by Cameron’s efforts to explain the WGA strike to his three-and-a-half-year-old son, Eddie.

“We read kids’ books obviously ad nauseum. I love them, and I’ve always loved them,” Cameron said. “There’s nothing about collective action, or about labor, strikes or anything like that that doesn’t read like a pamphlet.”

As he has walked the picket lines since the WGA strike began in May, Cameron found himself feeling angry over the circumstances of the strike and powerless. With limited time and a newborn son Angus at home, the seven-year WGAW member turned to his frustration over a lack of kid-friendly strike-lit and decided to get creative.

“I thought, ‘I can write a kids’ book and maybe crash publish it,'” he said. “We’re trying to get it out there and market it to people who even if they might not be looking to give to the cause specifically, maybe we can get them through the door, so to speak, with a kids’ book.”

The original Grimm tale is a three-paragraph parable about an unfortunate shoemaker who, facing an overwhelming Christmas eve order, is bailed out by generous elves. The new spin turns the shoemaker into a rapacious figure whose words may echo the talk of some the studio CEOs. Featuring illustrations by WGAW member Brian Kesinger, the 32-page book sells on Indiegogo for a $25 donation, a portion of which covers printing and shipping, while the remaining proceeds go to ECF. The team has until September 29 to meet its fundraising goal of $10,000.

The book was literally written on the picket lines with Cameron and his co-author writing, editing and soliciting feedback over two and half weeks of walking the lines.

“Our artist is a former story animator at Disney. I have someone helping with the press who wrote with me. Everybody’s Guild on this,” Cameron said. “This has been a great brain space occupier. At least for those three weeks, it’s been the most fun I’ve had on the picket lines.”

The team is publishing the book anonymously – and in solidarity – as “The Elves.”

“We decided we don’t want it to be raising our personal profiles,” Cameron said. “We’re all elves. It doesn’t matter who wrote the book. It really is about what the books is saying.”

That said, Cameron agreed to be the face of the project to help spread the word and verify that, yes, this is a legitimate project created by WGA writers for a good cause.

“We’ve learned we have got to have a human face, and so everyone elected me as like, ‘Yup you’re the guy,’” Cameron said. “If the ship goes down, if someone wants to make somebody never work again for writing this, it’s going to be you.’ So I really am hopeful that nobody is that vindictive.”

Cameron’s career began with temp work and PA work, during which he spent years cleaning M&Ms out of the backs of his bosses’ SUV’s. Ultimately, one of his mentors, René Echevarria, tapped him to work on Carnival Row, which became Cameron’s first staffing assignment. He went from there to WandaVision, where he earned an Emmy and Writers Guild Award nominations, and has worked with the series' creator Jac Schaeffer multiple times. Although his background is comedy, Cameron frequently writes horror and fantasy.

As he walks the familiar loop around the Disney Studios picket line, Cameron points out the hospital where Angus was born, a joyous yet sobering indicator of a strike that is almost as old as his son is.

“He was born a week before the strike started, and watching a tiny baby turn into this hulk of a four-month-old is such a clear marker of how long we are being jerked around,” Cameron said. “It terrifies me that there are decision-makers who truly seem to care more about the bottom line than they do about their fellow human beings. That shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.”

To order the book or to learn more, click here.