Writers on the Line

On the Line
Solidarity by the Thousands
5000 plus flood L.A's streets to flex their collective union muscles, an enthusiastic Juneteenth celebration at Paramount, and feature writers speak out
Thursday, June 22, 2023
More than 5,000 turned out for the WGA Strong rally and march from Pan Pacific Park to the La Brea Tar Pits.

If there was any remaining doubt that WGA writers do not walk alone in their fight for a fair contract, Wednesday’s historic WGA Strong Rally put that feeling solidly to rest.

More than 5,000 WGA members and supporters from other unions gathered at Pan Pacific Park near WGAW headquarters. From the park, they marched approximately one and a half miles down 3rd Street, turning south on Fairfax Avenue and arriving at the La Brea Tar Pits park, where they assembled for a spirited rally featuring speeches by WGAW members and leaders of other unions.

Read the full story. >>
See photos from the
WGA Strong March & Rally.

Netflix Lot Coordinator Danny Tolli.

Juneteenth on the Lines

A huge turnout for Juneteenth picket at Paramount. Photo by Antonio Reinaldo

Because the picket lines were closed in observance of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Monday, WGAW's Committee of Black Writers (CBW) held its Juneteenth picket on Tuesday. But if the high turnout from WGA writers and other unions at Paramount was any indication, the extra day did nothing to dim the enthusiasm to unite.

The CBW and the DGA’s African American Steering Committee (AASC) typically hold a joint event every year, usually at one of the union’s offices. The WGA strike combined with the Juneteenth holiday and the industry’s emergence from the pandemic provided an ideal opportunity for a meet-up on the picket lines.

“We’re keeping it pretty open and very loose so everybody can show up and have a good time,” said CBW Co-Chair Hilliard Guess. “We’re also here to protest and to appreciate Juneteenth. We all understand what happened in 1865, and how that reflects on all of us. None of us would be here if that hadn’t happened.”

“Juneteenth is about freedom and unity among African Americans,” agreed Sharon D. Johnson, a WGAW member and former CBW chair. “So it’s just appropriate and thrilling to be here together to support all writers and to support each other.”

The two committees had special unity T-shirts made to mark the occasion. On a warm Tuesday morning, the donation of the Ciao Bella water ice truck by Frankfurt Kline + Selz and Echo Lake Entertainment was especially welcoming.

Even as the strike enters its eighth week, Guess remarked upon the enthusiasm of picketers to come out and share the day.

“I’m actually honestly surprised we’re still able to do events like this because I’m the type of person who would have gotten burnt out in like week three, but here we are still sustaining this thing,” Guess said. “I think clearly something is in the air. I’ve said this before, even though it’s a negative that we’re in this situation, there’s a positive to it in the context that allows us to now meet each other. I love seeing how this has brought us back together.”

Santa Sierra, a WGAW writer and executive producer who has attended several diversity-themed pickets, also said she appreciated the opportunity for friends to meet on the lines.

“We all want to go back to work, but it’s been nice to have a break, to live life for a little bit and hopefully we’ll get back to work soon,” said Sierra.

Committee of Black Writers Co-Chair Hilliard Guess at Juneteenth picket at Paramount.

See Photos from Tuesday's Picket Lines

Feature Writers Speak Out at Paramount Picket

WGAW member Chris Weitz at feature writer picket at Paramount.

While they cited a few different facets of a broken system than their TV counterparts, WGA members who came to Paramount for a feature writer picket Tuesday were no less united in their battle for a fair contract and grateful for the ongoing support of other unions.

Free work, late pay, and one-step deals were some of the things picketing feature writers hope the new MBA will ultimately address, as well as the common enemy, AI.

“It’s the level of work that’s expected of you, that one step is really like six different drafts and endless notes from producers before you get to turn it in,” said Allison Schroeder, co-screenwriter of Hidden Figures. “A lot of writers aren’t guaranteed second steps, and streaming residuals aren’t great. So I think any gains would be welcome. I’m also a little terrified of AI.”

Chris Weitz echoed Schroeder’s sentiment on AI. Before the strike forced pens down, co-writer-co-director-producer of About a Boy was writing and directing a film on that very subject.

“I know the immense power behind it which has no human responsibility whatsoever, so it’s scary,” Weitz said. “The first wave is going to be about misinformation, but down the line will be the use of AI in writers' rooms or in situations where notes are being given, which is a scary notion. I’d much rather be subject to human algorithms than computer-made ones.”

Matt Billingsly said he was paid for a polish of a high-budget movie at a low budget rate. When he complained about the disparity, he was told, “This is all the money we have. Take it or leave it." Billingsly has also enlisted the WGAW to help recover fees he was owed from producers.

“The Guild also got me late fees, which was great, but still it would have been nice to have been paid on time and not had that anxiety,” said Billingsly. “Any screenwriter out here, unless you’re a super A-list person, is dealing with these issues, and it’s just not sustainable. It makes having a career just about impossible.”

Kelsey Fox and their writing partner sold a feature to Sony, but because it was a first-time deal with only one-step guaranteed, they did not qualify for health insurance.

“If we had had these battles years ago, it would have been the difference of me having health insurance or not,” Fox said. “So I’m very willing to be out here and keep it going.”

Whether they walked the picket lines in 2007-08 or are relatively new to the Guild, the feature writers at Tuesday’s picket said they were impressed at the support from other unions both inside and outside the entertainment industry.

When he was putting himself through film school, Billingsly worked nights as a UPS driver and became a member of the Teamsters. A dedicated supporter of organized labor since that experience, Billingsly has been so wowed by the shows of solidarity that he has made a vow.  

“Occasionally we get these emails that say the teachers are going out on strike or the janitors are going out, and we can show up and support them,” said Billingsly. “I have never once gone to one of those, but after seeing how they have come out for us, I will never miss one of them. I will go to all of them in the future, because I’ve seen how much it means when other unions show up on your picket line to stand with you.”