Burgers, Pie, and Mother's Milk: A Day with The Boys
The writers of a Prime Video series about a world in which corporations have become all-consuming beasts have put down their pens for a contract that will allow them to make a sustainable middle-class living.
The irony isn’t lost on The Boys developer-showrunner Eric Kripke who was happy to hold a Boys reunion picket to help draw attention to the WGA fight.
“It’s fairly on brand for us to speak out about the insane level of bullshit that billionaires in America get away with,” said Kripke at The Boys reunion picket outside Amazon Studios Thursday. “So we’re happy to be out here in some small way. Anything I can do to help the WGA negotiate a fair deal.”
In addition to assembling writers and actors from all four seasons of the superhero-themed show as well as its upcoming spin-off Gen V, Kripke put out the word to The Boys fan base, thereby helping to boost the turnout on the picket line. For good measure, he brought along the truck from Pie ‘n Burger to feed everyone.
Like his writers, Kripke cited the existential threats that the profession is facing and his concern for the ability for younger and lower-level writers to earn a living. The son of a father who ran a scrap metal business in Ohio, Kripke said he learned workplace values from his family even though he didn’t grow up in a union household.
“I really learned how to be a manager of personalities from him in the world of business,” Kripke said. “It’s just so not rocket science. People just want to be treated well, be respected and be able to take care of their families, and the fact that people at a certain level don’t seem to see that is wild to me.”
WGAW member Ellie Monahan, joined the Guild working on The Boys, and has since become a strike captain. She began as a writers’ assistant on the series’ first season, went to set frequently as a staff writer and has worked her way up to producing on both The Boys and Gen V. Although she has reached the producer level, Monahan acknowledges that many of her colleagues looking to chart a similar course are facing obstacles.
“This is a moment where you have to step outside of yourself and think about others,” said Monahan. “I have lots of friends who have been staff writers on projects that never went forward who are having a really hard time getting their second jobs and are thinking about leaving the industry altogether.”
Although she left the show to become a showrunner on her own series, Archive 81, Rebecca Sonnenshine was pleased to reunite with her Boys colleagues and meet the fans. A marcher on WGA picket lines every day since the beginning of the strike, Sonnenshine said she has witnessed the erosion of the value of writers and is solidly behind the Guild’s proposals for its new MBA. Sonnenshine recently brought her 9-year-old nephew to the picket lines to give him a taste of what the strike is all about.
“Everywhere I’ve been, I see crowds of people. I see people who are in it for the long haul,” said Sonnenshine. “I see people who are united in their desire to make this a sustainable living for everyone. I feel like unions are disappearing in our country, and that’s a tragedy because they are a way in which people come together and demand conditions that support having families, that support having education, that support having environmental policy. Unions are basically the cornerstone of having rights as workers.”
Also lending a voice of solidarity to WGA writers was Laz Alonso who plays the character, "Mother’s Milk," one of the three vigilante “tri-tagonists” on The Boys. Actors from popular series may have their fan base, but Alonso insists that the actors themselves look up to writers. “We’re their biggest fans,” he said.
“We’re at a very crucial point in time,” Alonso continued. “The industry needs to understand that this is an industry made up of people, in front of the camera and behind the camera, and no matter how advanced technology gets, people are what makes this work. Technology is really threatening the heart and soul of our business, and that can’t be lost. So for me, being here is a no-brainer, and I’m really happy to be a part of this moment.”
Continuing a Union Tradition
As she helped manage the lines during a recent morning shift at Netflix, WGAW member and longtime captain Shelley Meals worked a short distance from her daughter, Asha Kassulke, who joined Meals for the first opportunity since school let out. Kassulke, her mother points out, has a “2007 strike baby” T-shirt proclaiming the fact that she was born during the last WGA work stoppage.
The 2023 WGA picket lines have been packed with members and supporters who are marching side by side with multiple generations of their own families…fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandparents. Many a striker will boast of being a member of a union family. Meals, whose husband is an IATSE re-recording mixer, fits proudly into this category.
“My mother was an actor who was able to make a living doing three to four commercials per year,” said Meals, a writer and executive producer on Shadow and Bone. “I grew up in a union home, and we led a middle-class life. I see the importance of unions and I’ve seen the protections that they offer in terms of employment deteriorate over the past few years. It’s really clear how important to me this strike is.”
Having served as a captain for many years, Meals has noticed something else about the current action that is different both from the 07-08 strike and from non-strike years: the unity among membership.
“When you have a team of writers, they come from all over,” she said. “It’s not just the hour-long drama writers. There are comedy writers, sketch comedy writers, feature writers and show runners, and this time around, there were no voices of dissent. No matter what type of writing you do, it’s been negatively impacted by the changes of the past few years.”
“I’ve worked on shows like See for Apple and Shadow and Bone [for Netflix] that I think it’s fair to say are successful – they don’t tell us the numbers," she continued. "When I get residuals, it’s a fraction of what I get from residuals from Chicago Med. That’s a problem.”
The breakdown within the industry has also resulted in lower-level writers who come from historically excluded communities not having the opportunity to be on set, according to Meals.
“We are hired, ostensibly, to bring that point of view to the room and to what we write,” she said. “Then when we’re not able to be part of the process on set, to speak with directors and department heads, then when changes are made, it’s very easy for problematic things to slip through the cracks, be it ableist, homophobic, misogynistic.”
“When I was a staff writer, I was on set the whole time from the beginning, and I think this is getting abused,” she continued. “It’s not just lower-level writers. It’s upper-level writers who are not allowed to go to set, and it’s created a lot of problematic content. I feel like we’re being used as diversity shields where it’s like, ‘We have this diverse group of writers, so therefore this is OK.’ But it’s not OK.”
Stamping Out Corporate Exploitation
On a typical visit to the picket line, Nelini Stamp would support striking WGA writers with pizzas
But on a recent stop at Amazon Studios, Stamp – national director of strategy for the Working Families Party (WFP) – arrived with something a little more specific to the occasion: customized “Eat The Rich” necklaces created by Vivian Azalia of Miami-based Colors of Azalia.
“We brought them so people can have them and can send their message all the time,” said Stamp who came out to the West Coast from Philadelphia for a couple of weeks both to take meetings and join WGA writers on the picket lines.
The WFP supports workers who are exploited by huge corporations. WGA writers, Stamp said, have simple demands of organizations that are making billions in profits and are trying to turn a work force into a gig economy.
“We’ve seen it with delivery drivers. They want to keep a certain population down, economically so they profit off that labor. So what’s happening here is so important,” she said.
“It’s been really important because everybody’s talking about AI, and this is the canary in the coal mine for other labor in the country that can be extremely impacted by this,” added Stamp who also picketed at Disney, “but of course it’s going to go after creative workers first.”