Writers on the Line

On the Line
The Morale of the Story
Lot coordinator David Weddle leads the warriors of the Motor Gate at Sony, D. Dona Le journeys from Vegas to attend the Dick Wolf picket, and “Human Megaphone” Saroya Whatley brings joy and energy to Universal
Friday, July 21, 2023

The Morale Officer

WGAW member and Sony lot coordinator David Weddle.

At the end of every picket shift, WGAW member and Sony lot coordinator David Weddle assembles his “troops,” (aka end-of-the-day picketers), thanks them for their service, and bids them good night. He has been known to blow a whistle and refer to people as “warriors” – as in “warriors of the Motor Gate” – as he expressed his appreciation to people for staying to “the bitter end.”

The key, says Weddle, is enthusiasm over oration; the words almost don’t matter.

“The main thing is to be loud, be enthusiastic, and make people feel valued,” Weddle said Wednesday. “I’m just trying to do some really positive affirmation to make everyone feel like they’ve accomplished something. You don’t have to say what I say. Just show people that you appreciate them.”

Picketing WGA members who walk the lines at lots other than Sony will nonetheless have experienced Weddle’s firebrand spirit. The longtime WGAW member, who has worked as an EP of For All Mankind and The Strain, has been a fixture at the mic at Guild member meetings, often reminding the membership that the WGA has emerged victorious in previous campaigns and that we should fully expect to bring the AMPTP “to its knees” in this fight as well.

When he first made that speech at a captain’s meeting shortly before the start of the strike, Weddle said his remarks weren’t entirely thought out. Having been to a lot of strike-related meetings, Weddle knew what other people might say, and he wanted to have an answer for what he calls the “hand-wringers,” the people who worry that the enemy is too powerful.

“That’s contagious,” said Weddle, “Where is it coming from? It’s coming from the big media companies that are constantly leaking rumors designed to discourage us and create disunity. Really, all people want is for somebody to stand up and say the other side.”

Which is what Weddle does, passionately, and always drawing tons of applause. But not every encounter will include an amplified speech. During a shift on the picket lines, Weddle will frequently fall in step with people who are walking alone, introducing himself, asking non-members what brings them to the picket lines and, of course, conveying his appreciation that they came out.

“I just think I’m a morale officer,” he said, “and it’s good for me, too. If I’m just walking back and forth, I fall prey to the all the anxieties that everyone else is prey to.”

From Vegas to Universal for a Day of Picketing

WGAW member D. Dona Le at Universal.

Before joining the Guild in 2020, D. Dona Le lived in Chicago and in Ireland. She created an online business and ran an L.A.-based nonprofit for many years.

The daughter of parents who immigrated from Vietnam, Le gave up aspirations of being a concert pianist to become a writer. “I exchanged one keyboard for another,” she said.

A member of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) New Writers Fellowship, Le got her first staffing assignment on the Dick Wolf-produced series FBI’s Most Wanted. She joined the staff during the COVID pandemic and has worked virtually ever since from her home in Las Vegas, moving from staff writer to completing executive story editor.
She and husband Justin Monticello relocated to Vegas in 2020 to escape the high cost of living in L.A.

She acknowledges that the types of opportunities for writers to move up the staffing ladder on series like Wolf’s FBI, Chicago, and Law & Order franchises may be a thing of the past if the Guild doesn’t secure a strong MBA with the AMPTP.

“I’m lucky to be on a show that has a 22-episode order. I feel like those kinds of jobs are fast phasing out due to the streamers,” said Le.  

When she received word of a crossover picket with writers and staff from across Wolf’s nine shows at Universal Thursday, Le and Monticello, hopped on a plane and returned to L.A. for a day of in-person solidarity with writers she had only previously met on Zoom.

The picket line camaraderie she had heard reported proved to be accurate, according to Le, who called the honk-fest atmosphere at the Citywalk gate at the Wolf-sphere picket "fantastic."

“It’s nice to talk to people who are in the same profession,” said Le. “It’s also nice in Vegas getting the perspective of people who aren’t in the industry. Obviously not everyone there reads Deadline.”

When she listened to her dog trainer complain about the prospect of big-budget tentpole films pushing back their release dates due to production shut downs caused by the strike, Le knew that the strike was having an effect.

“I was like, ‘Yes!’ because those are people who would otherwise not care about this strike,” Le said. “Now they’re paying attention. Hopefully that adds pressure.”

And even in Las Vegas people understand and sympathize with the struggle against corporate greed.

“Everybody is totally on the side of workers,” she said. “There was a graphic about CEO pay floating around on Twitter that talked about how what we are asking for in one year would cost less than Jeff Bezos’s yacht. I think people are generally like, ‘I can’t believe this.’”

Writers, actors, and crew from the Dick Wolf Entertainment crossover picket at Universal. Photo by J.W. Hendricks

The Human Megaphone

WGAW member and unofficial lot captain Saroya Whatley.

When she came to picket at Universal on the first day of the strike, Saroya Whatley quickly made it clear that she was available to help out in any way that she was needed. The lot coordinators put her to work, deploying her as a runner, but by week two, it became clear that she had other resources ripe for tapping.

“I think they like the fact that I am very loud and scream a lot,” said Whatley, a WGAW member. “So that’s where I live now.”

Whatley says these words Thursday at Universal’s Jimmy Stewart Gate where picketers gathered for a cross over Barbie and Oppenheimer (“Barb-enheimer”) picket. The theme was Whatley’s idea both as a way of bringing some energy to Universal and also in celebration of her birthday, which was Thursday.

Music, honks and airhorns sounded, and multiple picketers looked to catch a photo with Whatley who was dressed in a bright orange wig. But in this case, Whatley was not the one actively generating the noise, which is rare.

“We call her the Human Megaphone,” said lot coordinator Katherine DiSavino. “She is an incredible presence on the line, and she just really infuses every day that she’s here with so much energy and happiness. She can get any car to honk.”

“If there’s a gate where there’s low energy, Saroya would be there with a tambourine,” DiSavino continued. “She would do chants, sing songs and give the energy that people need. She’s a total hero.”

All in a day’s work, says Whatley.

“I am really so grateful to be a part of this community,” she said. “I have met so many lovely people on the lines, and if this is how I can help the cause, by devoting my time and my energy to the picket line, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Whatley took what she calls a long and winding road into the WGA. An L.A. native and a former child actor, she ended up working in Silicon Valley, but found herself missing the entertainment industry and wanting to find a way back.

She enrolled in graduate school at USC, worked as an assistant for four years as an assistant including one and a half years on Grey’s Anatomy and was accepted into the Warner Bros. Television Workshop. She got her first staffing job eight weeks before the strike.

Whatley says she believes deeply in the principles of the strike, of writers being paid what they’re worth.

“For me, it’s not just the money. It’s also the respect of what we do,” she said. “We are creating something out of nothing. We tell stories because stories are what change the world.”

Saroya Whatley (On the ground, center) at the "Barb-enheimer" picket at Universal. Photo by J.W. Hendricks. 

See Photos from The Week of July 17-21

Why We Strike

Throughout this negotiating cycle, writers have been speaking up about our personal experiences working over the past several years. These stories highlight precisely why we are on strike and why our proposals are so critical to the future of this profession.

"My first writing job was for Netflix on a comedy-variety show that lasted for just 11 weeks, many of which were comically chaotic. Netflix always pays insane fees to lock in big names but gets as close to the bone as possible on BTL budgeting, leaving little money left to produce a show in a quality manner, and that’s what happened here."

Read the full story here.