Writers on the Line

On the Line
Warner Bros., You've Been TAG'd!
Plus, catching up with the writers and cast of Jane the Virgin and a sort of homecoming for striking members
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
The Animation Guild (TAG, IATSE Local 839) joined the WGA in solidarity at Warner Bros. Studios. Photo: Brittany Woodside

Since the WGA strike began, there’s been no mistaking members of The Animation Guild (TAG, IATSE Local 839) on the WGA picket lines even when they’re not wearing their shirts with the recognizable squiggly orange TAG logo.

“With those beautiful illustrations and hilarious pictures, their signs are so much more beautiful than ours,” said WGAW Board member Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

There was no shortage of creative signage to admire Tuesday at Warner Bros. Studios, where TAG members turned out by the hundreds in support of the WGA. Comprised of both writers and artists with around 7,000 active members, TAG leadership were proud to stand in unity with the WGA writers.

Many of the existence-threatening issues facing WGA writers are concerns shared by individuals working in animation. Animation writers and artists know what it is like to go from freelance gig to freelance gig, and many are no strangers to mini-rooms, according to TAG President Jeanette Moreno King.

“We all have to protect each other. That’s basically what it gets down to,” said King. “A union is more than just about labor and wages. It’s also about community and building that strength and trust between members. You feel like you’re alone in an issue, but with the union and the community around the union, you start to realize that a lot of people are having this same issue. Once we all start talking to each other, that’s when we can make a real united front.”

“Our members have been so ready for this,” King added. “We’re hoping that the WGA can soften the studios up so that by the time we get in there to negotiate, we can benefit from all that you have done.”

Picket co-organizers Janis Robertson and Joey Clift – both of whom are TAG writers – said that TAG members started planning the union-wide picket event from the moment the strike was announced and did so with gusto.

“I think as a union, we really wanted to find a way to support the WGA that wasn’t just retweeting something,” said Clift. “We really wanted to have an event that was like, ‘Hey, TAG members, let’s all show up in force and really show the WGA that we’re on their side on this.’ The hope is that we can pop the seal on this and turn this into a more regular thing to show the solidarity between our unions and help the strike effort.”

Bob-Waksberg, who has worked extensively in animation, said the support of TAG is hugely appreciated.

“I think what bonds us most is the spirit,” he said. “We’re all kind of getting screwed, and we don’t want to be. We all do what we do because we love it, and we can’t let them exploit that love. We can’t do this for free, so that’s why we have a union: to fight these fights for us and to do it together.”

See Photos from Tuesday's Picket Lines

Catching up with Jane the Virgin at CBS-TVC

Writers and cast members of Jane The Virgin at CBS Television City.
Judging by the accounts of the writers and cast members of Jane the Virgin who reunited for a Tuesday morning picket at CBS Television City, the hit, five-season, telenovela spoof created by Jennie Snyder Urman was a hugely fulfilling experience personally and creatively.

“I’m grateful that we had a long-running show where people were able to move up and learn how to produce,” said Urman at CBS TVC picket line. “It was a really lovely environment.”

 But if the WGA is not successful in its next MBA, developing writers might never get a comparable experience in the future.

“[WGAW Negotiating Committee member] Mike Schur was on a podcast recently where he was talking about the value of people coming up on a show, learning how to do everything and then becoming showrunners themselves,” said WGAW member Madeline Hendricks Lewen. “For Jane the Virgin, that was me. The show was like grad school for me. I started as an assistant and left as a writer. It’s like I learned everything I know.”

Hendricks began the show as Urman’s assistant and eventually worked her way up to story editor. Along the way, over the course of the show's five-year run, she got to observe editing, be in production meetings and be part of the writer’s room.

“My experience, which was only eight years ago, is not really possible anymore,” said Lewen. “The irony is that this is going to hurt the studios at the end of the day when they’re not going to have anybody to run a show. But it’s a problem of their own making.”

Valentina Garza, a fellow writer and co-executive producer, found great satisfaction in working on a show that she said depicted characters “who looked like me and had a family who looked like mine on television.” The threat of unregulated AI is particularly ominous to writers of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, said Garza.

"Jane the Virgin was such a unique show, such a unicorn, and there just aren’t a lot of narratives like that,” said Garza. “I think writers like myself are still very much trying to open up a space where we get to tell our stories with authenticity. Diversity and inclusion is something we talk about a lot in this business, but we're just not there yet.”

When Urman put out the word calling for creatives on both sides of the camera to join the picket, the cast and crew members jumped at the opportunity to reunite and show solidarity.

The principles at stake in the strike are hugely important to actors as well as to writers, said cast member Jamie Camil.

“Without a script, without a good plot, we’re nothing,” said Camil. “The streamers, broadcasters and everybody who produce content need to understand that. It’s so basic, but apparently some people just don’t get it.”

Jane the Virgin would not be the show it was without Jennie leading it so deliberately with such skill and precision,” added actor Bridget Regan. “I think the writers need to be given everything they ask for.”

Anybody In From Out of Town?

WGAW member Eric Jay Beck (left) at Amazon.
The pandemic drove Eric Jay Beck to Grants Pass, Oregon. The WGA strike brought him back.

A WGAW member since 2018 with credits including the series Yellowstone and the film Vile, Beck returned to walk the picket lines with his union family and plans to shuttle between the two states as long as the strike lasts.

“Labor unions are important. Period,” said Beck during a recent picket at Amazon Studios.“We’re currently marching outside a business that—while this is the studio arm of it—we’re well aware that these employers, if given the opportunity, wouldn’t even let us pee. They do that to their other laborers who aren’t unionized. So collective bargaining matters when you’re dealing with mega-corporations like we are.”

Walking the picket lines comes with some perks, most notably the fact that one encounters fellow writers and can pick up some wisdom from them.

“Whether you’re into drama or animation or late night comedy, every cool writer is here walking with each other, and they’re so kind, open and generous with their time,” Beck said. "This is the equivalent to getting some really kick-ass training while you’re walking up and down on the sidewalks. Why not benefit from the free education?”