Writers on the Line

On the Line
WGA Picketers Assemble!
Writers and their allies are the real superheroes at Warner Bros. and a father and son share solidarity on the line
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Picketers at Warner Bros. Studios Superhero Day.
Some wore capes, others were masked. Along with their theme-specific signs and t-shirts, some carried props like Hulk hands or Wolverine blades. From across the Marvel, DC and comic book universes, they assembled at Warner Bros. Studios for Superhero Day. And whether they were actors, directors, editors, crew members or fans of the genre, they agreed that the real heroes of the day are the striking WGA writers.

“We’re out here today to say, ‘Hey, give us a fair contract and you’ll get pages.’ It’s that simple,” said Eric Wallace, a showrunner with The Flash who organized Superhero Day. “Until then, the superheroes with the typewriters are on strike.”

A strike captain and a relatively new WGAW member during the 2007-8 WGA strike, Wallace answered the call when member organizing asked him to step up again for the current work stoppage. Then as now, Wallace said he recognized the importance of unity across all levels of writing. He conceived of the Superhero Day picket as being similarly all-embracing.

“Every member matters,” he said. “It’s so great to see such solidarity for a really important cause that is not just our love of superheroes but our love of getting paid!”

The amity and good will both on and off the picket lines has been especially notable, said Marc Guggenheim, who was a first-time showrunner in 2007. Guggenheim remembers fewer honking horns and more hostility and flipped birds from passing motorists.

“In 2007, we were striking for things like jurisdiction over new media and better DVD residuals,” said Guggenheim, former co-showrunner on Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow. “This time we’re striking against things, against the encroachment and downward pressure against our profession. It’s the same with SAG, with IATSE, the Teamsters and the DGA. We’re all being pushed down by these mega-corporations, and we’re all now standing up with a single voice saying, ‘This has to stop.’”

Joe Henderson, co-showrunner of Lucifer, worked his way up the ladder from staff writer to showrunner, getting the opportunity to go to set and learn how to produce. The rungs of that ladder to a successful career are now being systematically eliminated, said Henderson, who worries that writing will become a career only for people who are already wealthy.

“We need to diversify our storytelling,” Henderson said. “We need to make sure that anyone who has a story worth telling can get a job. That’s how these companies are going to make their money. They’re going to make it off the people who are coming in with great stories that nobody ever thought of before.”  

Adam Mallinger hit the lines with his fellow writers from Superman and Lois. Mallinger said he was thrilled to encounter writers within the superhero/comic book franchise, many of whom he had never previously met.

“I came onto the show during a period when most of us weren’t able to interact with each other because of the pandemic,” said Mallinger. “You have a lot of writers here who kind of live in the same universe in a way, but we don’t know each other, or we only know each other from Twitter. It’s kind of fun to be here with people from other shows, l hear their stories and realize we’re all kind of in a little fraternity here.”

Although she has not previously written on a comic book or superhero themed show, strike captain Jackie Penn wore a Wonder Woman shirt for the occasion. Although the existential issues that writers are striking over are serious, Penn appreciated taking part in a theme picket that helps lift members’ spirits.

“We’re out here marching and picketing for a fair contract, and I think events like these are a great help to get more people out here,” Penn said.

Representing SAG-AFTRA, actor Jon Cryer said that WGA and SAG-AFTRA members have much in common. Both groups would benefit from streaming services sharing their data.

“They know down to a person how many people watch their shows, but they refuse to give us that information," Cryer said. “Whether it’s out of shame, greed or fear, I don’t know, but the bottom line is, the writers and the actors need to know, and that solidarity that is necessary for us to get that is what we’re doing today.”

As for the impact of Superhero Day, Cryer offered one quibble:

“Having played Lex Luthor on Supergirl, I prefer to think of it as Supervillain Day,” he said, “But if superheroes are your thing, whatever.”

See Photos from Wednesday's Picket Lines

Father-Son WGA Solidarity

Father and son WGAW members Phil and Matt Kellard at Sony Pictures.

The 2023 WGA strike is Phil Kellard’s sixth time on the picket lines for the WGA. It’s the first official strike for his son, Matt, like his father a writer-producer and WGAW member, although Matthew Kellard also tracked his dad’s union activity from an early age.

As a kid in 1988, Matthew Kellard recalls writing and illustrating a homemade newspaper featuring pictures of striking writers carrying signs. He still has that strike gazette, somewhere in storage.

“That was probably the first experience I ever had understanding what a union was because it was just this scary time in the house,” said Matt on the picket lines recently at Sony Pictures along with his father.

Phil Kellard remembers those early strike years vividly and he is grateful to have been able to make a viable living off the benefits that the Guild’s MBA provided.

“The year [Matt] was born, I hadn’t written for many years, and then I was out of work for an entire year,” Phil said. “Many of my friends made it through those times on residuals. If it hadn’t been for residuals, I would have lost my brand-new house. I would have lost everything.”

Even before entering the entertainment industry, Matt developed a passion for organized labor, working as a bicycle courier in Chicago and helping to organize a courier’s union and a strike.

“This happens to be my first strike for myself on the job, my first WGA strike,” said Matt.

“And I’m very proud,” said Phil.

Father and son agree that the stakes in the Guild’s current labor action are extremely high.

“All of the strikes were important because of what we have gained and lost,” said Phil Kellard, “but just for the future of the writing as a profession, I think this one is the most important.”

“I came into the business imagining that this was possible for me, and the more the years go on, the more that simple idea of having a sustainable career is evaporating,” agreed Matt. “So, it’s becoming more and more of just a precarious, anxiety-riddled hustle and not a profession anymore. I see great writer friends of mine who have to leave the business because it’s not sustainable.”

The Name is Familiar...

WGA Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman and Warner Bros. strike captain Deanna Shumaker.

She could have gone with something more elaborate or directly out of a comic book. But in fashioning a t-shirt for Superhero Day at Warner Bros. where she serves as a strike captain, Deanna Shumaker took a different approach. Her shirt’s message: Keyser & Goodman & Stiehm & Stutzman referring to the WGA Negotiating Committee's Co-Chairs Chris Keyser, David A. Goodman, WGAW President Meredith Stiehm and Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman.

“They’re the real superheroes here,” Shoemaker said of the Guild’s leadership. “They’re out there fighting the good fight for us. Not all heroes wear capes.”