The Family That Pickets Together
Ask Shelby Farrell and Juan Avella why it is so important that the WGA win a fair deal with the AMPTP and the husband and wife, both WGAW members, will point to Camila, their 2-month-old daughter who joined her parents on the picket line at Disney Wednesday with her “Born on strike” sign and wearing her WGA onesie.
Camila was born May 31, almost a month into the strike. Her mom was on the line up to the day before she was induced.
“For us as a family, it’s pretty obvious,” Farrell said of her family’s motivation to picket. “We have maternity leave and health insurance because of the Guild. Without the Guild, this career would not be possible for families in which both parties are writers.”
“I’m originally form Venezuela, and back home there’s no way to really make a living in the entertainment industry,” added Avella. “The goal is always to come to Hollywood because you can make a living and have a family. Now that that ability is being stripped away, it’s like, ‘what’s the point at all?’”
Farrell is a feature writer, producer and director. Avella has sold several projects and directed an episode of The Blacklist. In addition to Camila, their family includes Camila’s 2-and-a-half-year-old older sister, Victoria, who was born during the pandemic.
“So the kids think we don’t have jobs,” said Farrell. “They’re like, ‘You never leave the house.’ That was the relief of it. The anxiety is actually coming now when she’s getting a little older, and it would be time for us to return to work. We’re like, ‘When are we going to returning to work? When is there going to be another paycheck? Are we going to be able to afford to put two kids in daycare?’”
Over the past couple of years as their family has expanded, Farrell and Avella have found themselves concerned with the changes in the industry’s business model, things like excessive free work and late pay.
“If our pay doesn’t go up and our benefits don’t continue, writers won’t be capable of sustaining families and sustaining lives doing this,” Farrell said. “You have to count on that one screenplay to sell for enough that it can support you for a year and a half of free development work and free pitching.”
“It’s like a lot of people are saying, even if you’re successful, it can mean that you’re still struggling,” said Avella.
Among their many reasons for appreciating the Guild are the WGA medical benefits which they needed when Camila was born with a medical issue that required her to be in the NICU.
“She’s doing perfectly,” said Farrell. “It was a condition we knew about during the pregnancy, so we were prepared, but I’ve been on the phone with the PWGA three times a week since she was born. It’s a job in itself to have a kid who has extra medical needs.”
Although their picket line visit with Camila Wednesday did not include Camila’s big sis, Victoria has also been to the picket line.
“She found it all a bit overwhelming, the honking and everything,” said Avella. “But when she discovered the snack table, she loved it.”
NCIS on the Lines
Paramount Studios was the meeting point as writers and cast from across the NCIS-verse came together for a reunion picket Wednesday.
“This is special today because we have all the NCIS shows, so it’s really great to see everybody,” said Scott Gemmill, executive producer and showrunner of NCIS: Los Angeles. "Some of us go back even before NCIS to the JAG days, so these are legacy shows that have been on the air forever.”
A Guild member since the mid-1990s, Gemmill said that even amidst the streaming boom, there remains a fondness for network TV and certainly for a business model that allowed writers to earn a living knowing they were guaranteed a full season of episodes.
“The business seemed a lot different back then, that’s for sure,” Gemmill said. “They wouldn’t even put a show on the air if they couldn’t guarantee that it would get 24 episodes and seven or eight years. Now it seems like everything is very short-sighted. It’s ‘Let’s do 6 episodes and see what happens’ and that’s not really sustainable as a career.”
Laughing it Up for a Good Cause
Remember that old cliché about laughter being "the best medicine." Thanks to the work of a longtime WGAW member, and the generosity of a comedy club owner and several stand-up comedians, industry workers who have been affected by the strike will get multiple doses of relief.
In late June, Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada opened his newest location in Covina with a benefit performance headlined by actor-comedian Dane Cook. The event sold out almost immediately, with all proceeds benefitting the Entertainment Community Fund.
The benefit came together in part due to the efforts of WGAW member Bill Taub, who has worked extensively with Masada and the Laugh Factory in the past.
Masada has been a long-time supporter of writers who, like the comics who take the stage in his clubs, have the unique ability to help people escape the stress of their lives.
“People don’t realize how much writers do. They have one of the noblest jobs in the world,” Masada said. “I understand that the studios have to make money, but without the writers, where would they be?”
The Covina show, which brought in $6,000 to the ECF, will not be the last laugh for this initiative. The next Laugh Factory benefit, scheduled for Tuesday, August 15, will be at the club’s flagship location in Hollywood and will feature an all-star lineup including Tiffany Haddish, Gary Owen, Billy Bean, JB Smoove, Chris Spencer and others.
“A lot of comedians have said they want to do it because they know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,” Masadna said. “We had to hone it down. We can’t do a 10-hour marathon.”
“We’re trying to set up streaming capability so that people can donate while the show is going on,” added Taub. “We’re planning on continuing this. Even if the strike was settled today, it wouldn’t be the end of the need.”
During the 2007-08 strike, Taub and the Laugh Factory hosted a similar benefit.
“We want to do whatever we can to help,” said Taub, who has spent many years on the Guild’s Writers Education Committee. “I learned through the Entertainment Community Fund that people can come back for a second bite at the apple. If you can prove your need and prove you have been in the business, you will get the benefits.”
For tickets to the August 15th benefit, click here.