For the final 8 years, I’ve been an expert TV author in New York Metropolis, with credit on The Nightly Present with Larry Wilmore, an upcoming FX restricted sequence, and a pair initiatives in improvement. I really like getting paid to put in writing about points that matter to me, and I additionally like getting paid to put in writing fart jokes. I’m fairly good at my job, particularly the fart jokes.
However the actuality of writing for TV isn’t the caviar-snorting, celeb-hobnobbing fantasy we, sarcastically, see on TV. Once I’m in a writers’ room, it feels magical. However these months of magic are sometimes adopted by a yr or extra of piecing collectively non-TV gigs, working free of charge to develop initiatives that most likely received’t ever get made, and stressing about shedding my medical health insurance if I don’t meet the earnings minimal to maintain my union protection. And I really want medical health insurance, as a result of in 2009 I obtained a kidney from my aunt (it was a transplant, not like a bizarre Christmas reward), and I swore I’d take excellent care of it. Oh, and in 2019, I had most cancers (I’m okay now).
Sadly, the period of streaming mixed with company greed has turned what was already a tightrope stroll for writers right into a tightrope stroll above a volcano whereas using a unicycle and balancing a poodle in your pinky. Whilst there’s extra high quality TV to devour than ever earlier than, writers really feel more and more squeezed by our working situations—fewer writers staffed on reveals, far shorter seasons, frequent cancellations, and little or no safety. To attempt to regain some sense of stability, the Author’s Guild of America— representing 11,500 writers—had no alternative however to go on strike when the AMPTP (the group that represents the studios) walked away from contract negotiations on Might 1st. We hope that by withholding our labor, we are able to power the AMPTP to make a good deal so we are able to all get again to work. Enjoyable reality: we do not know how lengthy that may take or once we can be paid once more!
So now I’m on strike, in what’s a really intense unpaid job as a union organizer I’ve no coaching for. Right here’s what’s per week in my life appears like now:
One week in and I’m apprehensive my canine is beginning to hate me. The identical factor occurred once I had most cancers. I would go away for per week to get chemo and he—being a canine—assumed I used to be abandoning him endlessly. For the reason that pandemic hit, I’ve labored completely from house. Now that I’m gone for 4 to eight hours a day picketing round NYC, he isn’t amused. Apparently, employee solidarity is misplaced on Griffin. Don’t fear, I’ve assigned him studying—Karl Marx’s Capital is up first. And I give him a deal with earlier than I depart, I’m not a monster!
Day-after-day, we march and chant outdoors the studio buildings, their company places of work, and on-location shoots. Picket strains are a good way to maintain up morale and enhance your circle-walking abilities. Additionally they serve a sensible goal: many crew members from different unions—just like the Teamsters and IATSE (the union representing crew members)—refuse to cross picket strains. No TV crew = no productions, which prices the studios cash. Since they love cash, we hope this can carry them again to the negotiating desk sooner. Ideally, earlier than my medical health insurance expires or my checking account hits zero! And positively earlier than Griffin learns easy methods to learn.
Once I arrive at Broadway Phases in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, everybody’s fired up as a result of the studios received’t even focus on our proposals, together with actually primary ones like, “don’t let the robots change us.” Yep! Since AI is principally a mom fowl regurgitating a half-digested mishmash of fabric, the WGA proposed that it couldn’t be used to put in writing scripts that human writers would finally have to repair in any case, simply at a fraction of our common wages. I believe that’s a good request, however then once more, I’m not a CEO or a robotic mom fowl.
By the top of the day, I’m wiped. I nonetheless proceed to reply calls, emails, and texts from my fellow organizers and writers till I cross out round midnight. Considered one of my mates refers to this sense as “being a browser with too many open tabs.” I name it “banana pudding mind.”
Picketing tip: Beware the solar. To that finish, UV gloves are, apparently, a factor, and so they make you appear to be a trendy hanging magician!
Step Depend: 20,451
On the picket line at Silvercup Studios in Queens this morning, late-night writers are a giant a part of the group. Through the years, the WGA has fought to make sure TV writers get sure protections, like minimal weekly charges and, within the late-night world, the assure that jobs will final at the least 13-weeks at a time (which, let’s be actual, is one extraordinarily mature seventh grade romance). However whereas a few of these protections made it to streaming, we haven’t been in a position to get them for late-night writers but. So, should you write for Late Evening with Seth Meyers on NBC, the published community, you’re protected, however should you work on The Amber Ruffin Present, on NBC’s streaming service Peacock, you’re not. Look, the most effective comedy doesn’t come from financial insecurity! It comes from emotional insecurity.
Banana pudding mind units in till I get house to the Higher West Facet (okay, perhaps one of many clichés about writers is true…), activate the Calm app, and go to sleep once I hear the phrases, “Take a deep—”
Picketing tip: Make the circle change instructions after every hour, your hips will thanks.
Step depend: 24,260
Once I arrive on the Amazon/HBO picket in Hudson Yards, it’s grow to be a full-on rally full with a stay band courtesy of The Late Present (on hiatus due to the strike) and righteous indignation courtesy of Mandy Patinkin. Mandy’s signal says, “You killed residuals, put together to pay,” referring to (The Princess Bride and likewise) the truth that writers obtain residual checks when networks re-air their reveals, however on streaming, these checks are teeny-tiny (like two whole dollars). Streamers base residuals on a low flat price as an alternative of on, say, what number of views a present will get. So a author on Bridgerton doesn’t share in its huge, swoon-worthy, bodice-ripping success. Cash! Who wants it?!
This lack of earnings hits arduous. Writers have to earn a little bit over $40,000 a yr in WGA-covered work with the intention to qualify for medical health insurance. Once you’re in between jobs, residuals are supposed that can assist you cowl that hole. With out these checks—and as somebody who’s a “common” at my hospital—I’m just about continually calling the insurance coverage firm to see when my protection expires and what I have to do to maintain it (“Can I write for you, insurance coverage adjuster!? Perhaps your child’s eighth grade commencement speech? Is that Guild-covered?!”).
After wrapping at Amazon/HBO, a number of of us head over to a smaller picket close by which has efficiently delayed manufacturing on Billions, which is particularly apt provided that’s how a lot income the studios usher in (even whereas they refuse to choose a contract that may value them lower than a mere p.c of that determine). Different fittingly-named reveals we’ve efficiently delayed manufacturing on: American Horror Story and Evil.
Picketing tip: Earplugs (one phrase: megaphones)
Step Depend: 18,480
Not solely do I have to take two trains and a bus to get to Steiner Studios within the Brooklyn Navy Yards, it’s so enormous (carry a motorcycle!) it takes me twenty minutes to seek out the doorway. After introducing myself to my fellow picketers and buying and selling notes on mutual mates, I notice that is essentially the most constant socializing I’ve executed because the pandemic started. By the top of this, we’ll all be extroverts with extremely toned quads. The studios are simply making us stronger!
I get house by way of the standard labyrinthine route simply in time to hop on back-to-back organizing Zoom conferences about easy methods to make our pickets much more efficient and the way different teams can present solidarity. I’m exhausted however powered by the assist from our fellow employees who’re additionally feeling the squeeze and wish us to succeed. We vow to assist them of their battle, too. Tonight, Dolly Parton’s “9 to five” is my lullaby.
Picketing tip: Begin your day with a union-themed Wordle guess. I’ve been rotating via: UNION, POWER, VALUE, and STAND.
Step depend: 23,643
Once I depart this morning, Griffin simply appears at me with disappointment and heartbreak. “Blame the studios!” I whisper. However despite the fact that he understands phrases like “sit,” “excessive 5,” and “dinnertime,” he doesn’t know “company greed”…but.
As we speak, I’m taking pictures a video with some mates to elucidate the strike by way of jokes (sadly, none fart-related). I solely largely hate how my face appears and my voice sounds (I’m a author!), however I believe we get the message throughout: Billionaire CEOs = dangerous, truthful deal = good. And I handle to get to the picket within the afternoon, and assist our employees members shut out within the night after a giant week.
Perhaps it’s the banana pudding mind speaking, however I’ve been pondering. I’ve labored so arduous and walked the equal of two literal marathons this week for no pay. However what’s the distinction between that and placing in countless free writing to pitch a present that has a .1% probability of getting made? Yeah, I’m going to want to tackle extra freelance jobs outdoors of TV to pay the payments throughout this strike, however I did that earlier than, too! These previous couple of years, we’ve all been haphazardly making an attempt to construct a semblance of a life. I’m wondering if the businesses have realized that in making this profession so unsustainable, they’ve really positioned us completely to outlast them. These fools! Staff throughout industries know this sense. We’re all affected by profit-growth-driven economics. All of us should be compensated for our labor and to share within the earnings of what we create! Writers are asking for simply that.
And, positive, Griffin hated me once I did chemo. However as a result of I did it, I survived, giving myself the possibility to earn his love once more (largely by way of treats). So, he could hate me now, however by hanging, my profession will survive, too, and I’ll get the possibility to earn his love once more (additionally largely by way of treats).
Deliver on week three.
Picketing tip: Backup sneakers for when your present sneakers lose their tread in… 5 days.
Step depend: 20,051
Whole step depend for the week: 106,885
Whole step depend for the strike: TBD, you possibly can come again to the negotiating desk anytime, studios!
Sasha Stewart is a Writers Guild Award-nominated author and producer whose credit embody: Amend: The Battle For America, The Repair with Jimmy Carr, and The Nightly Present with Larry Wilmore. She most lately wrote on an upcoming dramedy for FX. She loves telling jokes, consuming ice cream sundaes, and combating for employees’ rights. Yow will discover her on and .