Talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers resumed Monday, November 26. It is the first time the two sides formally sat at the bargaining table since the strike began on Nov. 4. Due to a mutually agreed upon media blackout, no details were released about the first day of talks. Picketing resumed on Monday at most major lots in Hollywood. Senior Editor Paul Jay visited the picket lines and spoke with some of the striking writers.
Writers Guild of America strike
Paul Jay speaks with striking workers
Allan Katz. And I started out on Laugh-In. And wrote and produced M*A*S*H and Rhoda, and worked on All in the Family and Sanford and Son and Mary Tyler Moore and all the good stuff. I don’t say any of the bad stuff.
Dan Pine. I’m a screenwriter.
Matt Weiner, and I’m the creator and executive producer of Mad Men.
Lance Gentile is my name and I was developing a show at CW.
Matt McGuinness. I’m working on Journeyman.
Dennis Rinsler, one of the executive producers of Cory in the House.
Nicole Yorkin. I’m an executive producer of The Riches.
Scott Shepherd. I was running The Dead Zone.
Writer’s assistant for a show called Burn Notice.
Julie Fageaux, and I work for Marc Warren and Dennis Rinsler.
I’m a script coordinator for a show called Factory on Spike TV.
Hi. My name’s […]. I’m an assistant on Gossip Girl.
PAUL JAY: So this is about staking out ground for the next ten, twenty years about Internet revenue.
RINSLER: Yeah. Once the TV set in the living room and the computer combined, everything is Internet, everything has become the Web.
SCRIPT COORDINATOR: We’re not asking for very much. I mean, they want four extra cents a DVD and they want 2.5% of whatever they make for profits for Internet.
KATZ: They’re getting paid. They’re getting advertising dollars for putting stuff on the Internet. So if they’re getting paid, why can’t they give a percentage, if not four cents, eight cents—I’m not negotiating for the Guild—but something in there that says, when we make a profit, you make a profit.
RINSLER: Right now, I get a third of a penny on every DVD. I have forty episodes I’ve written of television that are out on DVDs. I haven’t gotten a penny. I haven’t even gotten my third. And it’s been years. So I don’t know where the money’s going, but it’s not going to the people who created the stuff.
KATZ: I think that studios and networks would prefer to do some sort of formula where they have all the controls, and the formula being that they don’t really have to pay that money out.
JAY: Do you know how many people are in unions in America?
SCRIPT COORDINATOR: I don’t know that, actually.
JAY: What percentage of working people?
SCRIPT COORDINATOR: I don’t know.
WRITER’S ASSISTANT: I don’t know.
FAGEAUX: I don’t know. I know my brother is the president of a union. So I should know that, but I don’t know.
MCGUINNESS: I don’t know.
SHEPHERD: No, I don’t.
PINE: Smaller than it used to be.
ASSISTANT ON ‘GOSSIP GIRL’: [laughs] I don’t know.
JAY: Nobody else here did either, so don’t worry about it.
JAY: Less than 8% of American workers in the private sector are unionized.
JAY: If you include the government sector, it’s only about 11, maybe 12.
RINSLER: Well, I guess with all the outsourcing and companies moving to Mexico, it kind of destroyed the union system in America.
MCGUINNESS: Labor is in a distinctly kind of weak place, or it has been weakening, and it’s wrong.
WEINER: Basically, since 1960, when a lot of strikes were made in labor, labor has been vilified. America hates labor.
RINSLER: The world is run by giant conglomerates. Who–, it’s in their interest to make the individual feel so powerless that you say, oh, what could we do? They’re such a big company. How could we fight a big company like that?
JAY: Do you think this experience will change–,will writers think about introducing these kinds of story lines because of an experience like this? Or when it’s over it’s over?
WEINER: I’m not into social issues; I’m an entertainer.
MAN: I don’t know how this changes your writing one way or another.
YORKIN: I do think that this strike has galvanized a lot of people, a lot of young people who’ve never, you know, been on a picket line before.
SCRIPT COORDINATOR: I think I’ll definitely be more appreciative of getting a writing job in the future.
RINSLER: No. Political, labour, religion—it’s unsafe territory.
JAY: The assistants don’t have a union.
ASSISTANT ON ‘GOSSIP GIRL’: No, they do not.
JAY: Do you think they should?
ASSISTANT ON ‘GOSSIP GIRL’: It would be nice.
JAY: So I’ve talked to a lot of assistants. Why don’t the assistants do something about it?
FAGEAUX: That’s a good question. I think that there’s a certain level of fear when it comes to below-the-line people that, you know, you can hit twenty people with one rock that want to be in your position.
JAY: You’re most affected by the strike.
WRITER’S ASSISTANT: Absolutely. I mean, most assistants live paycheck to paycheck.
JAY: And you guys are the least protected.
ASSISTANT ON ‘GOSSIP GIRL’: We’re the least protected, and that’s a really good point. So maybe I’ll call some of my assistant friends and start a union.
MAN: We write these things. The content of what’s on the air is written by these guys on this line. And we deserve better than this.
MCGUINNESS: And, honestly, I don’t know that we’re striking to benefit ourselves, but five years down the line, seven years down the line, this is going to be where the business lives. And if we give everything up, which is what they want, absolutely everything, we’ll never ever get it back.
WEINER: I’ve seen the commitment of the people who are involved here. For me it’s been incredibly edifying. It’s been a very inspiring experience. I’ve never been prouder to be a writer, and I’ve never thought of myself as labour before, and I really do. I really identify with this whole concept. It’s been very, very empowering, satisfying. And hopefully, without, you know, sounding revolutionary, hopefully, people will start to feel better about the value of their work. We’ve had a hard time convincing people of the value of their work and of the leverage they have as an individual.
JAY: You mean your own people.
WEINER: All people.
WEINER: They’re literally like, “You’re rich. You’re getting paid. You made a chair. They paid you for the chair. Sit down.”