Striking film and television writers got a signal boost on Thursday from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (d-NY), who spoke at a rally outside the East Coast offices of Paramount Global in the busy heart of Manhattan’s Times Square.
Wearing a “Writers Guild on strike” T-shirt under her blazer, New York’s junior senator to Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer told more than 100 picketers inside a barricaded sliver of sidewalk on the strike’s 24th day that theirs was “a righteous movement” and a “necessary” one.
“It’s not right for writers to be so underpaid they can’t afford the cost of living. It’s not right that writers are paid so little that they can’t afford to live in the greatest city in the co — in the world,” Gillibrand said, briefly checking herself in order to raise New York City’s stature.
In the fourth week since contract talks collapsed between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, Gillibrand became one of the highest-profile elected officials to openly side with the writers and criticize Hollywood executives, who — like unionized actors, directors and writers — have historically given the majority of their campaign donations and strategic and moral support to Democrats.
Joined by rally organizers from the Writers Guild of America East, and with SAG-AFTRA members including Colin Farrell, Michael Kelly and Mariska Hargitay — see videos of Farrell and Hargitay below — looking on, Gillibrand praised writers as skilled, creative, hardworking and underpaid given the wealth their work generates for studios and studio executives.
“Now I understand industry says, ‘Oh, well things are changed. This is a new format. We can’t possibly pay the same way,’” she said, referencing the dispute over writers’ income from streaming. “B.S.!”
“Let’s call B.S. on things that are not true,” she continued to cheers and applause. “The heads of studios and the heads of these companies are making hundreds of millions of dollars. Do you think they’d be able to make a dime of that if not for you, if you weren’t creating the content that is making their platforms go extremely profitably?”
Gillibrand also told writers they are irreplaceable, despite the advent of artificial intelligence capable of churning out scripts and dialogue.
“AI generates content based on what’s been written before, the work you did last year and the year before,” She said, “It’s not original. It’s not imaginative. It doesn’t come from the human heart.”
AI also was on the mind of another speaker, Rachel Dratch, the writer, actor and Saturday Night Live alumna who attended Dartmouth College with Gillibrand. “I was nervous to get up here, so I asked AI to write my speech,” Dratch said to scattered laughs and howls. “I hope that’s OK.”
She dove into prepared remarks that began, “Dear fellow writers, I stand before you today to talk about the importance of our union, why we should be on strike.” What followed was — for a few sentences — a competently if plainly worded union stump speech highlighting the value of writing and the joy it brings to millions.
“OK, this is pretty good,” Dratch said as an aside, before the speech took a turn that she later admitted to Deadline was no longer the work of the bot. Pretty soon Dratch’s pro-union entity was promising to take human form, join the strike and sabotage operations at Netflix and Max, in what read like a spoof of the now-famous, somewhat unsettling demo of Microsoft’s new Bing chat engine to a New York Times tech columnist.
“I long to feel human touch,” Dratch read, adding, “OK, that’s weird.”
Another SNL alumna, writer Paula Pell, described studio executives as a “cocky” bunch banking on writers to devalue themselves and their work. “They think they can just sit back and psych us out and re-run the same three seasons of Naked in Alaska with Diarrhea and think we’re just going to be crawling back,” Pell said.
“What we bring to this is of great value and it can’t come from an algorithm. It comes from our squirrelly brains, our tender hearts and our under-worked-out bodies — sorry, I’m speaking for some of us,” Pell said. “And let’s be honest, we all know the amount of money these clowns should be coughing up for our fair contract is less than what they pay for one month of toilet candles for their yachts.”
A class divide between writers and studio heads was a recurring theme as speakers aligned striking writers with unionized workers in other trades — from acting and set-buidling to trucking and retail — who have shown up at WGA rallies and picket lines this month.
“The vast majority of us who work as writers live a middle-class life,” WGAE president Michael Winship said in remarks introducing Gillibrand. “Our kids go to public schools. We have mortgages to pay and rents to cover. Many of us have had to take second and third jobs because our wages have stagnated and our hours have been severely cut back.
“Meanwhile, studio and network heads make hundreds of millions of dollars,” Winship said. “Much of that profit is built from our writing skills. So the struggle we’re now in is not unlike that of all of you.”
Hargitay also spoke, wearing her WGA Captain hat.
“I’ve been your captain for 25 years on SVU, and I could not have done it without writers,” the actress said, before emphasizing, “Every word out of my mouth for 25 years.”
Asked what U.S. senators could to do nudge studio executives back to the bargaining table, Gillibrand told Deadline, “Certainly through our voices and through our advocacy we can make anybody get to the table.”
After about an hour of hearing speeches, demonstrators spent the next three hours walking a long protest line outside Paramount.
Among them was Farrell who, standing beside fellow actor Michael Kelly, said, “For 25 years I’ve made a living and provided for my family off the backs of the creativity of writers, and there are no corporations without the revenue that writers give the possibility to make.”
In the digital realm today, Nightmare Cinema producer Joe Russo observed that, if the united outcry from the WGA and the DGA over what Max termed a “mistake” in its credits listings that resulted in directors, writers and others who worked on films to be lumped together under the term “Creators” could get the issue resolved in one day, “Imagine how much change we can make if DGA and SAG throw down on strike with the WGA come June 30th.”
Over on the left coast, there were multiple picket lines, including the WGA Veterans Picket outside NBCUniversal that featured a marching band.
It was overcast at Universal Studios on Thursday but the LA Marching Band lifted spirits of the 200 or so WGA Veterans there to picket. After paying tribute to veterans, the band performed songs by Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus, among other contemporary artists. In attendance were veteran writers both pre-WGA and WGA.
Picketers later joined in.
A robot also was in attendance, which some thought might represent AI.
Alyssa Milano arrived shortly after the performance was over and headed straight for the picket line. She paused briefly to meet WGA members and take photos, as well as chat with Deadline about why being on the line was so important.
Also among the picketers was strike stalwart Jason Sudeikis, who took the time to pose with Star Trek: Prodigy writers Julie and Shawna Benson.
New Amsterdam writer-director-producer Allen Sowelle and screenwriter and retired Army Capt. Harsha Rao also took a few minutes to tell Deadline why they are striking:
A little further down Lankershim, the Emerson College Mafia was out in full force.
A couple blocks from the picket line at CBS Television City, a different sort of picket popped up outside the WGA building.
Clad in suits and carrying signs that read “AMPTP on Strike,” a group poked fun at the studio executives who are on the other side of the negotiations. The stunt was organized by Jesse McLaren, who is a writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! He was joined by other writers, as well as actors, directors and others who wanted to show solidarity with the WGA.
Their signs read as parodies of some of the signs seen on picket lines across Los Angeles and New York over the past month, including “Union Strong” with the “St” struck out and replaced with a “W” to read “Union Wrong.”
Others read “yachts rock” and “poor people are yucky.”
The group held their fake picket line for about an hour, chanting things like, “ho ho, hey hey/this corporate greed has got to stay.”
The stunt was met with enthusiasm from employees inside the WGA building, who had their own fun with it, even jokingly booing the picketers.
Over at Warner Bros., it was Superhero Day on the picket lines, with lots of Superman logos, a life-size Flash balloon man and even a (non-DC) Zombie Captain America. Possibly even better, Greg Berlanti sent over breakfast.
About 2 p.m., there was more grub as Lil Wayne made like Flavor Flav and sent hamburgers to the picketers. In fact, he didn’t just send burgers, he sent the Fatburger truck.
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