‘Abbott Elementary’, ‘Yellowjackets’ & ‘Andor’ Writers Sound Off On Looming WGA Talks: “Time For A Rethink”
The upcoming contract talks between the WGA and the AMPTP were evidently in the ether during the WGA Awards on Sunday.
That’s no surprise given the two events – in L.A. and New York – brought hundreds of writers together, two weeks before negotiations kick off.
Meredith Stiehm, president of the WGA West, was most fervent onstage, admitting things might get “tough” but that writers won’t get “rolled,” nor are they “looking for a fight.”
All of this comes after the WGA unveiled its Pattern of Demands last week, highlighting topics such as streaming residuals, the issue of mini-rooms and the impact of AI.
Brittani Nichols, a writer on Abbott Elementary, said, “I think as a union we’re on the same page about so many things which is why our Pattern of Demands is straightforward. [These are] issues you hear writers talk about even when we’re not coming up to this deadline. Things we’ve been saying for years and years, and we’re ready to fight for what we deserve.”
The ABC comedy is set to bring its writers’ room back May 1, the same day the WGA’s contract expires.
Nichols highlighted the issue of mini-rooms. “What we’ve seen over and over are studios are trying to find loopholes to not compensate us the way we should be compensated. With current writers and future writers we should close as many of those loopholes as possible,” she said.
“When you’re stressed out and don’t have enough time and don’t have enough resources, it’s going come across in the material, so it’s best for the business to treat writers appropriately.”
Another major topic is streaming residuals. “I think that if the business has shifted to prioritize making shows on the streaming model, and it’s not a decision that writers made, and we’re along for the ride, if you’re going to take us along on this ride, we need to be compensated,” Nichols said.
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This message was reiterated by the team behind hit Showtime series Yellowjackets. Co-creator Ashley Lyle said streaming residuals should exist.
“Why wouldn’t we want them to exist? It used to be that when intellectual capital was re-purposed, you would make money for that work. It would defy understanding that would no longer be the case,” added showrunner Jonathan Lisco. “There is money being made and the money has traditionally been allocated among everybody involved and writers have been taken out of that equation and pretty soon that needs to be rectified.”
Added Lyle: “There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed and I think the Writers Guild is addressing them in a practical, pragmatic and reasonable way.”
Bob Hearts Abishola creator Gina Yashere said that in terms of streaming, writers need to be remunerated fairly regardless of what platform they’re writing for.
“We have to come together and make this thing work for everybody. I support everybody in the industry fighting for proper pay,” said Yashere. “If we have to strike, then we have to strike. I’m hoping we come together and come to a good agreement, but we’ll see what happens.”
Strike talk was also in the air in New York. Given the city’s pugnacious reputation, the East Coast crowd was strikingly upbeat about the labor situation.
“If there’s a worst-case scenario and a strike happens, I don’t think it will last long,” said Amber Ruffin, a WGA nominee for Late Night with Seth Meyers. Because the May 1 guild contract expiration is during the traditional peak of pilot season, Ruffin added, both sides will have the attitude of, “You got to go.”
Tony Gilroy, the creator of Andor, and Stephen Schiff, a fellow WGA nominee for the Disney+ Star Wars show, both said they believed there was ample reason for the union to take a tough line. “I tend to be by nature an optimist,” Schiff said. “I think there are reasonable people on both sides. But there are huge, huge issues here. The fact is, our industry is built on old structures that are outdated. Everyone knows this is time for a rethink of our industry.”
Gilroy made an agricultural analogy to describe his mood heading toward the deadline. “You sit in front of a tractor and you turn it off and you turn into somebody else and as long as it works, you’re there,” he said. “There’s no conflict about it.”
Alex Borstein, known for her Emmy-winning role on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, recalled marching on the picket line in front of CBS Studios in 2007 and 2008 during the last writers strike. Because she got her start as a writer for shows like Family Guy, she described herself as a proud guild member committed to the cause.
Walking the picket line made the stakes abundantly clear. “I saw many, many people lose their livelihoods,” Borstein added. “Everyone realizes the gravity of a strike, so it’s not taken lightly. But sometimes, it’s what you’ve got to do sometimes. The business has changed. It keeps changing, but you’ve got to keep changing with it.”
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But not everyone at the awards was laser-focused on the looming contract talks, which kick off March 20.
What We Do in the Shadows showrunner Paul Simms, recipient of this year’s Herb Sargeant Award, said he has not been able to dwell on it. “I’m too busy to let it consume me,” he said. “There’s too much to do.”