When I became a Guild member back in 2006, I cared about one thing: writing my script. I finally had the opportunity, I desperately needed the money, and I signed up and got to work without so much as going to new member orientation.
But as fate would have it, work screeched to a halt for the 2007 Strike, and I found my not-orientated self and my extremely-happy-about-it dog on the picket lines almost immediately. I soon met a family of fellow writers I never expected to have. When I faced not getting paid while we were on strike, I discovered that the Guild would actually lend me survival money, even though I’d only been a member for a little while. By the time the strike was over I’d been given a head-first education in how the MBA worked, what solidarity feels like, and most importantly, what sort of forces we, as writers, are up against.
I still didn’t know then how hard it can sometimes be to get paid by a studio, even when no one’s on strike. I didn’t know just how much of my career would be consumed with chasing jobs, pitching jobs, with doing so very much work in order to just get to do the work. I didn’t know how short our working careers can be. And I had no idea how far from the MBA ideal industry practice can be: the free work, the mud-wrestling style pitch-fests, the rewrites and producer passes presented almost as loyalty tests to a writer. I certainly had no idea how hard it can sometimes be to get credit when credit is due.
Thirteen years later, I’ve seen pretty clearly that the shelters the Guild provides our members – from the simple protections of the MBA to the absolutely essential Health and Pension plans – are under ongoing tactical siege from the corporations and conglomerates our writing ultimately profits. The basic things we ask for – be it income parity, diversity in the workplace, paid parental leave, keeping our pension and health plans viable – are personal to every one of us. But for the companies on the other side of the table, with their hired negotiators and teams of lawyers, it is purely a matter of accounting, of profit and loss and bottom lines. That’s not just at the negotiating table; that’s the state of play over the life of our careers.
BUILDING A STRONGER GUILD
We must make sure the Guild is better at communication, specifically by getting those of us who sit at the fringes directly engaged and invested in the long-term health of our Guild. Our current Board has been doing a great job, but I think we can do even better, both in terms of outreach to the membership and education, but also by expanding our digital presence to interface better with both members and the public. It was easy to see in the run-up to the Strike Authorization that as strong as we were internally, the stories in the media were still largely shaped by the vagaries of entertainment journalism. As writers, we are supposed to be good at crafting narratives! I believe there is still a dangerous gap between how strong our Guild can be and how it is perceived, both by our own membership as well as the rest of the world.
As important as it is to work on our visibility, we also have to press on in efforts to address the abject imbalances wrought by sexism, racism, and homophobia in our industry. As a gay member of the Guild I’ve been thrilled to see real change on all fronts of diversity in our industry over the last decade, thanks in part to the hard work of our Guild’s action committees. But we have further to go: paid parental leave, and ending workplace harassment are key issues I want to help take up. We need to find solutions well in advance of the negotiating table. These things should be non-negotiable.
PROTECTING OUR HEALTH AND PENSION
Currently, our Health and Pension plan is in the "green,” but other unions have foreseeable issues with multi-employer plans which could have major consequences for the future of our own plan. We must protect our pensions against an increasingly uncertain future by supporting our Political Action Committee’s efforts to monitor, plan for, and address legal challenges in our future. As we have seen, we no longer are merely facing off with our employers, we are facing a mounting hostile, political and moneyed attack on all unions on a national scale. Our pension and health must be defended, and we have to understand that political planning is part of financial planning. I’ll do everything I can to help increase the support and visibility of our PAC with an eye to taking more political action in the future to defend our Guild and unions everywhere.
SCREENWRITERS’ ISSUES: NO MORE FREE WORK, REVISITING CREDITS
As a feature screenwriter, I’ve had a front-row seat at the death of the three-step deal, and I’ve seen the sad result: infinite-revision-round 1-step deals which fail to produce good work. The diminishing quantity and variety of studio features are putting increased pressure on writers to produce more free work in the form of multiple pitches in a revolving-door environment, if not outright written work on the side. We have to respond as a unified front to help correct course, and I believe my voice will be of real use in these efforts.
I’m also someone who has seen both good and very bad outcomes in our credit arbitration process. I served on the committee to rewrite the Screen Credits Manual (which is much improved, I’m happy to say), but I know we can go much further. Some of our most talented and visible members have essentially quit the union – going “financial core” – over the severity of the problem. It weakens us as a Guild. I’m going to help with renewed efforts to reach out to the membership and figure out the best way to improve or change our arbitration process. Our current practice favors writers who have been through the process before, resulting in writers with screen credits accruing even more screen credits. The path to credit should be easier and the possibilities for credit should be expanded. People on our board are working on this and I will join in and work for a better system. Any progress would be good and I’m going to fight, very hard, to see that progress is made.
THE COMING 2020 MBA NEGOTIATIONS
Narrowly averting a strike over the 2017 MBA was a major win for our Guild. In the wake of the 2007 Strike, the industry narrative was that the WGA had “lost” – which was far from true – and this had a huge psychological effect on the membership. So many of our members brought up the 2007 Strike as if it had been a failure. It was disheartening to hear the AMPTP disinformation repeated by fellow writers. But after a lot of hard work we authorized the vote by 96.3%, sending the strong clear message that we were united and strong and not about to back down.
I believe our Guild’s position in the industry is ascendant, and I strongly believe we, as united writers, have a great deal more power today than we think we do. Looking forward to 2020, we must all begin working now to strengthen our union, increase our visibility, educate our membership and the industry at large, and find new ways to increase solidarity with our sister Guilds in advance of the coming negotiations. We can forge a unified and coherent front for everyone working in our industry. The truth is: A strong Guild can win without a fight.
I truly believe that the responsibility of defining the future of our industry will fall largely to us, and I want us to be equal to the task. I know we are. I want to get to work now.