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‘Hey Netflix! You broke it — now fix it’: On the picket lines with Hollywood writers as they bring signs, slogans, and sunscreen to their fight against the studios for ‘as long as it takes’

Writers Guild of America members picketed outside Paramount Studios in Los AngelesWriters Guild of America members picketed outside Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Alison Brower

  • A writers’ strike has been underway since overnight Monday. Thousands of writers are picketing on the streets of LA.
  • Insider spoke with eight members of the Writers Guild of America who are on strike.
  • They outlined why this fight is crucial to their profession’s future, even if it drags on.

Outside Fox headquarters in Los Angeles’ Century City neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon, the mood was an electric mix of anxiety, anticipation, and solidarity as Hollywood writers steeled themselves for the fight to come.

David H. Steinberg — a member of the Writers Guild of America, showrunner on Netflix’s “No Good Nick,” and writer behind several installments of the “American Pie” film franchise — has encountered this feeling before. During the last writers’ strike 15 years ago, which went on for 100 days and cost the local economy more than $2 billion, Steinberg found himself picketing on the same studio lot.

This time, he says, the stakes are even higher.

“In 2007, we were fighting about DVD residual rates. It was like, ‘The writers want more money. We don’t have as much money as they think we do,'” he told Insider. “This time it’s like, ‘The writers want to have careers. They want to not have to drive for Uber.'”

Steinberg lamented the growing pressures at entertainment companies to juice profits, maximize efficiencies, and flirt with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. “This disruption is going to kill the industry,” he said, adding that writers are “fighting for their own survival.” It’s the reason why he logged more than 20,000 steps on the picket line yesterday.

Thousands of Hollywood writers have fanned out across the streets of Los Angeles since early Tuesday afternoon, waving signs and chanting to demonstrate their resolve. They’re buoyed by the highest level of support for a strike in the WGA’s history: an overwhelming authorization last month from 98% of the members who voted.

The strike was called a few hours before midnight PT on Tuesday, after WGA leaders reached an impasse in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade association that represents more than 350 studios, networks, and streamers, including Netflix, Disney, and Amazon. 

Among the issues at hand for the WGA’s more than 10,000 members are stagnating wages, rising living costs, the threat that AI could one day supplant writers, and increasingly-common practices like “mini rooms” that undercut their work. Meanwhile, seasons of shows have withered from 20-30 episodes to just a handful (like eight or 10), slashing writers’ incomes. And in the streaming age, residuals — the passive income they once relied upon during gaps between jobs — have essentially dried up.

“The [AMPTP] companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA said in a statement Monday night. The guild will hold a membership meeting tonight at the 6,000-capacity Shrine Auditorium (WGA East will likewise gather members at Cooper Union in New York).

White dog with a sign saying "You're barking mad if you think we'll settle!" joined his owner picketing outside Paramount Studios during the 2023 Hollywood writers' strikeOne writer’s dog joined the picket line outside Paramount Studios.

Alison Brower

Insider spoke with eight WGA members who are picketing or contributing to the work stoppage in other ways. During interviews, emphatic honks from passing cars sliced through the Los Angeles air as drivers — some behind the wheels of fire trucks and ambulances — let the writers know they had their backs.

Many picketers personalized their guild-issued signs with writerly quotes and pithy jokes, but the underlying message was united and clear: They don’t intend to back down — even if hammering out an agreement with the studios takes longer than they anticipate.

‘We have to take it, because the studios are not going to give it to us out of the goodness of their hearts’

Picket lines gathered at companies including Amazon, Disney, Sony, and Warner Bros. Discovery. Outside Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters Tuesday, the scene was cacophonous, the crowd exuberant, and the atmosphere teeming with something of a ground-zero vibe reflecting the company’s status as the disrupter that ushered in the streaming age.

Up and down a blustery block of Sunset Boulevard, about 500 WGA members marched, bearing signs with tongue-in-cheek slogans like “#EatExecs” or “Our therapists keep saying we have to stand up for ourselves. So here we are, sorry.”

A new dad let his infant daughter do the talking with her red onesie bearing the words: “PROUD UNION BABY.”

Over at Paramount, there was evidence that some writers see Netflix as the author of their current travails. “Hey Netflix! You broke it — now fix it!” read a sign held by one WGA veteran participating in his third strike since joining the union in 1986.

Writers' strike - Paramount PicturesOutside Paramount Studios Sunday, one writer carried a statement about Netflix’s disruption of the entertainment industry.

Alison Brower

Nearby, protesters chanted: “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union, fighting for justice, fighting for respect.” A writer for a CBS drama told Insider her top concern wasn’t pay but the incursion of artificial intelligence into the creative process — an issue that has grown all the more urgent in recent months with the rapid rise of ChatGPT and other AI tools.

“Even the creators of AI are talking about its dangers now,” this writer said.

To writers like Steinberg, the AMPTP’s stance on AI, pay, and other guild concerns reveals a deeper risk for creative workers: a mentality forged in the halls of Wall Street and Silicon Valley that doesn’t recognize the “magic” writers bring to audiences, but instead is singularly focused on boosting shareholders’ returns, he said. 

Kate Stayman-London, a writer and co-producer on the Paramount+ series “iCarly” who’s been a guild member since 2021, is a strike captain liaising with about 20 writers. She’s also been reaching out to public officials to generate broader awareness for writers’ efforts.

“Younger writers understand better than most that nobody’s going to give us anything. Nothing is guaranteed,” she said. “If we want power, if we want the life that this career was supposed to provide for us, we have to take it, because the studios are not going to give it to us out of the goodness of their hearts. That is not how capitalism works.”

Insiders predict the strike will drag on, with both sides seemingly prepared for a long standoff

Andrew Hill Newman, a three-decade WGA member whose credits range from Nickelodeon’s “All That” to IFC’s “Brockmire,” slathered on copious amounts of SPF 50 sunscreen on Wednesday morning and joined roughly 80 WGA peers under the hot California sun outside of Amazon’s studios in Culver City. The picketers were unfazed by the prospect of spending a long, tiring day — potentially many such days — marching, he said.

“I was making a joke to someone I was walking with yesterday saying, ‘This is a real Day One walking pace. People are going a little too fast,'” he said with a laugh. “Conserving energy is important.”

Some non-union members have stopped by to deliver bags of candy and show their support, he added. On Tuesday, Rob Lowe turned up at Paramount, and Jay Leno made an appearance outside Disney, handing picketers boxes of doughnuts.

For WGA veterans like Hill Newman, picketing has provided an unexpected opportunity to reconnect with old friends and meet younger guild members, like one with a sign that read: “I joined just in time for the strike.” Insider overheard one writer outside Paramount promise another that he’d be reading their mutual friend’s script “ASAP.”

Culver City writers' strike picketingWriters picketed outside Amazon’s offices in Culver City on Wednesday as the WGA strike gets underway.

Andrew Hill Newman

But even amid the camaraderie, the strike is dredging up pain about the state in which Hollywood finds itself in 2023.

Another WGA veteran — who was just a few years into her career during the 2007 strike — told Insider she felt “despondent” over the deep divide between the WGA and the AMPTP, as the two sides remain far apart on key terms. The schism suggests that the fight could be protracted.

Simon Pulman, a partner and co-chair of the media and entertainment group at New York-headquartered law firm Pryor Cashman, told Insider the stoppage could be “prolonged,” since he couldn’t see an urgency on the part of the AMPTP to settle now that the strike had begun. As productions screech to a halt, he added, the impact on others — from craft services to payroll to crew members — is bound to be “massive.”

“It’s going to have a very big impact on the rest of the entertainment community,” Pulman said.

‘This fight is for them and for me and for all of us’

The writers who spoke to Insider acknowledged that there was anguish in this moment, too —  for themselves, their families, and other workers in or adjacent to Hollywood. But the pain was a necessary pill to swallow, they said, when their profession’s fate hangs in the balance.

Stayman-London said she sold her first pilot to Disney-owned cable network Freeform in 2019 for $100,000. “It felt like I was winning the lottery,” she recalled — until taxes and commissions whittled her take-home pay to about $40,000 over the course of three years. She received $8,000 for eight months of redrafting and rewrites at producers’ behest, she said, forcing her to seek out other jobs including speechwriting and consulting to stay afloat.

The WGA has said its proposals would gain writers approximately $429 million per year. Contrast that, Stayman-London said, with stats the guild has referenced repeatedly: its calculations that entertainment industry profits have soared to upwards of $30 billion, and that a handful of Hollywood CEOs are now netting nearly $800 million combined.

During the 2007-8 strike, Hill Newman recalled, he picketed for 97 of 100 days, missing just three when he was summoned for jury duty.

“I’ll be here as long as it takes,” he said, even if others are forced to disband to find short-term jobs and make up for lost income. Most on the picket line are younger guild members, leaving Hill Newman with a sense that marching isn’t about the industry of yesterday or even today — but about where the role of the Hollywood scribe is headed tomorrow.

“This fight is for them and for me and for all of us,” he said — a feeling that’s fueled his resolve not to miss a single day of the strike this time around. Come Thursday morning, he’ll be back on the picket line, 9 a.m. sharp.

Are you a member of the Writers Guild of America or do you work in the entertainment industry? How is the writers’ strike impacting you? Contact this reporter: Reed Alexander can be reached via email at ralexander@insider.com, or SMS/the encrypted app Signal at (561) 247-5758.

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