Zoanne Clack, Greg Iwinski and Julie Plec sat down with their fellow writer Beau Willimon for an ATX Television Festival panel to discuss this year’s writers strike and how it’s different than previous ones.
“Back then, we were nervous about what was ahead,” said Plec, who created Vampire Diaries and its spinoffs The Originals and Legacies. “We were concerned about what we saw coming down the pipeline. There was an intangibility to that concern [that] turned out to be quite prescient and, ultimately, catastrophically accurate.”
This time around, Plec explained writers are striking because they’re upset and then took a moment to point out that she has reaped the benefits of a successful career, so she’s speaking on behalf of people who helped her get to this point in her career.
“I’m talking on behalf of, or in the spirit of, the people who struck in the past to get us the benefits that we have today, the people who are striking today to just hold on to their own livelihoods and the people that we’re striking for, which are the me’s and the we’s of the next generations,” she continued. “We’re mad.”
She also pointed out that she has friends who worked as writers in the industry for 15 years and are currently out of a job or are taking jobs for up to 60 percent less pay.
“You can be someone who writes on a hit television show and makes $80,000 a year and has to be on food stamps, even though your show is being nominated for awards that the studio is happy to take credit for,” said the WGA East member, who is on the negotiating committee. “So, we came and presented our argument for solutions for that system.”
He pointed out that one of the things that makes him especially proud of being part of the guild is that they’re a member-based organization, so they didn’t try to do a focus group or ask a management company what they should be asking for. They went directly to their 11,000 members.
“We got back 7,000 surveys that talked about that their pay had been destroyed,” Iwinski said, “that screenwriters had been asked to do rewrite after rewrite of free work.”
Clack, who has been a longtime writer and producer on Grey’s Anatomy, explained that it is becoming more common now for creators to be expected to write all the episodes of shorter order shows, which is why they are fighting for full-blown writers rooms.
“One big reason, I think, is that if we don’t have enough people investing into our health care system, into our pension plan, that’s gonna go away,” she said. “We need to have people working to buy into that, so that we can keep that flush for our future. And the other reason is just to have people learn and have people see the fruits of their labor and to not just be kind of one-off workers.”
An issue that has come up a lot in contract negotiations for the WGA is the use of artificial intelligence in writing scripts, with Plec noting it’s becoming the face of the villain. “If we don’t get something codified in language that a human being needs to do our jobs, we will never get that, and we will never have protections,” she stated.
And while Iwinski would never ask consumers to unsubscribe from the platforms where they get their television and movies, he pointed out that customers can tell those companies that they’re not OK with what is happening.
He said, “To continue this wave of public sentiment that says, ‘We like the people who are making our stuff more than we like the people who are paying for our stuff, that is important.”