The FAMILY GUY Team on the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes: Sometimes It's 'the Only Way to Get Something Done' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

The FAMILY GUY Team on the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes: Sometimes It’s ‘the Only Way to Get Something Done’

August 2, 2023 by  

Family Guy strike reunion

Photo credits: Marisa Roffman/Give Me My Remote

The cast and creative team behind FAMILY GUY reunited on Tuesday, August 1 to picket at Fox on behalf of the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

​​”I’m here for hundreds of thousands of other people,” Alex Borstein, who voices Lois,​​ tells Give Me My Remote in the video below. “And the fact of the matter is, I’ve been really lucky; I’ve got some cushion, and I can cruise through a strike. That is not something most of my friends, who are struggling and go job to job, and paycheck to paycheck—without residuals, and without any respect from a lot of these streaming companies—[can do]. They’re not able to make a living. It’s not like they want to buy houses, they want dental insurance for their kids. They want to be able to get braces, they want to be able to continue cancer treatments. And that’s just the real reality. This is about people being able to continue working to have enough income to keep their health insurance.”

“A lot of people don’t realize when you’re an actor, you’re a writer, when you run out of work, you slowly run out of health insurance,” she continues. “And then what? So this is just a really important [time]. We’re at an impasse. We’re at a really important intersection here and I think the choices we make in this strike are gonna affect us for many, many, many years to come…I was striking back in 2007-2008 [when the WGA went on strike], and people on the line then told me when you strike today, you’re striking for people tomorrow, striking for the next group of writers and actors. So it’s important for me, for solidarity, to be here…Most of my friends are hard-working actors, hard-working writers that I want to keep alive and I want to keep healthy. It’s not about fancy cars and houses; it’s about literally staying alive.”

While working in film and television can look glamorous, the strikes have revealed some of the inequity to the public: The vast majority of actors don’t reach the $26,000 annual income required to get healthcare; mini rooms and shorter orders for streaming shows have made it increasingly difficult for writers to live off their (decreasing) salaries. 

“The business has changed and changed and changed,” Seth MacFarlane, who created the series and voices Peter and Brian, notes. “In some ways incrementally; in some ways dramatically. And we’re still working with an old model. You hear it from writers and actors, from musicians and composers—they’re just getting a different kind of treatment in the streaming era. Sometimes [a strike] is the only way to get something done.”  ​​

“The labor dispute is actually a truly simple one,” Seth Green, who voices Chris, adds. “There’s been contracts and agreements that govern the distribution of any of the success of any of the shows that have been in place for 80 years. And with the invent[ion] of the new streaming format, the argument from any of the distributors is that none of the previous negotiated rules apply and that this format can’t be governed in those ways; that they don’t know where the money is or how they’ve made windfalls of record profits in the last several years that this new streaming apparatus has been instituted. They can’t understand why they’re making so much money—just because they haven’t had to distribute it for these last several years.” 

“And the truth is, it’s just like any high-level industry labor dispute, it just so happens that in the last 20 years, the entertainment industry has become governed by the same corporate mechanics and philosophies that the rest of the world have become governed by,” he continues. “And the truth is, we’re no longer negotiating with individuals who care about what entertainment has given to the culture or the youth or the adults or the audience at all. They don’t care what you’re watching, they only care that you’re watching. The corporate philosophy is how much money? How much money can we make? How little money can we spend? That is not what we’ve agreed to. That is not the terms of the existing contracts. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

For the voice actors, one of the apparent key issues with the SAG negotiations is the use of AI.

“If somebody could just generate content or performance artificially, then that’s a big problem for people who do this for a living,” Mike Henry, whose characters include Bruce and Herbert, says. (Henry also previously played Cleveland.) “It could be a big sea change, if we’re not able to guarantee that our talents are needed, then that’s a big problem. But I just think people need to get their share. And that’s the bottom line.”

“There is absolutely a concern with AI,” Borstein adds. “I think they could scan my face all they want, and they could take voice clips, and it ain’t ever gonna be f—ing me. So good luck with that.”

“But I think on the writing side, it’s dangerous,” she continues. “I think they’re gonna use AI to cut out many first steps. That’s what I see….[but] I think the material is going to reflect it; I really do”

As Green points out, AI being trained on copyrighted material is also problematic—and the machines getting “credit” for a first draft could cost the humans who have to clean up the copy a lot of money. “Writers Guild minimum to generate a brand new script, a brand new idea, even if it’s based on a logline, it’s like 120 grand,” he explains. “But the Writers Guild minimum to rewrite something, no matter how big the carry is, is $25,000. That is less than a quarter of the available profit. And the studio’s argument is they should be allowed to say, ‘summer blockbuster, George Clooney, Chris Nolan, Christmas, but in the summer,’ and write us [a] script [to the AI]. And whatever madness that spits out, they will consider that the first draft that some seasoned writer will have to make sense of.”

“As a writer, we’re already asked to interpret the craziest and least detailed of assignments,” he continues. “Having to accept a quarter of your salary to do that f—ing nonsense is not something anybody’s gonna stand for.”

Patrick Warburton, who was picketing alongside his son, Talon (who is also in SAG-AFTRA), credits MacFarlane as “the only reason” he was ever able to be fairly compensated for playing Joe on the series. (MacFarlane also made headlines this week for donating a million dollars to the Entertainment Community Fund, which supports workers impacted by the strikes.)

“Studios don’t wanna pay anything,” Patrick notes. “The only reason I ever, ever, ever got a raise was because of Seth…I dearly love Seth. Seth is a man of the people, even though he’s also a producer, first and foremost, he is an artist and he takes care of everybody.” 

“For too long, the performers have taken a second fiddle to the profits, when it comes down to it, and that’s just not okay,” Talon, who has appeared on THE GOLDBERGS and MAN WITH A PLAN, adds. “Yeah, you gotta pay the shareholders, but everybody’s a team. We’re all coming together. So many different people come together to make any given product in entertainment. And when you treat those people poorly, you’re going to end up with a worse product for everybody. So that needs to change. And that’s why we’re out here showing our support.”

MacFarlane acknowledges the AI of it all is a complex—but important—issue on the table for writers and performers. “Obviously, there needs to be some sort of agreement when it comes to AI,” he says. “I’m glad I’m not the one who has to figure that out, because you’re negotiating for something that is an unknown—but you have to do it. And you have to do it now; it cannot wait. That’s a big issue.”

Borstein notes she’s cautious about placing too much emphasis on AI, though. “I don’t want to be distracted by [AI],” she says. “And I’m worried that it’s something…not that it’s a red herring, but that we’re making such a huge [reaction] to distract us from the other [items in the contract] that they want to pull away. So I want to be really careful about that.”

As a member of both striking guilds, MacFarlane says he’s been concerned about how the writers’ rooms have been changing in recent years. “It’s all things that have been talked about: there are fewer episodes per show, per season, which means fewer scripts, fewer days in a room for writers,” he says. “They have much more of the year without work. My sustainability, and the sustainability of everyone who does what I do, is inextricably linked to the sustainability of the writers and the actors. One doesn’t exist without the other. I spent my whole career watching writers and actors make things that I work on better than they were. They should be compensated for that, for God’s sake.”

FAMILY GUY is also in a unique spot: Due to animation’s long-lead time to produce, it’ll be one of a handful of shows to have original episodes this fall

With “a lot” of the new season done, “we’re not obviously giving them new scripts,” executive producer Richard Appel notes. “And so they’re retakes and some of the post-production stuff…the crew can continue to do some stuff, but, you know, there are rewrites that are necessary on all these post-production stages that we’re not doing. So it’s gonna [impact] the delivery…you [just] won’t notice it as quickly for an animated show, because we are a year ahead.”

Appel was also heartened by the number of FAMILY GUY fans who showed up for the reunion. “People can come down and picket for a day,” he says, noting he’s been personally motivated to picket for the next generation of writers. “You don’t have to be a member of the guild to do it. And the days that we have more people like today, and when SAG started, it does make you feel like you’re a part of a real community, and you’re not in it alone, which is nice.”​

Adds MacFarlane, “It’s great to be out here, it’s great to see that this is still going strong after all this time. It’s a challenge to keep the tenacity up, to keep the sustainability of this kind of movement. So it’s great to see it hasn’t lost an ounce of gas.”

And there’s the added bonus of reuniting with each other, in person. “Just like when we were all dealing with the pandemic, it’s horrendous and it’s a difficult time and it’s stressful,”  says Borstein. “But there’s something about the community that it creates. Chaos usually creates a really beautiful linear map at the end of it and I’m hopeful that we’re gonna get [there]. This kind of reunion and this kind of camaraderie, it’s one of the beautiful silver linings.”


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