WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and More Picket on Behalf of Support Staff: 'They Really Are the Heart and Soul of a Writing Staff' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and More Picket on Behalf of Support Staff: ‘They Really Are the Heart and Soul of a Writing Staff’

August 30, 2023 by  

WGA support staff picket

Photo credit: Marisa Roffman/Give Me My Remote

With support staff among the most vulnerable during the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, The Writers Guild Foundation and IATSE Local 871 (which includes script coordinators and writers’ assistants) teamed up to host a picket at the Fox lot on Tuesday, August 29, honoring writers’ PAs, showrunners’ assistants, writers’ assistants, and script coordinators.

“The people who have worked for me over the years are some of the most hardworking, loyal, amazing people, and we really want to give back,” writer Amy Berg (WARRIOR NUN, CAPER, EUREKA)—who also serves as a strike captain at Fox—tells Give Me My Remote. “And I know right now they’re struggling as much as, if not more than, everyone. We want to make sure we show them that we’re there for them, now until the end of time.”

Hundreds of writers, actors, and crew members came out to share their own appreciation for support staff members. Additionally, Berg co-sponsored ice cream and taco trucks at the picket alongside fellow writers VJ Boyd, Eliza Clark, Amy Harris, Damon Lindelof, Nkechi Okoro Carroll, Chris Silber, Kira Snyder, and Adam Starks; Niceole Levy sponsored Dean’s Coffee, a pop-up coffee station run by writers’ PA Andrea Alba-Von Buren. (It was a dual theme day at the lot, with Fox hosting the support staff and a makeshift Christmas in August…on one of the hottest picketing days of the year, so far.)

“[Support staff has] been showing up day in and day out,” Berg says. “That’s the amazing thing. We have a special event for them today, and they’re here in full force, but we’ve seen them on the picket line since day one. And it’s just heartening to see them show up as much as they have.”

While fans may know the names of writers and directors on a series, the support staff plays a vital role in keeping a show running. “Their jobs are all-encompassing, and they work longer hours than all the rest of us, as well,” Berg notes. “From script coordinators to writers’ PAs to writers’ assistants to everyone else—they put in so much heart and blood, just for a chance to be able to do what we do for a living. And it’s amazing. They work so damn hard. The fact that we only get to give back on one day is kind of disappointing, because I would love to do it every day. But you know they really are the heart and soul of a writing staff.”

In the best scenarios, support staff does their job, while also getting training and prep to move up in the ranks—either at the show or at their next gig. In an ideal world, support staff might be given the chance to co-write a script for a show with a higher episode count.

However, with writers’ rooms in jeopardy—both the size of them and the duration for which they might be employed—this strike could be vital for the future of the next generation of scribes.

“The room size issue is fundamental, not just for those who are already working as writers, but also for those coming up behind us,” Berg reiterates. “The smaller the staff, the less likely we’ll have an opportunity to hire some support staff and people that we can give scripts to. It’ll be really impossible for there to be a gateway from being a support staff member to a writer without some sort of assurance that writers’ rooms are going to be here to stay.”

With no immediate end in sight for either strike, and many emergency strike funds geared toward people directly in the WGA or SAG-AFTRA, the community has stepped up to provide support for those in need.

For pre-WGA comedy writer Jess Morse, who moved to LA in 2016 after studying screenwriting at Emerson College, she was out of work when the WGA strike was initially called in May—”but I had a car and Costco membership.”

Morse bought six pizzas for the picketing writers, but quickly realized a snag in her plan: “‘This is a lot of money for someone without a job,’” she recalls. “So I just decided to post on Twitter, ‘Hey, does anyone want to give me money for pizza? I promise I’ll be super transparent about it. I’ll post pictures, post my receipts, all these things.’ No one really cared [about that]; they just started sending me money, right away.”

Since then Morse and her team of volunteers have been regular fixtures at the picket lines, dropping off pizza daily. To date, she’s raised enough money for—and facilitated delivery of—2121 pizzas. As of now, the account has enough funds to supply pizza through mid-September. (You can donate here.)

“It’s so great to see people from all levels—writers, PAs, people outside the industry to showrunners, EPs, some pretty successful screenwriters—give me money [for the pizza],” Morse says. “It’s just great to see everyone in support of that and in support of things that will help people like me and lower.”

Morse, who completed the Writers’ Guild Foundation’s Writers’ Access Support Staff Training Program in 2021, is also hyper-aware of what the striking writers are fighting for. “The last seven years I’ve been in LA [my thought was], ‘Oh god, I gotta get in. I gotta get that first job,’” she says. “But then also, ‘Oh, God, if I get that first job, can I afford to live here?’”

The hope, when the strike ends, is that she will find a job within the industry—and she’s hoping to help her volunteers, too. “I tell my volunteers, ‘I will boost your name everywhere. I’ll do everything I can to get you seen,’” she shares.

She also jokes that anyone in LA who discovers a car that smells like pizza should have a little bit of sympathy. “Just know that they have been a good person sometime in the last six months, because that’s how long it’ll take for the pizza smell to go out,” Morse says. “And don’t judge them if they don’t know what you’re talking about., because eventually you do go nose-blind to it.”

Off the picket lines, financial aid has popped up from grassroots efforts. Green Envelope Grocery Aid was started by FIRE COUNTRY’s Joelle Garfinkel to provide $100 grocery funds to lower-level WGA Writers, Support Staffers, & PreWGA. (It’s raised $128,884.16 as of August 28, with 1280 grants sent out; you can find a list of ways to donate here.)

WGA support staff picket

Katie Wincor Hacker and Andrea Block. (Photo credit: Marisa Roffman

Similarly, the Go For PAs Alliance was started by best friends Katie Wincor Hacker and Andrea Block—who are also DGA Assistant Directors—as a way to help PAs with $1000 grants.

“We know how important the production assistants are and how they’re really the glue that holds any TV show or film together,” Hacker says. “And while we were struggling so much out of work with the strikes, we realized the PAs are obviously struggling more: they make less when we come back to work; while most of us will have pretty sizable paychecks, theirs are quite small. And so it’s really important to help them out.”

“We’re losing a lot of PAs, having to leave these giant cities to go back home because they simply can’t afford to live here with this long of a shutdown,” she continues. “And so we just want to give them a thousand dollar distribution, try to at least keep them afloat in some way.”

Go For PAs Alliance has received almost 600 submissions from PAs across the country, with the group able to support 25 PAs; they’ll be distributing the next 25 aid gifts next week. (You can donate here.)

With their fund a little over a month old, “the biggest lesson is we’re on the same boat,” Block says. “Katie and I are a team of two, whereas there are other funds that have teams of 25. And so we just take little bits of advice here and there. We met with the president of the Motion Picture & Television Fund and he gave us some great words of wisdom…[Plus,] our social media, we get a lot of tips to help with our social media reach. Katie’s brilliant and has been reading a lot of books about branding.”

The duo raised money for the Go For PAs Alliance at the support staff picket—after having similar success a few weeks earlier.  “Last time we did it, we went to three different studios and we got over a thousand dollars,” Hacker says “And it’s just fun to get to talk to people—we were both PAs, so it’s kind of fun to relive the $5 bucket [which sets frequently do as a weekly raffle].”

The hope is to continue with the fun after the strikes are resolved.  “We know that PAs are always underrepresented and need additional assistance,” Hacker says. “So we’ll do emergency financial relief in the form of unexpected things that might pop up for them. And then we also want to provide resources because sets are busy; ADs can’t necessarily train them on the job. But we want to make sure that they can do their jobs efficiently and safely.”


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