After more than four months on strike, many showrunners are getting restless.
Writers Guild of America leaders are fielding a stepped-up volume of inquiries from prominent members who are frustrated with the duration of the work stoppage and looking to understand the guild’s strategy in engaging with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. In response to this heightened activity, multiple sources say several guild leaders are set to meet in person with a group of showrunners on Friday at WGA West headquarters.
A WGA West communications rep declined to comment, but Chris Keyser, who is co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee, told Variety via text message, “We have conversations with members every day. I’m not commenting on individual ones.”
The message that several different clusters of showrunners are trying to send to guild leaders is clear: “It’s not ‘We’re coming after you’ but ‘How can we help?’ ” in the words of one showrunner who has been involved.
There’s been a concerted effort to keep this activity quiet, but that all boiled over late last week and on Monday. A group steered in part by showrunners Kenya Barris and Noah Hawley sought to set up a private meeting with Goodman and Keyser at a discreet location with about 20 to 30 writers.
According to multiple sources with first-hand knowledge, the group sought to set up a Sept. 8 meeting, that was then rescheduled for Sept. 11. In the end, the Sept. 11 meeting was canceled — and there are conflicting views about who canceled it.
The emerging clusters of showrunners and seasoned writers have been formed in large part around private WhatsApp and Facebook groups that have been humming during the strike. The overwhelming sentiment is not for these writers to break from their public support of the guild and its mission, but there is grave concern about the growing tally of lost income, for writers and myriad other workers affected by the shutdown of TV and film production. The WGA went pencils down on May 2, and the stakes were further heightened on July 14 after SAG-AFTRA called its first industry-wide strike in more than 20 years.
Showrunners who steer multiple shows such as Barris and Hawley are feeling frustration as they field stories of hardship from crew members, support staff, outside vendors and others who depend on their shows being in production. The post-Labor Day period is typically a busy time of year for the film and TV industry, with the rollout of fall TV premieres, fall film festivals and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, which has now been pushed to January.
In addition to Barris and Hawley, other showrunners who have been involved in discussions about approaching WGA leadership include Tyler Perry, Sam Esmail, Lena Waithe and Dan Fogelman. Shonda Rhimes, sources said, has also been in the mix on some discussion groups, but has made it clear she did not want to participate in a meeting, sources said. “Stranger Things” showrunners Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer were asked to participate in a meeting but declined.
Representatives for Barris and Hawley declined to comment for this story.
According to multiple accounts with first-hand knowledge, a tentative gathering was set for Sept. 8 at San Vicente Bungalows, where about two dozen multihyphenates hoped to meet with Goodman and Keyser. There is a dispute about whether WGA leaders confirmed that meeting.
A second attempt by the group at a meeting with Goodman and Keyser was set for Sept. 11 at a private area at Soho House West Hollywood. In the case of both tentative meetings, organizers took care to select locations where attendees would be able to enter and exit without attracting a lot of attention. The showrunners’ aim is not to publicly pressure the WGA, but to express their feeling of urgency around the deal. “People want to understand the process, and they want to know what is the plan for getting everybody back to work,” a veteran member said.
Once again, there are diverging views on who canceled the Sept. 11 meeting. On the evening of Sept. 11, after a report emerged in the Wrap about the meeting, there were multiple posts on WGA members’ social media that Goodman and Keyser had informed WGA strike captains, who were meeting with the pair at the time the story broke, that it was Barris and Hawley who chose to cancel out of concern that it would send the wrong message to outsiders. But sources with first-hand knowledge of the situation strongly dispute that Barris and Hawley chose to cancel the Sept. 11 meeting.
The WGA has maintained a staunch wall of support among 11,000 members on both coasts, generating impressive levels of solidarity and turnouts for public events since the strike began. Even the most frustrated WGA members are sensitive to publicly criticizing the guild out of fear of being seen as willing to undercut their union and fellow writers. Social media megaphones have amplified the debate, and pile-on criticism has been swift for those who have questioned the WGA’s contract agenda and tactics.
What’s more, the WGA is also known to be getting more behind-the-scenes “what’s going on” queries from IATSE and Hollywood Teamsters, whose members have been deeply affected by the work stoppage. Both of those unions are facing tough contract negotiations next year. The longer the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are on strike, the harder it will be for IATSE and Teamsters to ask their members to sacrifice again with another strike if they also hit an impasse with the AMPTP. Nonetheless, IATSE and Teamsters have been vocal and crucial supporters of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA work stoppages and that is not expected to change, given the labor climate.
For some writers, there’s a desire to hear directly from leaders about the status of negotiations and the guild’s plan to bring it to conclusion. And some are irritated by the sporadic pace of negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP, which last met in formal session on Aug. 18. For the past three weeks, the guild and management have publicly stated that the onus is on the other side to restart negotiations with a new offer or a response to an existing offer. Showrunners who are reaching out to the guild emphasize they don’t want the WGA to rubber-stamp the last AMPTP offer put on the table on Aug. 18. But there’s a feeling that guild leaders need to hunker down with management reps to do what it takes to find a path to getting a contract to the finish line. WGA and AMPTP last met on Aug. 22, when Goodman, Keyser and the WGA West’s Ellen Stutzman met with Disney CEO Bob Iger Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and NBCUniversal chief content officer Donna Langley.
“The ‘Keep Walking’ message isn’t cutting it when all we’ve been doing is walking in 90-degree heat,” said one veteran WGA member, citing the video message from Keyser that was sent to guild members on Labor Day.