Mothers and WGA members talk about how raising kids makes the drop in writers’ wages even more of a problem
You are reading an exclusive WrapPRO article for free. Want to level up your entertainment career? Subscribe to WrapPRO.
For many members of the Writers Guild of America, this strike has become a family affair, and seven writers who are members of the group “WGA Moms” have opened up to TheWrap in an exclusive panel to discuss the unique challenges of raising kids while on the picket lines.
Liz Benjamin, co-executive producer on “Dead to Me,” helped organize a “family day” on the picket lines in front of Netflix’s production offices on Monday. She said it was in part to allow striking writer parents to network with each other but also to show to the public the reality of what most writers’ actual lives are like.
“I started in this business pregnant,” Benjamin said. “My very first staff job, I found out I was pregnant and I waited five months to tell my showrunner and by then I was really showing. I carried my baby to term and then I had a short maternity leave… and then I came back and did the second season of that show with a newborn.”
“I’ve never not been a mom working writer and seeing all those families out there with strollers, babies in their arms, walking babies… it really brought back for me a lot of those same memories too of what it was like to be a new parent and to be working in this industry,” she added.
For members of the panel with preschool and elementary school-age kids, working their strike schedules around picking their kids up from school can be difficult, but they’ve been heartened by how much their children have embraced the struggle even if they don’t completely understand what the WGA is fighting for.
“I have three kids, they’re 10, 8 and 8. My son, he’s the 10-year old… has that kind of boy energy and is into wars and airplanes,” said “Grey’s Anatomy” producer Zoanne Clack. “He’s kind of all about sticking it to the man. He doesn’t really know what that means but he wants to get out there.”
While writers have a variety of demands they are pushing for in the strike, one of the most prominent is a call to reverse the decline in writer pay as more and more writers are getting paid at contract minimum rates. Clack says that for parents like her, that has an impact on what jobs they take, as they are more likely to turn down a show, even one that creatively inspires them, if it doesn’t have enough episodes to provide decent pay to support their kids.
“I don’t have really the option to say, ‘I want this wonderful television [job] that’s out there with the streamers,’ because even if I do get on a show, what if it’s six episodes and then I can’t support my family for the rest of the year?” she said.
Compounding the pay problem is the growing practice by streamers of using mini-rooms to have writers put together scripts before a show is even greenlit and then not keep them hired once production begins. It is then left to the showrunners and possibly a small handful of story editors to handle rewrites during production or to provide guidance on editing during post-production.
Benjamin says this not only disregards the nature of Hollywood production and the role writers play in every part of its process, but it is also depriving writers of their script fees and their opportunities to earn higher pay as writer-producers.
“I know a showrunner who had a successful show for two years on Netflix and was paid that low, low wage for editing because it was considered not writing… and another thing they did while she was in editing was not pay her health insurance, so for four months she had to pay her own health insurance,” she said.
“Do you think a lawyer would put up with this? [Showrunners] have worked their entire career to get there. They are at the pinnacle, the place that you dream of getting to be a showrunner and that there’s no financial compensation for that anymore,” Benjamin added.
For more on how writer moms are getting through the strike, including remarks from “The Handmaid’s Tale” co-showrunner Yahlin Chang, watch the full panel in the video above.
For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster