Comedian Joseph Opio recounts how a small group of WGA strikers stopped production on the Paramount+ show with the support of the Teamsters
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I was one of the four writers whose picket line shut down production on “Evil” on May 5. When video of our fun-size but defiant picket went viral, some hailed us as “heroes” online. But despite picketing from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m., we didn’t deserve that label.
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The real heroes that night were the Teamsters and IATSE crew who refused to cross our picket line. “Never crossing” is coded in every Teamster’s DNA. But still, their solidarity was inspiring and eye-opening. They didn’t just buy us ice cream to keep our morale high, they also set up an impromptu DJ booth and asked to take our “song requests.”
Even when producers tried to trick them into crossing by calling a crew “meeting” inside, they refused to play ball. “We would rather meet outside here on the street pavement,” they insisted. Their message was loud and clear.
You might wonder what motivated four writers who had never met before that night to march in a tight circle for eight hours straight. Well, the stakes couldn’t be higher: if the producers accept the WGA’s proposals, it will cost them a penny here and a dime there. But if writers lose their nerve, they will face the same fate as Quibi.
It’s an existential staring contest. If the writers lose their nerve, it will mark the end of their industry. And by “end,” I mean the end-end. Because unlike a Marvel film, real life doesn’t come with multiple post-credit scenes to set up a sequel.
The ongoing standoff between the WGA and the AMPTP boils down to one ugly fact: Producers legit don’t believe writers have the right to exist. Writers have seen their wages nosedive while budgets skyrocket. So, they are now asking for just 3% of the obscene profits producers reap from their labor.
But in response, producers swear the WGA’s “irrational demands” will cost money they don’t have. How can the AMPTP plead poverty when Amazon just blew a billion dollars on “The Lord of The Rings” prequel? It’s Gaslighting 101. Producers also argue that there’s no knowing if and when tech innovations like streaming will become profitable. But writers have heard that argument in the past. It’s a remix of the same old song producers sang when writers asked for residuals from VHS and DVDs. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Fortunately for writers, their union is a keen student of history. And history has proven that whenever producers sink billions into cutting-edge technology, that investment becomes a lucrative gold mine.
No wonder, this strike is wildly popular. For the record, 98% of writers voted to strike. Those are tin-pot dictator election numbers. It’s the kind of approval rating even Baby Yoda can only dream of. Writers will struggle to pay bills during the strike. Yet this is a painful sacrifice they made in a heartbeat.
Make no mistake, no writer wishes to be stuck outside in a picket line. After all, writers are the least sun-resistant species in the animal kingdom. They hate sunlight even more than Count Dracula. Plus, they already look pale enough without wearing industrial amounts of sunscreen. Instead of picketing daily, writers would rather be inside a writers’ room. That’s their natural habitat. That’s their safe space. That’s where they generate creative ideas and original poop jokes to entertain audiences.
Put bluntly, writers against producers is a modern-day David versus Goliath. In the red corner stand starving artists with nothing but a righteous cause. And in the blue corner prowl the billionaire behemoths who are way too rich, way too ruthless and drunk on way too much power. Will the writers triumph?
In the golden age of capitalism, plucky David rarely wins. But here’s the game-changer: Writers are no longer pesky ants trying to take down an elephant alone. This time, they’re pesky ants that are being supported by the 800-pound gorilla that is the Teamsters and IATSE. And as more solidarity pours in from sibling unions like SAG-AFTRA, it’s becoming clear this crusade is bigger than the WGA. The writers’ grievances resonate across the entire labor movement. And unions have decided to form a real-life version of the Rebel Alliance.
So, why did we picket for 8 hours nonstop to shut down “Evil”? Well, for starters, the producers trying to erase writers from existence obviously aren’t taking any time off. But even more importantly, every writer realizes this is a make-or-break moment for the industry. If writers take time off from fighting during this strike, they might find themselves taking a lot more time off in the future.
Joseph Opio is a standup comedian and Emmy-nominated writer on “The Daily Show.” He’s written 1,143 episodes of the show.
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