What's at stake for TV and movie writers who went on strike this week
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's Day 2 of the strike by the Writers Guild of America. That's the people behind the writing and creation of some of your favorite movies and TV shows. They have walked out. The contract between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ended on Monday, and the two sides have so far failed to come up with a new contract. Writers say they are striking for better pay, and we're going to speak now with one of the writers caught up in the stalemate, Jeane Phan Wong. She is a writer and a WGA captain. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
JEANE PHAN WONG: Hi, Mary Louise. Thank you for having me.
KELLY: We're glad to have you with us. I want to get straight - like, take us to the strike. You've been out on the picket lines. Tell me what the mood's like.
WONG: I think everyone is really stressed out. The writers just feel, like, very reluctant to be there 'cause we know how detrimental a strike is to the whole community because a strike, you know, affects - some of us who are working right now are at risk of losing our health insurance, amongst other things. And then those of us who are in organizing are worried about, you know, keeping morale, even though everyone just seems, like, really unified and for some, like, rightfully angry, because these corporations - the greed is just, like, overwhelming. And it's just, like, peak exploitation. And so it ranged from all over the place.
KELLY: Yeah. I mean, just tell me in a few sentences, if you can, what you believe is at stake here.
WONG: What is at stake here, in simplest terms, is existence of writing as a profession. It's come to the point where if you want to become a writer, you have to do this job and just have another job. They want to turn into a gig economy.
KELLY: Talk to me about - I mean, for you personally, what's the impact? Like, what projects are you currently working on or were you currently working on, and how does this strike affect them?
WONG: I was in the middle of writing a movie and, obviously, I had to stop writing that movie. And I 100% am at risk of losing my health insurance next year. I promise I'm not going to cry, but I also just sort of feel like if this doesn't happen - like, if we don't get everything that makes living an actual career - and I'm a very realistic person - I will have to give up this dream because I have to survive.
KELLY: If I may ask, what's the impact on your income, just, like, your take-home pay right now?
WONG: No income (laughter). I have no income. I'm living off of savings right now.
KELLY: Now, if there were a studio exec sitting with us right now, they might argue, look, a lot of streaming services don't make a profit. That's who you're writing for. Revenue from advertising has tanked. Nobody argues over that point. The studios are arguing the pay structure for writers has got to change because your whole industry is changing, to which you say what?
WONG: So I would say there are two things. There's overall profits and increasing profits. Right now, like, if you look at investor relations at each of these company websites - SEC data - they are always profitable. Whether they have increased profits due to investment in streamings or changing models or switching from network to streaming is a different issue.
KELLY: But they are cutting costs across the industry. I mean, I've seen Warner Brothers is cutting jobs. Disney is cutting jobs. Netflix - losing subscribers. That's all real.
WONG: No, that is all real, and I'm not denying that. And what I'm saying is that the writers just merely want to have an agreement in place - when they make money off of us, we share in that money. That's it.
KELLY: We've been speaking with writer and WGA captain Jeane Phan Wong. Jeane, thank you.
WONG: Thank you so much.
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
In a statement sent to NPR before the strike began, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it had made a proposal to the guild, which included, quote, "generous increases in compensation for writers, as well as improvements in streaming residuals," end quote. But so far, there is no new contract between the two sides. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.