- Writers Guild of America members are set to go on strike as their contract expires on May 1.
- The union is seeking better pay and regulation on the use of AI, among other demands.
- “It’s a very regular-degular, working-class existence,” one writer told The New Yorker.
A 28-year-old writer for FX’s award-winning series “The Bear” said he’s looking for jobs at movie theaters as members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) prepare to go on strike Tuesday to demand better pay from studios.
Alex O’Keefe, one of seven writers for the comedy starring Jeremy Allen White, told The New Yorker that writing for an acclaimed show has not translated into a glitzy Hollywood lifestyle.
“It’s a very regular-degular, working-class existence,” O’ Keefe, who has also worked as a speechwriter for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, told the magazine.
O’Keefe did not respond to a request for comment.
While writing for the show for nine weeks, O’Keefe lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn without heat, wrote at a public library when the power was out, and was never flown to the set, according to The New Yorker.
—Alex O’Keefe 🌻 (@AlexOKeefe1994) April 17, 2023
When the show was nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Writers Guild of America Awards in March, O’ Keefe told The New Yorker he attended the ceremony with a negative bank account and dressed in a bowtie purchased with credit.
The writers won the Best Comedy Series award that evening, beating “Abbott Elementary” and “Barry.”
“Unfortunately, I realized not all that glitters is gold,” he said.
About 98% of eligible WGA members — representing thousands of TV and film writers — voted to authorize a strike if a deal is not struck with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) by their contract’s May 1 expiration date.
The members’ demands are better compensation and residual rates or pay for reusing a writer’s work. Charles Slocum, an assistant executive director for the WGA west coast division, told Deadline part of the problem is streaming services decided to pay residuals at a lower rate than traditional broadcasting outlets.
As streaming services slash costs by removing shows from their libraries, writers are paid fewer residuals, the Associated Press reported.
The union also wants to address “mini rooms,” which allow studios to pump out a script with fewer writers before a show is greenlit. There are also concerns about using artificial intelligence to produce material.
“The survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation,” the guild said in an email to its members obtained by Deadline.
Spokespersons for WGA and AMPTP did not respond to a request for comment.
O’Keefe told The New Yorker that his compensation does not add up to much after accounting for representative fees and taxes. Agents or representatives who help clients obtain work and negotiate contracts typically take a percentage of a writer’s check.
Television writers are paid weekly rates, according to WGA’s compensation guide. A showrunner told Insider that first-time and newer writers could make around $40,000 to 60,000 for ten weeks of work.
O’Keefe said the experience has been disillusioning.
“A lot of people assume that, when you’re in a TV writers’ room, you sit around a table, and you just dream together,” O’Keefe told the magazine. “With ‘The Bear,’ I learned from these masters that, if you are given a shit sandwich, you can dress that up and make it a Michelin-star-level dish. And they were consistently given shit sandwich after shit sandwich.”