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Writers ponder their fates as deadline for WGA contract looms

Memories of the 2007 Writers Guild Strike are in the air as negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers come down to the wire.
Memories of the 2007 Writers Guild Strike are in the air as negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers come down to the wire.
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Will there be a writers' strike in Hollywood? It’s coming down to the wire.

The deadline for negotiators from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to reach a deal on a new contract is midnight tonight.

If an agreement isn’t reached, or if talks aren’t extended, thousands of writers are expected to go on strike immediately.

While no one on either side of the bargaining table is probably hoping for a work stoppage, there are some serious issues dividing the parties. They include studio payments into the Writers Guild health plan, and whether or not producers can claim that writers have to be exclusive to one show.

The Frame's John Horn has been talking with writers about what issues are important to them as the negotiations continue. Justin Simien is creator and executive producer of the new Netflix series "Dear White People," which is an adaptation of his 2014 film of the same name. Just days after WGA members voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike, Simien talked about what he hopes comes out of the negotiations:

SIMIEN: On a personal level, I’m terrified of not being able to do my second season. But I am a part of a union that has fought, and had a history of fighting for a lot of benefits that I enjoy, and so you know as a member of the guild I support the decision. But at the same time, on a personal level, I don’t think anybody wants to be out of work. And especially because we really are on the cusp of when we would likely be coming back if we were to be asked back, so I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I really hope that the authorization of the strike leads to a deal being made, which I know is the intention of everyone who voted for it. And I really hope that happens because it’s just so disruptive, especially when you’re trying to establish something, to not know when exactly when you can come back.

HORN: And what are the important issues for you? What are the things that you care about?

SIMIEN: Well, you know, I’m in the streaming business. I’m making these small seasons and I want to make sure my writers are taken care of. As a show creator, especially as a first-time show creator, I’m going to be honest, I don’t really have any complaints personally about my checks. But these writers who are toiling away and working with us, I care very much about them and their lives and their well-being, and mine if I were to be in a similar situation. So, you know, there is a disparity between the amount of money that’s being made and the amount of money that’s being paid. And it’s a fair– I think the guild has every right to raise these questions. And, you know, again, if this is going to be the future, if we’re going to move toward these smaller series that can be streamed all at once, yeah this is a thing we should probably figure out now than later.

Michael Killen and Samm Hodges are the co-creators of “Downward Dog,” and upcoming ABC series premiering on May 17th. They're both relatively new to the Writers Guild— Hodges became a member in 2015, and Killen joined in 2016:

KILLEN: It’s such a new world for me. I’ve not been in the Writers Guild until the past year with this show. So I don’t have any past experience to really base this on, so it’s a bit unknown, and I’ve fallen in love with all of our writers, I know that much. And I care so much about the studio that supported us too. So it puts us in a really awkward position 'cause these are new wonderful people in our lives right now, on both ends. Obviously we hear and we speak about the size and length of seasons and how long people can make a living on eight to 10 episodes. I mean it’s new for us, jumping into this, but if you’ve been used to 20-some episodes and your year is only 10 episodes, then you’re making half the money.

HODGES: Yeah and one of the things I think right now for the first time ever there’s been a push to hire a lot of women and minorities as writers and staff writers get paid so little comparatively. There’s even options people have to pay three-quarters of the minimum for a staff writer on their first script, so some of those issues matter, and the whole healthcare fund matters. Obviously our whole country is having a whole big— we have a terrible healthcare system in general, but I think healthcare is something that’s really important that we keep intact.

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