The Sharpie Is Mightier: ‘Pissed Off’ Writers with Clever Signs Make Noise from the WGA Picket Lines

WGA members — and IndieWire — hit the streets Tuesday in L.A. and New York in Day 1 protests of what writers believe is an "existential" fight against the Hollywood studios.
Writers Strike 2023
People picket outside of FOX Studios on the first day of the Hollywood writers strike on May 2, 2023 in Los Angeles.

“No pages without fair wages!” “Don’t you want to know how ‘The Last of Us’ ends?” “Please don’t make me have to move back to Ohio!”

The WGA Strike of 2023 is now in full swing, and the writers who formed picket lines Tuesday afternoon across Los Angeles and New York City are mad as hell. Speaking of lines, those clever ones above were just a few of the phrases written on the poster boards of Hollywood’s writers as they protested what they feel to be unfair wages, a devaluing of their work by the studios, networks, and streamers, and an “existential” fight for entertainment writing as a viable profession. If you believe the pen to be mightier, maybe don’t mess with writers.

“To be out here today and see the unity of writers, to fight for our careers, to keep from turning us into gig workers and keeping our careers stable is incredibly inspiring,” Adam Conover, the creator and host of “Adam Ruins Everything,” told IndieWire from the picket lines Tuesday.

“I’ve been in a room with 20 other writers with the AMPTP for the last six weeks,” WGA West President Meredith Stiehm told us. “Seeing everyone out here confirms the solidarity, confirms the energy, and confirms the importance of what we’re doing.”

IndieWire was on the scene at the protest in front of Netflix’s offices on the corner of Sunset and Van Ness, where picketers dressed in blue Writers Guild of America t-shirts stretched down each block. We also spotted strikers in front of multiple gates at Paramount Pictures and in front of CBS Studios in Studio City, and picket lines have been stationed at all the major studios in Burbank, Culver City, as well as across New York City.

Though the signs are similar, the stakes are far different, and the writers we spoke with demonstrated frustration, outrage, and a commitment to stick it out on the streets for as long is necessary to get a fair deal from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The guild’s agreement expired Monday night, and most people you speak with feel we’re in for a long fight. Writers today say they’re battling simply for the ability to have a career, “Murderville” showrunner Krister Johnson told us, and they’re prepared to stick it out because the current conditions are already untenable.

“I have watched this go from being what I thought was my dream come true, which is being able to work and build a career in this industry, to something that feels very scary and financially unpredictable, and at times borderline financially unworkable,” Johnson said. “Everyone is already experiencing this career chaos and financial instability. They can’t hold that fear over us anymore.”

Protestors chanted phrases like “Corporate greed has got to go” and “No contracts, no scripts,” while others bellowed from bullhorns. Honking from cars up and down Sunset made the noise in the area deafening. We spotted writers and stars from shows like “Hacks,” “Portlandia,” and “The Bear,” not to mention a guy dressed in an actual plush bear costume. Another carried an infant with a “Proud Union Baby” onesie on.

Writers picket in front of Netflix on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, on May 2, 2023 as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) goes on strike. - More than 11,000 Hollywood television and movie writers went on their first strike in 15 years, after talks with studios and streamers over pay and working conditions failed to clinch a deal. The strike means late-night shows are expected to grind to a halt immediately, while television series and movies scheduled for release later this year and beyond could face major delays. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Writers picket in front of Netflix on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, on May 2, 2023 as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) goes on strike.AFP via Getty Images

Picketers’ signs targeted the town’s entertainment CEOs, who collectively make hundreds of millions of dollars per year — more than the estimated $429 million the WGA is asking for among its proposals for the new minimum bargaining agreement (MBA). Others at the Netflix protest lambasted the streamer specifically, with one sign saying “Netflix’s Residuals are a Joke,” a play on the company’s marketing line for its comedy content.

The topic of AI-generated material, on which the guild says the AMPTP refused to even make a counteroffer, was another popular point of contention. “Don’t let M3GAN write ‘M3GAN,'” a sign read in reference to the murderous movie robot.

The AMPTP on Monday night said that the “sticking point” in talks involved “mandatory staffing” that would require companies to employ writers whether they were needed or not. Stiehm said on Tuesday that statement was “inaccurate,” claiming the AMPTP was not even willing to have a conversation on the issue.

“There’s no way that we couldn’t be here today,” Stiehm said from the ground. “That was a remarkable thing for them to say, because they would not discuss our television proposals, there were a handful of them. That was one of them, and they must’ve thought it was to their advantage to pretend like we’d had some negotiations on it, but they simply would not discuss those issues. They ignored them.”

Stiehm said it is the writers guild’s belief that the studios are trying to “shrink writers rooms to the point of non-existence and turn us into freelance writers or gig writers,” which she called “unacceptable.”

Conover knows that fear first hand, and he found the studios’ refusal to engage on topics that mean the most to writers to be “insulting.”

“Gimme a break. It’s a joke, it’s insulting, and it actually fired up our membership and made them more united. I mean, look at these people. They’re pissed off,” Conover said. “We think they’re going to make us stay out here for a while, because that’s how they roll, and that’s what they did in 2007. But guess what? We can wait them out.”

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