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GUEST PERSPECTIVE: Strike Fallout... An Assistant Speaks Out

The writers strike affects more than just writers and studios; it affects everyone from Hollywood's executives and corporate employees to directors and actors. But perhaps no one feels its effect more powerfully than Hollywood's crew people and assistants... the people at the bottom of the industry hierarchy struggling to eke out a living as they climb the ladder toward achieving their dreams. And as studios-- the same studios who can't cough up 2.5% of their backend to pay the workers making their products-- slash jobs and shut down shows, it's not the striking writers who feel this most potently... it's the assistants and crew people who suddenly find themselves out on the streets with no job or income.

So as Script Notes continues to bring you unique voices and perspectives on all things writing-related, here's KATE BURNS, a (former) writers' production assistant on CBS's Shark, who-- along with the rest of the show's assistants and crew-- is spending today packing her desk...

IN HER OWN WORDS: SHARK WRITERS PA KATE BURNS...

Until this afternoon, I was the writers’ production assistant on “Shark,” the James Woods show on CBS. It was a great job for an aspiring tv writer like myself: lots of hands on experience, lots of down time for working on my own stuff, and lots of chances to build relationships with the writers on the show.

Last Sunday night when the WGA went on strike, my job, as well as the jobs of the script coordinator and writers assistants on staff, was put in immediate jeopardy. I’ve known for weeks now that this strike was a distinct possibility and I’ve honed my answer to those who asked me what I planned to do should this eventuality arise to a fine point (“professional dominatrixing. fully clothed on my part. no penetration, but great tips.”) I fully support the writers, and I’ve been intellectually prepared to get behind them for a while now.

The thing is, the reality of strike is harsher and its consequences far more immediate and severe than I think any of us assistants, and certainly any of the writers, fully understood. Since Monday, our suite of writers’ offices has been strangely silent. No writers puttering around, taking their shoes off as they muddle through a stickier story point, making fun of each other for any reason at all. All week, I huddled in the back office with the other writers’ assistants, joking nervously that if production couldn’t see us, they couldn’t fire us.

Since we’ve been expecting it, and since we all want to be writers, we took the certainty of our layoffs in stride. Not that we’re not scared, and not that we want a strike- no one in their right mind actually wanted a strike- but we’ve accepted our lot as cheerfully as possible. When the call came from HR today relieving us of our duties, it was almost a relief- we didn’t have to continue crossing the picket lines each day, only to awkwardly field questions from anyone who realized that we were still at work.

Unfortunately, writers and their assistants are not the only ones who are going to be affected by the strike. The production office and crew are all counting down the days until they too will be jobless- by Thanksgiving, for most of them- and they’re not as cheerfully resigned as we are. I don’t have a family to support or a mortgage to pay, and as an upwardly mobile writers’ assistant, I stand to benefit from an improved WGA contract.

But for many production assistants, coordinators, and other crew people, the work stoppage caused by the strike is going to be a crippling blow. It comes just in time for the holidays, potentially with no end in sight. There were a few lower level production people who I spoke with who, like most of the assistants I know, live paycheck to paycheck, and are fuming mad that the WGA and AMPTP couldn’t at least have tried harder to negotiate a compromise. If the strike is drawn out indefinitely, depriving more and more people of their livelihoods, I’m worried that this resentment will grow and calcify.

I believe fully in the WGA’s demands and the writers’ rights to fair payments. I will be out picketing with them tomorrow, as I have been every day since the strike began. But for the sake of my fellow assistants, of the crew of “Shark” and every other show that’s affected, for the sake of the messengers and the deli at which I used to buy bagels every morning, I fervently hope that the WGA can AMPTP can return to the negotiating table as soon as possible, and resolve this dispute in a way that’s fair not only to the writers, but also to the people who depend on them to make their living.

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