“We’re all out here just to get a fair deal,” said the veteran TV comedy writer, producer and showrunner while picketing outside Sony Pictures Studios on Friday.
Writers Guild of America (WGA) Negotiating Committee member, Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, is speaking out about the Hollywood strike — and she says there is only one way it’ll be able to end.
TooFab spoke with the veteran TV comedy writer, producer and showrunner at the picket line at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City on Friday. Sanchez-Witzel — who was at the negotiating table with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for six weeks before the strike began in May — offered insight into the negotiation process, stressing that unions are simply asking for a “fair deal” and to be taken “seriously.”
She also addressed the now-infamous comment from an anonymous studio executive, who told Deadline the AMPTP plans to let the strike drag on the union members start “losing their apartments and losing their houses.” While Sanchez-Witzel noted that she hopes there is “no truth” to the quote, she called the notion “despicable” and a “terrible thing to say.”
Meanwhile, the WGA member — whose credits include My Name Is Earl, Up Here and the new Netflix series, Survival of the Thickest — also explained to TooFab whether or not she believes the strike will lead to a greater push toward independent studios.
Read on for TooFab’s Q&A with Sanchez-Witzel, and watch the full interview in the video, above.
What is inspiring you to strike here today? What is bringing you out here?
I am a member of the Negotiating Committee, and I’m a WGA member. And we’re at the end of Week 12 here, the WGA. SAG-AFTRA, I’m sure you’ve seen — who’ve been with us since Day 1, but are now actually on their own strike — are out here at the end of their first week. And we’re all looking to get a fair deal. I mean, that’s what everybody is out here for. Our SAG-AFTRA friends, WGA friends, you know, black shirts, blue shirts. We’re all out here just to get a fair deal. And so we are at many studios all around town, as I’m sure you’ve seen us, and yeah, it’s kind of as simple as that. It feels a little bit crazy to be in Week 12 to say all it takes to end this is a fair deal. Our entire agenda was less than 2% of the profits that these companies make just off of what we make for them. So just off of film and television, it’s so reasonable. I was in the negotiating room for six weeks with the AMPTP. It’s very solvable, but here we are having to fight.
What is it like being on the negotiation team when you have big studio executives saying they want to wait until writers are starving and out of their homes before they’ll even comply with any sort of demands? What is it like to try and be on the other side of that and push against that?
I think that that messaging, we’re not sure exactly who that came from. It certainly, if we were getting tired, made us less tired all of a sudden. It’s a terrible thing to say and if there’s any truth to it, I think not only is it despicable, but it’s illegal. I’d like to think that there is no truth to it and that in the good faith that we had to try and make sure that this didn’t happen and we didn’t have to shut down the town, I would like to think that the AMPTP, and the studios and the CEOs, that the only way we’re going to get back to work is if they come back to the table and take us seriously.
I was in the room when we said we are happy to negotiate while we’re on strike. So that would’ve been May 2nd. “Let’s keep meeting.” May 3rd, “Let’s keep meeting.” This is on the AMPTP that we are not at the negotiation table. I would much rather be there than walking in a loop with my friends around Sony, but here we are.
The way the studios are handling this is getting a lot of public attention. Do you think that this is going to create kind of a more push to independent films and the wider public supporting independent studios?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s very soon to say, I think that from a creative standpoint, from an artistic standpoint as a writer, when we write a film or we write a television show, we’re thinking about the story and we’re thinking about the characters and how and where it’s distributed isn’t what is the impetus for an idea. So I think that certainly that the studios could be impacted by the fact that there might be companies that are willing to sign independent deals with the unions and again, just pay us the fair deal that we’re all looking for, that now actors are looking for and writers are looking for. But it’s hard to say what will be impacted.
I think what I know is that this doesn’t end with no more American film and television being made. Wherever that’s going to be, whatever platform that’s going to be served on all of these companies need us. Whether they want to act like they do or not. And that doesn’t mean that there isn’t amazing international fare, I enjoy watching that too. But this is what Los Angeles, this is what Hollywood puts out. We are the makers of film and television is one of our big exports in America, and it’s not going away. So that they have to come back to the table and give us a fair deal no matter what, no matter if there’s an uptake in indie, I think that we could all benefit, but they still have to come back and give us a fair deal. That’s the only way this ends.
The only way we’re going to get back to work is if they come back to the table and take us seriously.
On May 1, the WGA publicly announced that both the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East had unanimously voted to strike.
The organization noted that they’d been negotiating for six weeks with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony “under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).”
“Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal — and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains — the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing,” the WGA sent in a message to its members, per Deadline.
“We must now exert the maximum leverage possible to get a fair contract by withholding our labor.”
This marked the first work stoppage by the WGA since the strike of 2007-08, which lasted 100 days and had a huge impact on that television season.
A little over two months later, SAG-AFTRA, too, went on strike, effectively shutting down Hollywood as they joined the WGA in protesting what they say are unfair wages and treatment. (For a breakdown of the issues, demands and economics of the SAG-AFTRA strike, click here.)
This is the first time in 60 years the two unions have protested at the same time, with both SAG and WGA battling against AMPTP.