inbox. part one.

I just realized I’ve had my underwear on backwards all day. I know I’ve lost some weight in the strike, but shouldn’t I have noticed that?

Also, I’m starting to worry that my skin is going to become a permanent shade of pink from all the red clothing I’m wearing these days.

United Hollywood is asking you to send pencils to show your solidarity.

The “Voice of the Crew” website for Below the Line workers is calling for a rally on December 2nd. Follow the link for more information.

If you’re looking to participate with us this coming Tuesday, we’re having a Labor Solidarity march down Hollywood Boulevard.

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OK, so – first off – I don’t know who it was but whomever came up with ” … and I’m a pirate” in last night’s episode should get a raise. or, at least, a dinner or something.

sorry i havent written sooner but I’ve been stymed in my past attempts to watch Samantha. the first couple times i tried, i just ended up watching scary spice or dr. quinn dance. i’ve seen two episodes so far and just wanted you to know how much i’m enjoying it.

so what exactly does a ‘story editor’ do? how will the show be affected by the strike? how many episodes did y’all have in the can (look at me being all inside with the lingo and whatnot)? does it help that y’all were picked up for a full season before the strike? did writers work on episodes with the knowledge that there would prolly be a strike (i.e., w/shorter story archs or whatever)?

also, does the WGA cover all writers or just american writers? if it goes on a long time, can … like … tom stoppard be a scab writer for ugly betty or something? are show runners also writers?

do you just walk the strike lines all day? doesn’t that get dull? or are there like other strike-activites or something?

ok – sorry about all the questions. just curious.

good luck on everything and have fun storming the castle,
dave
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All good questions, Dave, which is why I’m posting your letter and answering it here. Here we go.

OK, so – first off – I don’t know who it was but whomever came up with ” … and I’m a pirate” in last night’s episode should get a raise. or, at least, a dinner or something.

Well, I wish I could remember, but that was a very long time ago. I don’t know if it was in Bob’s original script, or something Don added in a pass, or if it happened at a table punch-up. I’ll just give the credit to Bob, and Don will send me a chiding email if I’m mistaken. I’ll take the risk.

so what exactly does a ‘story editor’ do?

That’s my title, but it means I’m a writer on the show. Actually, I found out before the strike that it makes me a “hyphenate.” You might hear that word often now in terms of the strike. A hyphenate means a writer-producer. Note the hyphen. You can be a writer-actor hyphenate or a writer-director hyphenate, or an actor-director hyphenate. It means you do more than one job.

Writers are producers on the series. A staff writer job is the entry-level position. You’re paid differently than those ranked up at producer level, who tend to get paid per episode (I think they break it out in payments, but I’m not sure… I’m still paid on a week-to-week basis. Oh, and no, I haven’t been paid for the last two weeks before the strike. That’s fun.) Each time you renegotiate your contract, or get a new season, or a new job, your agent tries to get your “quote” up (your salary) and your title raised (which comes with a Guild minimum quote). After staff writer is story editor, then executive story editor, co-producer, producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, and executive producer (sometimes also the showrunner). Consulting Producers have deals with the studios, and they “consult” on the show, which means they come in a couple days a week while fulfilling all their other contractual obligations to the studio (like coming up with their own show ideas, pitching and trying to sell pilots).

how will the show be affected by the strike?

Well, our stages are locked, and our offices have not only been cleaned out — they’re gone. Empty. The studio isn’t paying rent on them. There’s still a production office (I’ll get to that in a second), but the building where we had our offices is empty, and I suppose a spanking-new reality show could move in tomorrow, if they ponied up the rent. (No more information desk office for me. Yes, I miss it.)

how many episodes did y’all have in the can (look at me being all inside with the lingo and whatnot)?

This is what I wanted to talk about tonight. The episode I wrote — “The Hypnotherapist” — premieres tomorrow night. If you see that episode, you won’t be the only person seeing it for the first time. I haven’t seen the finished product. We were editing it the week the strike was approaching, and on the last day I was at work we had a network/studio notes call that asked for the voiceovers to be changed, among other things. So I wrote new voiceovers, laid down a temp track (which was one of my favorite side-projects — pretending to be Christina Applegate in the editing room so that they could mark the dialogue while editing until Christina was able to come in to record it herself) — wrote a couple of lines of dialogue for Kevin Dunn to loop in, and wrote up some of the “cards” we use as segues. My showrunner had to sign and timestamp the work to prove I didn’t do any work after “pencils down.” And then I cleaned out my office and left. So I don’t know if the stuff I wrote for Christina worked, or if the cards worked, or if Kevin’s joke (which is a blow to an act!) works, or if they ended up cutting something for time, or adding something… or if the voiceover even makes sense anymore… or how it turned out. I have to hope for the best. And Don, who is the creator of this show and the ultimate voice and decision maker, also hasn’t been in there. Nobody crossed the line. So I have to hope for the best. I trust the people inside, but it’s very strange to be completely detached from the project, and have nothing to do with the ultimate finished product, when it’s going to say “written by” and my name up there tomorrow.

And that was episode six. We just turned in the script for episode twelve when “pencils down” was called. Which means they shot episode twelve without us. So there are six episodes “in the can,” but we aren’t there to complete the product. No editing. No rewriting. No fixing segues or looping dialogue. No input on which take worked the best when we were on the set. No changing music cues or finding music that works great with a scene. No reshoots. Nothing. Six episodes that will have six writers’ names on them that we had to walk away from. So when people are applauding the “showrunners” for not crossing the line, this is why. They didn’t just stop writing. They stopped making sure that the product that will go on the air is reflective of exactly what they do so well. It must be terrifying and ulcer-inducing, to say the least. I’m just a story editor and I’m nervous about tomorrow, as much as I’m nervous for the rest of our episodes “in the can.” It’s misleading. A show like The Daily Show just stopped making episodes. Same with The Office. But now you might understand why they’d pull a season of 24 or delay Lost.

does it help that y’all were picked up for a full season before the strike?

In theory. The show was doing very well in the ratings, and that’s why we got the pick-up. But as I just explained, we don’t know how the next six are going to go in the ratings, and we have less control over what those episodes will look like, so it’s like being on a rollercoaster. What if the show loses fans because the episodes don’t feel like they used to? Or we lose fans because of the strike? Or if the strike goes for a long, long time, will they want us back next season? At a certain point, we aren’t going to be able to make up those ten episodes we haven’t created yet. Which means right now, every person who walked out of our show or was laid off from our show is losing money. Every week. Every day. And they say you don’t make back the money you lose in a strike. That’s true. Because maybe they’ll bring us back, but maybe for only six episodes this season. Maybe only three. Maybe not until next year. Or maybe not at all. Nothing is guaranteed. So yeah, it’s scary. It’s a little comfort that the show wasn’t struggling, so it’s less likely to just get yanked, but it could still easily happen. It’s not under our control. Very little is.

did writers work on episodes with the knowledge that there would prolly be a strike (i.e., w/shorter story archs or whatever)?

We did not write toward the strike, if that’s what you’re asking. We knew the strike was looming. I’ve certainly been aware of it for a long, long time (hey, i got some of my archives working!). But I didn’t know I was going to get this job, and I landed it in June knowing that it might not last thirteen episodes, or if it did, it might not last the strike. Like I mentioned before, we got our pick-up the same week as the strike. It’s a very stressful time.

But no, we didn’t write the episodes so that it would be wrapped up in time for the strike. That’s only “helping them,” as they put it. Then we’d be creating mini-seasons for the network.

also, does the WGA cover all writers or just american writers?

The “A” stands for America, so I’m pretty sure it’s just American television and film writers. But sadly, it doesn’t cover “all” writers, yet. Animation, basic cable and reality writers are still struggling for representation and fair compensation. It’s one of the things the Guild is asking for in the new contract.

if it goes on a long time, can … like … tom stoppard be a scab writer for ugly betty or something?

If you’re a Guild member you are on strike, which means you cannot work for a struck company (I’m pretty sure I can’t even recap for TWoP right now!). If you’re not in the Guild, then it becomes tricky. You don’t really want to cross the picket line and do work that’s been vacated by a Guild writer, because if you do one day want to be in the Union, it might come back to haunt you, as in keep you from being able to join the Guild. It’s a difficult choice each writer makes individually. I don’t know why Tom Stoppard would write an Ugly Betty, but as long as he did it once the strike ended, I’d be super-stoked to see it.

are showrunners also writers?

Absolutely. And many say that they are writers first and foremost. Some feel that everything they do as a showrunner — crafting the series — involves writing. Some feel that their producer duties are separate from their writing duties (like casting, asking for another take, working with costumers, set designers, all the hundreds of people that go into making an episode). Every showrunner has a different idea of what constitutes “writing,” but they all took a stand together and said they wouldn’t go in, in order to make the strike hit harder faster, in an effort to have it be as short of a strike as possible.

do you just walk the strike lines all day? doesn’t that get dull? or are there like other strike-activites or something?

Yes, you keep walking. Except when cars pass. There are times when it can be a little dull, but you’re walking with fellow writers, and you’re either meeting people or talking to friends. I’ll tell you as the third week is beginning, the newness has completely worn off. There are other strike-activities. The rallies are different than the day-to-day pickets, and our times keep changing, as well as some of our locations, so that mixes things up a bit. And being a strike captain, it seems there’s always something else I need to be doing, somewhere I’m supposed to be going, a phone call I’m supposed to be returning, or an email I need to be sending.

ok – sorry about all the questions. just curious.

No, thanks. It was a good way to do a Q&A on a tv writer’s perspective from the strike lines. I hope that helped.

good luck on everything and have fun storming the castle,
dave

Miss you, Dave. Hope you’re doing well.