With the writers strike more than a month underway, Charlie Kesslering says the picket lines are still going strong.
Kesslering, who has been a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) since 2016, has been serving as an assistant lot coordinator at the Netflix picket line in Los Angeles just about everyday since the strike began on May 2.
“The vast majority of us on the picket line are there because we just want to have writing be a viable career going forward,” Kesslering said. “And a lot of us are feeling like it might not be.”
With recent updates in negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and other guilds, we thought now would be a good time to get a writer’s perspective on life on the picket line along with what exactly the WGA is striking for.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your experience been like on the picket line thus far?
Charlie Kesslering: You know, it’s a mixture of exhausting and invigorating. It’s more physical activity than I’ve done in years, so that’s on one hand. On the other hand, we know we’re out there making our presence known in this fight for a fair contract. So just the knowledge that our fight is a just one helps keep us going.
This has been going on for a little over a month at this point. What is the general vibe on the picket line right now? Do you guys have any semblance of how execs might be feeling or if there’s any movement?
Kesslering: I would say the vibe is very positive. I just left the picket line about an hour before we’re speaking, and it was a great morning. We actually had a Grishaverse themed picket. The author of the “Shadow and Bone” series was down there with a couple of cast members, and some people dressed up for that. We’re doing events like that to keep spirits high and keep people motivated to come out.
As far as the progress we’re making, down on the ground it’s hard to say. Those are all things happening above my pay grade. But also, the general feeling is that … any movement will happen after SAG-AFTRA [Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] and DGA [Directors Guild of America] get their end figured out. Or not.
I know DGA has come to a tentative contract agreement that they still have to vote on and SAG-AFTRA voting to authorize, so how do updates like that and what’s going on with other guilds impact your feelings regarding solidarity?
Kesslering: It’s been really nice to see both SAG and DGA supporting us throughout the strike. Every day, there are a good number of SAG members on the picket line with us. That’s been really, really great to see, because a lot of the things that both SAG and DGA are fighting for in their contracts are things we’re fighting for as well – you know, higher residuals, and pay base levels to meet inflation. We’re all worried about the rise of AI in every part of the TV and movie making industry. They have shown a lot of solidarity for us, and we hope to return the favor if necessary.
You can obviously read about what you guys are striking for, but sometimes, in my opinion, it’s a little easier to get the meat of it when you hear it from an actual person. Can you tell everyone what the WGA is striking for?
Kesslering: A lot of it is to have our compensation meet the moment. With the past decade rise in streaming, the entire model of writers getting paid has changed. Jobs, especially in television, have become shorter, and residuals have become smaller. It’s really kind of an existential threat to the ability to have a career as a writer. We’re on strike largely because wages and working conditions haven’t kept pace with the changes in how the content is made and distributed.
Then on the feature side, which is mostly what I work in, we’re fighting for a lot of the same things. On the feature side, a big problem is free work, and we’re hoping to get paid in the same way TV writers get paid, which is weekly instead of in the two chunks upon commencement/delivery [manner] we are now. That’s a proposal that literally wouldn’t cost the studios an extra dime, and yet they refuse to even counter on that proposal.
And then both in TV and features, just more transparency in terms of the data and being rewarded for the millions and millions of eyeballs we’re bringing to those services everyday.