By Bobby Panza
Chants of “Who makes the TV? We make the TV,” and “Get up, get down, New York is a union town,” filled the air last Wednesday, August 16, as members of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) were joined by those of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and the Dramatists Guild of America on the picket line outside the offices of Netflix on 888 Broadway at East 19th Street.
It was day 105 of the WGA strike over an ongoing dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Shows and films ranging from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on HBO, to “Dune: Part Two” have now been long paused or delayed due to the strike. SAG-AFTRA joined the strike in July.
For the first time since 1960, both guilds are aligned in protest, calling for better pay and job security, with greater transparency in network streaming numbers and compensation disparities in TV and film. On Tuesday night, talks to get back to work between the WGA and the AMPTP broke down after just 20 minutes, signaling no end in sight.
While union members made signs, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who couldn’t be there, sent a taco truck so everyone could eat for free. Amid the commotion, we met up with our Upper West Side contact, Gina Gionfriddo, 54, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, to hear her thoughts about the strike. Currently living in the West 90s after graduating from Barnard, she started by saying “I don’t believe it’s going to be quick. I just hope the members understand that. You know, we’re not going back to work next week.” She was right.
Gionfriddo is a single mother who moved to the Upper West Side with her 12-year-old daughter Ava in 2007. She says her daughter really began feeling the gravity of the writer’s strike when Saturday Night Live stopped airing on April 15, and while their extended family expresses worry about their current state of life amid the strike, she tells them it’s going to be okay. “But yeah, they express concern.”
This isn’t Gionfriddo’s first strike with the WGA. A member since 2005, she is a playwright and television writer. She cited the need to make changes in streaming residuals as a core component of what they’re fighting for.
When Gionfriddo first went on strike with the WGA in 2008, she said the streaming model didn’t really exist yet, and the big studios touted it as “experimental,” saying it might not work out. “We were striking for a piece of streaming. But it was still a little bit unknown how big streaming was going to be. This time around it feels very different because we’ve been working under these really unfair conditions for years now. Streaming is major, there’s nothing speculative about it anymore so there’s no argument not to strike.”
Gionfriddo, who received her Pulitzer Prize nominations for “Becky Shaw” (2009) and “Rapture, Blister, Burn” (2013), which premiered off-Broadway, explained how the industry has changed over the years. “When I got into it around 2005, I would get jobs on network shows, and there would be 22 episodes a year. So, I’d be employed year-round and then the show I was on would get renewed, so I went back.” With TV credits including House of Cards, Law & Order, and The Alienist, she joked, “It was like having a government job. I knew exactly when I was working and for how long.” Gionfirddo says streaming is a whole different world.
“They want to employ you for 20 weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks. It becomes a situation where you’re always hustling for the next job. A writer friend of mine said, it’s like looking for a parking space in Manhattan. You have to be in the right place at the right time…you’re always looking…you know, hoping you get lucky. It’s not sustainable.”
One positive amid the labor dispute, Gionfriddo noted, has been reconnecting with people she hasn’t seen in a while, and meeting new people. “Writing can be a very lonely profession. So, the social piece of this is nice. And I think that’s been a weird PR thing, too, because there have been all these pictures of people picketing, looking happy. And it’s not that we’re happy to be on strike. But we are happy to see each other.”
We asked Gionfriddo if she had a message she wanted to get out. To our surprise, she mentioned the long-closed Metro Theater, on 100th Street and Broadway. “I dream of the Metro Theater reopening. I went there in college. I just dream and I wish. Hopefully, hopefully someday.”
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