Candidate for Council, Film/TV/Streaming Sector
My fellow writers…
I appreciate your time in reading my statement. Time is precious…and I value yours.
I became a professional writer nearly three years ago. By most accounts, I’m a “newbie” in our Guild. However, the challenges of the current moment are such that I believe I am uniquely qualified to help our Guild not only address them, but also leverage them to create a more empowered future us all and for those new writers who will come to join us.
BACKGROUND. Like so many of you, I have been writing since I was very young. This is more than a profession to me…writing is who I am. Using words to connect others is how I express myself, an innate calling that’s deepened the purpose of my life, and the lens through which I experience the world. I am a proud Nicholl Fellowship Finalist, Almanac Screenwriters Alum, and Teaching Artist alum at The Ghetto Film School. I will be new professor, this fall, at the art school at SUNY Purchase. In addition, last year, I became only the second leader to lead a weekly writers’ group – a vibrant community of nearly 200 writers — that has met religiously, every Wednesday, for the past 15 years. I am also an experienced producer and UPM, I have experience working with our sister guilds and am adept at the set of skills that studios have been robbing many television writers of gaining. Lastly, I have experience at moving social justice needles. In collaboration with Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice program, and Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, my curiosity, research, and writing are the basis for a five-year effort to obtain a posthumous pardon of a young black man who was wrongly hanged by the state of Illinois 115 years ago. Governor Pritzker will make his decision on the matter this fall. This life, these experiences, and the kids I’ve been fortunate to educate are all reasons I am running for Council. I have skin in the game. And as the child of a police officer and human resources professional, and partner to a cancer survivor, I bring a myriad of perspectives and insights into this endeavor with me.
OUR GUILD. In 2020, our guild supported me as WGAe/FilmNation fellow. This experience greatly impacted me, as our Guild invested in my growth, providing me with mentors who, in turn, invested in my life. This continued commitment is something I carry with me as I mentor youth, and as I contribute blocks to help our Guild continue to build on its stated commitments. One such building block is being a reader for the same WGAe/FilmNation program that believed in me. Another such block is remaining a member in good standing, as I understand that many of our Guild’s efforts become more challenging if it can’t depend on financial resources from our membership (which may be challenging to make, at times). This is another key reason I am running for Council – to reinvest in this community that invested in me.
EXPERIENCE. Shortly after the completion of my WGAe/FilmNation fellowship, I was hired into my first room. It was a mini-room and, unfortunately, the show was not produced. About a year after that experience, I was hired into my second room – a physical room embarking on its 2nd season – that I moved from NY to LA to do. Despite a passionate showrunner, the show was killed a mere six weeks into our efforts. Shortly thereafter, I sold my first show to a major studio – selling it in on the spot, in the room. As I was about to move from outline to page, the studio announced a new CEO. Communication went dark…and I was in limbo for nearly two months. Then, my show was killed. The following day, the studio announced it would proceed with gutting 7,000 jobs. So, through no fault of my own, I have been a professional writer for some time – counting nine previous projects for which I did work without pay – without any produced credit to show for it. This experience is the final key reason I am running for Council.
PLATFORM: The issues I intend to focus on are three-fold:
- WRITER EMPOWERMENT. The culture of the industry has changed because the reality of the industry has changed – those who were formerly film/tv executives have now become the equivalent of brand managers tasked with “lowering costs” and “boosting efficiencies” to inflate studio balance sheets and help studios deliver on ever-increasing financial “guidance” (outlook). The impact of this reality became clear to me some time ago, as I have a background in finance. Shortly after college, I earned my MBA from Yale University, off the urging of a beloved film professor who told me, “You’re smart. You’ll learn how to be on set. But…this is a business.” Over the last few years, industry titans began exhibiting behaviors reminiscent of management during the disastrous Hormel Plant strike, of ’84-’85 (which is taught as a lesson in negotiating in business schools). Alarmed by this behavior, I posed the question to our council in February, at a pre-strike meeting at SVA: “What is our leverage?” The answer I received was to “believe in myself.” While well-intentioned, I do think the cultural shift in the industry has contributed to some blind spots that, if not addressed, will continue to leave us vulnerable in many ways. Beyond that, over the last six years, our Guild has found that MBA negotiations are regularly approaching crisis-level with each negotiation – an SAV, agency action, and now a 100+ day strike. While businesses often tout the benefits of “competition,” finance culture is one geared toward mergers and acquisitions – consolidation that puts money and power in the hands of a few. Without new, long-term approaches toward this very unforgiving reality, our Guild will find it increasingly difficult to survive. And without approaching our position holistically – as making a living as a writer means many of us will find ourselves crossing over into other realms of our Guild that may not have been where we started (i.e. nonfiction writers may work in online media, etc.) – we may not be fortifying ourselves against the winds of the future as strongly as possible. I have market-based solutions on how we can impact our negotiating leverage both now and beyond.
- EQUITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, PROTECTIONS. It is my long-held belief that it’s not right to point the finger at how studios are treating our Guildmembers when many of our fellow Guildmembers engage in the same practices. For example, staff writers often write episodes from which they are barred from receiving pay – pay that often ends up in showrunners’ pockets. If we want studios to treat us with dignity, fairness, and respect, we must enforce these notions within our own. This extends to writers of color being granted trust to be full WRITERS – not merely “writers of color” relegated to only writing “minority voices” when white/cis writers want to steer clear of potential controversy. I will fight for respect across the board. I will champion/suggest ways to make rooms more equitable, which will increase solidarity across our ranks. I will also seek actionable ways to protect the dignity and intention of our work, because for many of us, we got into this profession not just to be paid writers, but also because we have something to say. I believe, despite our work often being relegated to “content,” the meaning of our intentions in it is still important, worth fighting for, and is craved by “the market.”
- FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE. As artists, often we shun “numbers,” leaving matter of finances to our “teams.” If we’re not active in our own financial protection, then others may actively harm us, and by the time we realize it, we’ll be too late to make demands at the table where our own work is the feast. Residual checks provide a sense of security and, to some extent false comfort. Yes, we have a pension fund, but due to the nature of our jobs, many union members may see very little of any pension. Beyond that, money grown at the rate of the S&P will be expected to supplant income lost from residuals, income not fairly tethered to the rate of inflation, and income not complemented by other equitable compensation (i.e. stock options). That is a lot to ask of 5% a year. I am running for Council to shift how our Guild members approach money. I think it’s in our interest to shift from saving money and paying down debt…to actively growing I will work to see to it that our Guild members become more interested, knowledgeable, and actionable with their money with respect to investing and trading.
At the end of the day, the industry may change, but we are torch bearers of an art, and craft, that is as old as humanity. We walk the line of wanting to live out our dreams and the need to live with both dignity and truth. I am committed to fighting for this reality, and hope you’ll entrust me to fight for us…and for those yet to join us.
I am asking for your vote.
PROUD TO HAVE THE FOLLOWING ENDORSEMENTS
NOVA CYPRESS BLACK, Larry Cohen, Trey Ellis, Matthew Fennell, Oliver Goldstick, Tian Jun Gu, Bill Gullo, Jim Hart, Dianne Houston, Gennifer Hutchison, Chandus Jackson, Jiwon Lee, Geeta Malik, Jessica Mecklenburg, Hawk Ostby, Ed Pomerantz, Veena Sud, Pam Veasey, and Michael Ian Walker.