Veteran TV comedy showrunner and member of the WGA Negotiating Committee Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (My Name Is Earl) worked the guild’s picket line at Netflix on Day 1 of the writers strike. She spoke with Deadline about how the negotiations broke down,
DEADLINE: Danielle, what was it like in the room in the final hours?
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: I think that the main takeaway is what didn’t happen in the finals hours, which is we didn’t get a fair deal. And I think that’s what we’re there to do. We’ve spent the last six weeks wanting it, trying to get it, and I think what we found was that we were being devalued by the studios, and we’re not going to be okay with that. We’re not going to roll over and say, it is what it is. We fought in 2007-08, I was part of that fight.
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And we’re here now. It’s not something that we want to bring to the town. We recognize that it’s a heavy thing to do, but we were left with no choice, so we’re here to say we want our fair share, which it feels very reasonable to us.
DEADLINE: Last night, when the guild put out a statement and then a note that went out to members, they said that WGA was seeking increase in pay and benefits by $429 million over three years, but the studios only offered $86 million, that AI they didn’t want to talk about; the difference was so wide. What was their mentality? Do you think they wanted a deal or do you think they thought they could bluff you guys out?
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: I can’t speculate I wasn’t in the room and I can’t speculate on what their thought processes and what they’re doing. I can only tell you about my thought process and our thought process. We’re united, 97.85% of us voted yes on the strike authorization vote they gave me and us as a negotiating committee, the power to go in there and say: We’re serious. There’s something broken in town, and we need to fix it. And, we just weren’t met with any sort of seriousness with regard to where our problems are, and so here we are needing to fight.
DEADLINE: Where does it go from here? You guys are out on the streets. Some people have said this could even go longer than 2007-08.
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: I can’t say. I know we’re in a day-to-day situation. And I don’t want to speculate and talk about how long this will be because we just don’t know. What I do know is that we are extremely united, all writers across all of our industry, I’m talking about comedy/variety, daytime, feature writers, episodic television, which is what I primarily do. We’re extremely united, we’re fighting for each other.
This affects all of us. I think a big portion of us are episodic television writers, but we are fighting for the feature writers of feature writers are writing for us, comedy/variety. A lot of our members are on the East. We’re all there are out today, on the east coast doing this too because we all value ourselves and what we bring to the table and what we’re asking for is a small piece, a very small piece.
So you gave the dollar value, which we think shows how far apart we are. But if we got everything we originally asked for, it’s less than 2% of the profits they make off of what the product is that we create for them.
DEADLINE: Talk about that huge gap between what you guys are asking for and what the studios are offering?
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: Yeah, I think we don’t see anybody lose their jobs. We recognize that this is a tough time in town and I feel like it’s all a product of corporate greed, which is kind of the things that you’re talking about. I think we move forward, when they take us seriously and when they recognize our value. We recognize our value today. How many days will it take until they recognize our value is kind of the question to me and I don’t know that. I just don’t know the answer to that. I know, as a member of the negotiating committee, I can say we are ready to negotiate it anytime that they want to take it seriously, and they want to see our value. And when they’re ready to recognize that the career of being a writer in this town is in great jeopardy.
DEADLINE: If the AMPTP were to reach out to you guys tomorrow and say, okay, look, it’s been one day, we want to talk again, is the negotiating committee willing to get back in the room?
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: We are ready today.
DEADLINE: Last question. You talked about tough times for people. Some people are very worried that this will impact younger writers who will not be able to pay their rent this month. vendors in the Greater Los Angeles County will see a drop in small businesses that they work with. What do you say as one of the negotiating committee members to those people who have those concerns?
SANCHEZ-WITZEL: I say this is very heavy and I can say in terms of what the mood was in the room. This is extremely difficult to do and it’s difficult to ask our writers and members of our union, you need to do this. It’s difficult to do this to the town. I walked on picket lines in 2007-08, we know what the effect is. And to that I would say, the studios put us here, they put us here and we don’t want to be here and this is not something that we want to do. But what we will not do is devalue ourselves to make this not happen and that is what we were asked to do in that room and we won’t do it.
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