Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Striking Writers & Actors Hit NYC Streets Amid Glum News About Contract Talks

This is Day 114 of the WGA strike and Day 41 of the SAG-AFTRA strike

Writers on a picket line in New York City on Wednesday said they were disappointed by the potential collapse of contract talks with film and television producers but determined to carry on with the strike. 

“The producers are being quite dramatic, and I think what’s going to happen, sadly, is the talks are going to break down,” said Bill Scheft, who received multiple Emmy nominations for writing during his 24 years with David Letterman’s late-night shows and served as a WGA shop steward there. 

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Scheft, who also belongs to SAG-AFTRA, was marching Wednesday morning outside Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery offices in Manhattan at a SAG-AFTRA Young Performers Picket attended by about 100 people. Many woke up to the news that negotiations on the West Coast seemingly had imploded overnight, with the AMPTP leaking its August 11 offer to writers and the guild deriding the move as a ploy “to jam us.”

“Yesterday there was kind of a sense of hope that maybe this was coming to an end,” said Peter R. Feuchtwanger, a recent Academy Nicholl screenwriting fellow and member of the International Screenwriters Development Slate who hopes to join the Guild. “Today, it looks like the end is not exactly in sight yet. But the resolve among writers has not changed in the slightest.”

Wednesday’s picket was light on the advertised young performers. A handful turned out including Swayam “Sway” Bhatia (SuccessionThe Mighty Ducks: Game Changers), Samantha A. Smith (SaturdaysThe Best Man: The Final Chapters) and Julian Lerner (The Wonder Years) to join the procession of chanting, sign-carrying marchers. 

The trio of young SAG-AFTRA members told Deadline they’re keeping busy and creative during a strike that coincides with summer break. Smith called it “disappointing” that it’s gone on this long. “You would have expected or hoped at least that they could have come to an agreement on this,” she said, “and that’s exactly why we’re out here.” 

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“We’ve gotta keep fighting and wait ’til it comes to an end,” Lerner said.

“And we’re not gonna give up,” Bhatia said. “If this has to go on longer, we’ll keep fighting.”

Scheft, a veteran of past WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, guessed that the producers now will try to make a deal with the actors first. “I think that’s an easier deal to make,” he said, “and also it’s better PR because this is a bad look for the AMPTP to have recognizable people on a picket line.”

He added: “And let me just say this about my SAG-AFTRA brethren: The energy they have infused the picket line with — they get it. They get it. And it’s really helped us. I was outside of Silvercup Studios every day for a month, and Ryan Murphy just not giving a shit, and people just blithely walking past [the picket line], really felt like the loser’s locker room. It was the right place to be, but to me it did not show any kind of strength or leverage.”

When SAG-AFTRA went on strike, “I was a little skeptical at first because they hadn’t been out in a long time,” he said.

But he came around. 

“You go through a period when you go on strike where the first days — it’s that high school reunion thing. You see people you haven’t seen in a long time,” Scheft said. “And then I think as, once they were out here and it became very real and it became a matter much more about ‘when is my show coming back?,’ became very personal, very historical, I think the energy shifted and there was an urgency to it. … And that’s the thing, that’s what they brought to it. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Feuchtwanger viewed the AMPTP’s publication of their latest offer as another attempt to “drive a wedge through this strike.” He said it won’t work. “Every time they try to do something divide us, it backfires,” Feuchtwanger said. “It just becomes rage fuel for picket lines and I don’t think they understand that.”

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