In a memo acquired by the Hollywood Reporter, Bob McPhail, assistant chief counsel for ABC Signature, a Disney subsidiary, reminded showrunners for Disney shows that they “are not excused from performing your duties as a showrunner and/or producer on your series as a result of the WGA strike.”
Showrunners are multi-hyphenate writer-producers, which means they both write and produce. But to ask a showrunner to come to work and not make any adjustments to the script, dialogue, plot, or story feels like a huge catch-22. Any writing done for a WGA-struck company is scab work, and Disney putting pressure on employees to show their allegiance to the corporation over the union is... not a great look, to say the least. Adding to that, many (if not all) showrunners are in the WGA themselves.
The letter is dated May 3—two days after the strike began. In it, McPhail says that a showrunner’s agreements with a studio—whether that’s Disney, ABC, or another production—requires that showrunners “perform your showrunner and/or producing duties even if the WGA attempts to fine you for performing such services during the strike.”
The letter also includes a FAQ that is written as if writers aren’t already unionized, and contains leading questions like “Do writers have to strike when the WGA calls a strike?” “I have heard that the WGA can discipline or fine members who continue working during a strike. Is this true?” and “May I be replaced during a strike?”
The FAQ attached to the letter also outlines that showrunners will be asked to perform “a. through h. services”—these are adjustments that occur during the production process, such as cutting for time, making line adjustments, and generally allowing producers to create a cohesive narrative during post-production. While technically speaking these are duties that the WGA states non-writers can perform on WGA-covered projects, the strike rules issued by the WGA clearly prohibit hyphenate union members from doing any of these “a. through h. services” during the strike: “The Rules prohibit hyphenates (members who are employed in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including the ‘(a) through (h)’ functions.”
It is genuinely incredible to imply that writer-producers should risk WGA fines and retaliatory action from the union if they feel like keeping their jobs—this is how you set fire to any goodwill there might’ve been at the beginning of this action. You can read the full letter and FAQ at the Hollywood Reporter.
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