TV Writers Advised to Take Own Notes if Assistants Strike

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TV writers may soon have to take their own notes as their assistants will be on the picket lines if IATSE calls a strike on Monday morning.

Writers assistants and script coordinators provide the essential support functions that keep writers’ rooms operating. They take notes, compile drafts and make sure revisions are distributed to production crews.

Those workers can earn as little as $16 an hour, making them among the lowest paid on a production, and raising their wages has been one of the key demands from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The union previously made clear that anyone doing struck work will be considered a scab, and will jeopardize their future membership in the union. On Friday, a group of script coordinators and writers assistants published guidelines specifically for writers and showrunners, explaining how to avoid activity that would be considered “strikebreaking.”

“As a general rule of thumb, if your Writers’ Assistant or Script Coordinator usually does a particular task, do not assign that task to someone else,” the document states. “When you ask anyone, particularly another underpaid member of the Writers’ Office Support Staff or other Assistant, to be a strikebreaker, you are jeopardizing their future in this industry, and forcing them to make a difficult decision, to compromise themselves out of loyalty to you. Don’t be that Showrunner.”

The Writers Guild of America, which led the last major Hollywood strike in 2007-08, has expressed general solidarity with IATSE. But it has not laid out its own guidelines for members.

“We know writers have many questions about what to do if a strike is called,” the WGA said in a statement Friday. “In the event of a strike, the Guilds will provide immediate guidance to WGA members on how to support our IATSE colleagues.”

The writers themselves are covered by the WGA agreement, and will not be on strike. But it’s possible, given the general chaos and confusion that would come with an IATSE strike, that work in writers’ rooms will slow to a trickle anyway. Individual writers may opt to slow down the pace of their work as a sign of solidarity with IATSE.

The guidance from the group of script coordinators and writers assistants states that writers will be allowed to take their own notes, but that if those notes are shared among other staff, “such action will be considered strikebreaking.”

The document also spells out that showrunners can email scripts to network or studio employees, but that “any person other than the Showrunner or the Studio/Network/Streamer employees who distributes scripts will be considered a strikebreaker.”

The document also specifies consequences for strikebreaking, which can include fines, suspension and expulsion from IATSE.

“Strikebreakers will be discovered and evidence of such actions will be documented,” the document states.

The document also advises script coordinators and writers assistants to make sure that showrunners can access the show’s files by the strike deadline, which is 12:01 a.m. on Monday, and that they should thereafter refuse to provide access if a strike is called.

“Any Showrunner asking a Writers’ Assistant or Script Coordinator to ‘resend’ materials to which they have already been provided access is asking the Writers’ Assistant or Script Coordinator to be a strikebreaker,” the document states.

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