Writers#039; strike hurts interns in Hollywood

by Beacon Staff • October 14, 2007

The word on "The Colbert Report"-and all the other late-night comedy shows that require a constant supply of one-liners-is "rerun." As the Writer's Guild of America's strike drags into its second week, popular sitcoms like "Grey's Anatomy" are slowly watching their stock of canned episodes run dry.

And entertainment workers from cameramen to caterers to Emerson interns are struggling to find work.

Some of the 103 students in Emerson's Los Angeles internship program are already suffering from the strike, in which unionized writers are fighting for greater compensation for the reproduction of their work online, and the situation will worsen as the strike proceeds, the program's directors said.

As writers strike, interns working on shows that require fresh material, the same ones that are being rerun now, are losing work.

"If the strike continues through the spring, the usual opportunities we have out here will get smaller," said Jim Lane, the program's executive director.

During a mandatory orientation for the 102 students slated to work in Los Angeles next semester, David Griffin, Emerson's director of external programs, advised them to be flexible because there's no way to predict how long the strike will last.

"We'll definitely get them internships but they may not be what the students hoped for, particularly in TV comedy and drama," he said.

After senior Jaclyn Poko's internship in the writers' room for "Chuck" and "Gossip Girl" at Warner Studios ceased, she joined the picket line.

She had been working 24-hour weeks, answering phones and doing office work for the writing teams all semester. In the days before the strike, she said she had to weigh her options once her responsibilities were gone.

"The school contacted me and suggested I find a new internship," the TV/video major said. "Rather than do that, I actually decided to help volunteer with the strike."

Poko said Emerson's internship coordinators called each internship supervisor and e-mailed all the students in the program to inform them of their options in the event of a strike. Poko negotiated with the college and will receive her internship credit based on her fulfillment of several proposals, including keeping a daily journal of her four-hour shifts on the picket lines.

A highlight entry of that journal was when she participated in the residential, on-location strike of a filming of an episode of "Desperate Housewives." Eva Longoria, who was the subject of at least one of the writers' chants, spoke briefly to the crowd, expressing her support and bringing them free pizza.

Debra Epstein, a part-time faculty member at Emerson Los Angeles and member of the Writers Guild of America, sees the strike as a great opportunity for students.

"In terms of students who want to become writers, it's actually a very effective networking tool," she said. "That's where all the experienced writers are."

Epstein invited Timothy Lea, a writer and co-executive producer of FX's "The Riches", to speak with her Writing for Primetime Drama class in Los Angeles on Nov. 9.

Lea, who coordinates teams of writers as a strike captain, encouraged students to be as active as possible, because they stand to benefit from the concessions writers can get now.

"We are fighting so that the writers whose voices will shape the content of evolving media are fairly compensated for their work," he said in an e-mail to The Beacon following his presentation.

Epstein also warned that students who commit to non-union work could jeopardize their careers, as union membership is required to work on all network shows and most cable programs.

While the strike is having an impact on workers throughout the entertainment industry, Kerri McManus, Los Angeles' director of internships, said there are many opportunities in Hollywood that will not be affected by the strike, including documentary-style shows like those on the History and Discovery channels.

Senior Caitlin Bauld, who will be attending the LA program this spring, said if the strike lasts she will mostly likely not get the internship she wants at a children's network like Nickelodeon.

"It's scary because I'm a writer as well and I definitely support them because their words are the show; without writers there's no show," the TV/video major said. "I'm just a little nervous and really hoping this gets settled before I go out there."