“I can’t believe I’m headlining this,” Tony Gilroy quipped Thursday as the last speaker at a Writers Guild picket in New York City honoring screenwriters. The Andor creator-writer and Bourne Legacy screenwriter followed three of his contemporaries — former WGA East President Beau Willimon, Mauricio Zacharias and James Hart — in delivering pep talks steeped in Hollywood labor history to more than 300 demonstrators outside Warner Bros. Disney and Netflix offices.
“We cannot be weak,” Gilroy told a picket line that also included actors John Turturro, Jamie Oliver, Stephen Lang and Michael Cyril Creighton. Staying strong was a theme of speeches coming after negotiations between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers appeared to collapse this week.
The current film and television writers strike — the eighth since 1953 and first in 15 years — is in its 17th week. The SAG-AFTRA strike is in its seventh week.
“The longer this strike goes, the tougher it gets, the stronger our solidarity must be,” House of Cards creator Willimon said. “Because we have an obligation not just to ourselves but to those who came before us and to those who come after us.”
Willimon, speaking right before Gilroy, reeled off gains won by writers in seven previous strikes and closed by citing an episode that he wrote for Gilroy’s Star Wars spinoff, Andor. In the episode, about a prison break, inmates chant “One way out” as they battle toward the exits.
“And we know what the one way out is: It’s staying on these streets until we get a deal that’s fair,” Willimon said before leading the crowd in a “One way out” refrain.
Gilroy, the son of a Pulitzer-winning playwright-turned-screenwriter, said he was 4 years old when writers and actors last struck simultaneously in a walkout that lasted 22 weeks. As he later learned, “The Writers Guild and SAG linked arms, and they held on long enough to solidify our relationship with residuals, health care and a pension plan,” he said.
“It almost fell apart at the end,” Gilroy said. “Marriages fell apart. Friendships were broken forever. People really did lose their houses. And that sacrifice was to win all this shit that we take for granted.”
Gilroy has been through two strikes of his own as a WGA member: in 1988, when the walkout threatened to cancel the Oscars, and in 2007-08, when, as he put it, “They asked to pretend that we didn’t know what the Internet was.”
The Writers Guild today “is older and wiser in many ways,” he said. “But it’s younger and more passionate and it’s more connected and it’s faster on its feet.”
“If we’ve learned anything in the last 15 years, it is our value,” Gilroy said. “We are the content. It is our ideas. It’s our ideas that fill the theme parks and the toy stores. It’s our characters on the lunchboxes and the Halloween costumes. … We are the natural resource from which the product is made, and we are tired of being strip-mined.”
He added: “We have one problem, and that’s that the AMPTP does not have their shit together. They do not know what the f*ck they are doing. We are facing across the table now a group of people who have never done this before. They’re doing this for the first time, and they have almost nothing in common but greed.
“They hate each other, but they’ve got to come together and do this,” he said.
Gilroy ended his remarks with an exhortation: “The negotiators on our side need to know that our resolve is there.” Like Willimon, he finished with, “One way out.”
Other writers at the rally included Bill Scheft, who spent 24 years at David Letterman’s late-night shows, and Bob Mittenthal, who scripted episodes for the animated series Packages from Planet X and created the comedy series Welcome Freshmen.
Writers have told Deadline that they took heart from the resumption of talks this month, before they broke off this week after a meeting in person with the chiefs of Disney, Universal, Netflix and Warner Bros., and their lead negotiator.
The guild blasted the meeting, which the AMPTP proposed, as a “lecture” and an attempt to “jam us.”
“It’s hard to believe they would call a meeting like that thinking it would go well,” Mittenthal said.