This Is The 1 Thing
That Concerns Me Most About Hollywood
Jake Lawler is a self-taught screenwriter from Charlotte, North Carolina. Lawler, 24, moved to Los Angeles in August 2020 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a NCAA Division I athlete. After working as a development coordinator at Chaotic Good Studios, he recently earned the role of staff writer on Disney+’s “The Crossover.” When he’s not writing, he does stunts for football commercials.
Tell me a little bit about your foray into the industry. When did you land your first gig and how long did that take?
My path was a little interesting. I played football in college at the University of North Carolina. I decided to graduate a year early from college and forgo my last two years of eligibility playing the sport. Thankfully that decision was met with a lot of support from my head coach, Mack Brown, who encouraged me to pursue a career out here in Hollywood. I wanted to give screenwriting a chance. He connected me with a few people that gave me some advice that I’ve never forgotten.
I couldn’t just come out to LA empty-handed. So I taught myself how to write a pilot and a screenplay on YouTube. I wrote a pilot, and I came out to LA and met with a few people that my coach knew. Those five meetings that I had through him basically matriculated into 25 meetings over the course of the week.
One of the meetings that came from that was my last boss; his name is Luke Ryan and he is the CEO of a small production company based in Los Angeles called Chaotic Good Studios. He hired me as his assistant off of the strength of the pilot that I’d written, and I started working for him. Through refining my craft and working, I connected with my manager and we decided to start working together in May 2021. In March 2022, I got the Disney job. So it’s been pretty quick.
"I was lucky enough to be in an all-Black writers room on a Black show for Disney. It was the first time that many of us had ever been in an all-Black writers room," said Lawler of working on "The Crossover." Derek Luke, left, and Jalyn Hall star on the series.
Recently we’ve seen the demands from both of the unions, WGA and SAG-AFTRA, published and publicized, and we’ve seen how the AMPTP has rejected so many reasonable asks. While the whole thing is concerning, is there something that particularly really bothers you?
Obviously all the issues are necessary enough to strike or else we wouldn’t have done it, but I think it’s just the complete lack of empathy. That is the most concerning thing. Obviously this is a business, and I don’t expect us to be in a circle singing “Kumbaya” together. But, at least, what I’ve been told from people that are older and much more experienced than me, that there was a time where you could actually have a conversation with these people without gritting your teeth and having to put ice in your veins. And I think it’s just the cavalier attitude.
“I don’t even think executives and the powers that be have any concept of how difficult it is to make it as a writer or as an actor right now.”
They’ve been very vocal about wanting to make us homeless. They’ve been very vocal about their complete inability to see any other side but their own. We’ve been called unreasonable; we’ve been called unrealistic. I don’t even think executives and the powers that be have any concept of how difficult it is to make it as a writer or as an actor right now. That’s obviously their fault and they refuse to do anything about it. That’s just the most concerning part of it for me. There is just the craven nature of greed that they show carelessly without any respect to the people that actually have made them rich.
Jalyn Hall, who shared his experiences as a young Black actor with HuffPost, stars in "The Crossover."
Can you give me some insight into the things that people don’t understand about entering the industry as a Gen Zer? Such as our refusal to be complacent with poor conditions?
We’re fighting for our future. As the world burns around our ears, I think that we haven’t really had an ability to dream without fear of economic collapse, ecological decay, global nuclear conflict, political destabilization. It seems like every six months there’s a major event that rips the fabric of our universe apart. A lot of Gen Z people and workers have had to mature very quickly because of that, because of the anxiety on a daily basis of our world.
This labor fight is no different. I’m fighting to have a career, not to just be a part of one-off projects. It’s the only thing that I wanna do. And there’s a lot of Gen Z people who are assistants now who are trying to break in or struggling to break in, that feel the exact same way. I think that regardless of your age, you can be moved by film and TV to a level that leads to the delusion necessary to believe that you can be successful in this business. Without that delusion, without that hope, without that dream, I think that the world is a much darker place.
"Like many other Black creators and creators of color, we are interested in telling stories that reflect who we are and reflect our experiences," Lawler said.
What’s at stake here, and why is the strike so important for our futures?
We are fighting for the future of our industry as we know it. We are one of the first major labor unions that are vocalizing that we need serious regulations against artificial intelligence in the workplace. That will have large ramifications across not only our industry, but also other industries that have been built on the backs of human beings.
It’s about having a sustainable career. Not everybody is going to be a multimillionaire showrunner or a multimillionaire director, a multimillionaire actor, but Hollywood has never been that way. It’s been made up of the majority of the working class in Hollywood, our writers, our actors, our directors that move from project to project and are able to do so comfortably because of the systems that were in place that now have been destroyed by the streaming model and the streaming era.
You used to be able to not have to fight for seven to eight jobs a year to make it a sustainable home. You would be on a show for 20 to 40 weeks, or you would do a movie, and once that movie would come out, you would either participate in some sense in the profit-sharing model or get backend profits because of the DVDs or for airing on television. You’d be able to collect residuals off of that, just like you would in film. Instead, many people are working four weeks in a mini room and then having to stretch that capital across a year if you don’t get any other rooms because everybody’s fighting for the same spots.
You would be able to go on set and be promoted instead of shows constantly getting canceled left and right because of some obscure metric that the studios won’t reveal. All of these issues obviously affect the actors as well. We share the same pain and the people that broke our industry seem to have no interest in fixing it.
What does it mean now that we are experiencing another Hollywood strike?
From what I’ve heard from my more experienced friends that are in the WGA is that the 2007-08 strike was much more divisive. This strike is much different because social media has become such a powerful tool to share anecdotes, share the truth, and get that message out very, very quickly.
Like many other Black creators and creators of color, we are interested in telling stories that reflect who we are and reflect our experiences, reflect people that look like us and give people in front and behind the camera that look like us an opportunity to express themselves. I was lucky enough to be in an all-Black writers room on a Black show for Disney. It was the first time that many of us had ever been in an all-Black writers room. That’s not to say that we need all-Black writers rooms always, but there have been many all-white writers rooms with one Black person or one Latino person or one Asian person. Not only are we simultaneously fighting for the future of writers, but also the prospect of losing all the progress that we thought that we had gained. We’ll continue to fight for the fate of the industry to allow other people — who aren’t white men — from Charlotte, North Carolina, or from wherever, to be able to come into this business and give them an opportunity to tell the stories that matter to us.
How has the current system — be it the prevalence of mini rooms or the state of residuals and compensation — impacted your trajectory?
I was very lucky. The showrunners Kwame Alexander and Damani Johnson made it a significant point to allow or to basically force Disney to allow the writers to go to set. So I was able to go to set for my episode, which is great. My room was 20 weeks, which is obviously much longer than a mini room. I haven’t received any residuals for my episode airing yet. I’m not totally sure, but I believe that your residuals start to appear the quarter after your episode airs. So my episode aired in May or in April of this year. So I imagine I will probably see some residual and sometime in the fall.
I asked one of my friends that was in the writers room when we would see a residual, and she said that she didn’t receive one for her last show until like nine months after it had aired. One of the SAG demands was that they wanted the AMPTP to start paying on time. The AMPTP’s response was, “We’re aware that we don’t pay on time and we understand that there are fees or there are fines for paying late, but we’re still gonna pay late.” They truly just don’t give a shit about us, which is just, I guess it’s not surprising, but it is disheartening.
Actors joined writers on the picket line in July in what has become the biggest Hollywood labor fight in years.
I saw a tweet of yours where you talked about how you got an opportunity, but had to turn it down in solidarity. How did that make you feel?
So as a writer, there are obviously a lot of animated shows, and animated shows are not covered under the WGA, which, again, is fucked up ’cause they should be. A lot of animated shows are covered by TAG, which is the Animation Guild, a sub-sect of IATSE [International Alliance of Theatrical Employees]. I could have taken those jobs, but I think that this is such a different strike. We’ve had so much solidarity from IATSE, obviously from TAG and from SAG now. It wouldn’t sit right with me to be a part of something while the strike continues. And obviously, to each their own, right? For me, I’m fortunate enough to not be in a position where I’m starving. But again, both opportunities — a special one in particular — would have been an absolute dream to work on. The reason why I’ve moved out here and the fact that I have to sort of morally justify the reasons for not chasing a dream because we have greedy executives and corporations is really upsetting.
What do you believe this strike says about the state of capitalism, both in the entertainment industry but also on a broader scale? We’re seeing teachers, hotel workers and more laborers go on strike across the country.
I could wax poetic about the nature of greed and violence across this country and how it’s always been built on the backs of people that were never given a shot to rise above. Which is always and of course, true. But I think the fact that eight of the richest corporations in the world aren’t willing to part with 2% of their profits from Hollywood is just completely staggering, you know?
What’s next for you? Where do you want this to ultimately go?
If we get a majority of what we want, especially the very important issues that plague TV writers and screenwriters on a daily basis in terms of their work, it will be historic. It will serve as a galvanizing point for a larger labor movement across the United States. The rich have gotten richer, especially over the course of the pandemic, which is, I think, just ghastly and disgusting. Something needs to change. People are getting wiser, though, and hopefully the publicity of a major strike by WGA and SAG will embolden other workers to unionize, if they haven’t already, or other unions to push for their fair share. We shouldn’t live in a world where billionaires exist, but they do. And if they do exist, then we gotta do everything we can to knock them down a peg and get what we’re owed.