How The Writers Community Has
Inspired Me During The Strike
Sofia Brown De Lopez
Sofia Brown de Lopez is a 25-year-old queer Mexican American screenwriter from Monterey, California. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2019 and remained in Los Angeles to pursue her career in storytelling. But as she was gaining momentum, threats of a recession and a potential writers strike put a halt to her Hollywood career. In 2021, Brown de Lopez, who is working toward joining the WGA, took a job as a legal assistant to help pay her bills.
Where were you when the writers strike was announced? How did that make you feel?
I wasn’t surprised that WGA was going to go on strike. I was following the news very closely. I watched the strike authorization vote pass with such a wide margin, so I knew that the Writers Guild was going to stand behind its leadership 100% of the way. Frankly, I had a lot of doubts that the studios would be able to meet the very pressing, very important demands.
I remember when it was finally announced that the WGA was formally going on strike. It was overwhelming. Obviously, there was a lot of uncertainty there. A couple of days after, I met up with my writers group, some of whom are in the WGA and some of us are not. We all had this cathartic open discussion about what the strike meant — the fear and uncertainty of none of us knowing when we were gonna be able to go back to work. We also talked about the excitement of knowing that our leadership and that all these writers were going to be standing up and fighting for the viability of our career in the future. That was really something to see and experience.
Were you prepared for the strike?
In 2021, there was a lot of momentum behind me that my reps felt as well. We were picking up a lot of traction, and I was getting some really great meetings. Then, the fear of the strike coupled with this looming recession — that’s been looming for what feels like years now — cut the momentum short very suddenly. I found myself having to find a day job very quickly, but a role that still allows me to write. I currently work at a law firm in Los Angeles County.
I personally had been preparing because I had seen, along with a lot of people, the warning signs for months. I had been talking with friends about how, as early as last September, executives were not taking meetings. It seemed like the whole town was packing up early in preparation for the strike. I had friends who were putting money in savings. Then again, I know plenty of people who didn’t have that ability, or who were working on shows until the very last minute. Plenty of my peers have picked up Uber jobs or part-time service worker jobs just to get them through the strike. I also have peers who have taken advantage of programs like Green Envelope Aid, which provides grocery resources for support staff who’ve been laid off due to the strike. It’s a mixed bag of how much you’re really able to prepare in such an uncertain time.
Actors joined writers on the picket line in July in what has become the biggest Hollywood labor fight in years.
How has the strike impacted the trajectory of your career? How does this make you feel about the future?
I genuinely am not sure what the trajectory looks like from here. Hollywood is uncertain even in the best of times. I was working in development for a couple of years after I graduated, and things were really starting to pick up in the writing department to the point where I could no longer work full-time and still pursue writing. I actually left that job at the end of 2021. I was extremely hopeful, very optimistic, guns blazing. To have all of that be cut so short by just the idea of a strike potentially happening in 2023 — so almost a full year before the strike even formally started — it felt like this barrier of entry was being raised higher and higher.
The strike is extremely important for the viability of a career as a screenwriter, for everyone. But it is especially important for those of us with diverse identities. In a recession, when times get tough or when you have the threat of things like AI looming over the profession, the first people to be shown the door are those people from diverse backgrounds and marginalized identities.
“The strike is extremely important for the viability of a career as a screenwriter, for everyone. But it is especially important for those of us with diverse identities.”
If a deal gets made and it fulfills WGA’s demands, we could still have a viable career in this business. And if not, I think a lot of us, myself included, really have to reconsider what that viable path looks like. But it’s impossible to make it in the industry without a little bit of a constant, hopeful spirit. For me, even though I’m worried about the future of my career, doing things like pursuing short films and making my own thing helps me maintain hope that there may be a different path forward. It may not be the one I was envisioning when I graduated college, but there may still be a way forward in the industry.
What does this strike mean for diverse talent and the barriers to growth?
When I first started working with my reps, who are the most amazing pair of people I have had the pleasure to work with in this industry, the attitude was sort of, “Well, Hollywood loves diversity, right?” They want disabled voices; they want queer people to write on queer shows; they want Mexican Americans to write on these Latino-led shows. Then, very quickly, mini-rooms became more and more prevalent. [“Miniature” writers rooms have fewer writers in the room to support storytelling.] I really think that COVID-19 was the turning point for that, when mini rooms started becoming the norm. Then it became, “Well, we’re only looking for upper-level staff writers.” Historically, the only people who’ve been able to get to the upper level — because this idea of actually hiring diverse staff is so new in Hollywood — tend to be people from very specific backgrounds, people who don’t look like me. You end up losing all this new talentthat maybe has never staffed before, maybe once or twice.
Then, that is coupled with the cancellation of Latino-led shows like “Gordita Chronicles” and “Gentefied.” The cancellation of certain shows about underrepresented groups feel like blow after blow. Then, there’s “A League of Their Own,” which made such huge strides forward in terms of queer representation, especially Black queer representation. For it to do as well as it did and not be supported is crazy to me. I also think of “Minx,” which was rescued by Starz. Its second season just came out, and the show is all about women embracing their sexuality; and for it to only get one season on its original streamer, it feels like a systematic rollback of all the strides that we’ve made since 2015.
Members of WGAE and SAG-AFTRA hold signs while walking a picket line in solidarity with writers on children and family shows outside of NBCUniversal on Aug. 29 in New York City.
Is there a particular topic on the demands list that you’re concerned about?
I’m very concerned about AI, especially whether it’s going to write the first draft. A writer is going to be brought in to revise it, have to rewrite it and get paid significantly less for that. AI cannot write scripts the way human beings can write scripts. So, AI is a huge concern. I also think that actors have a huge concern when it comes to AI, especially background actors. The idea that you could be scanned for AI without your consent, and then used in perpetuity in the background of movies is terrifying to me — and I’m not even an actor.
My second big concern is residuals. We need to stop treating film and TV like a Silicon Valley startup. I understand why streamers were considered new media when the last deal was made, but they no longer are; they should be paying residuals, and they should be sharing their viewership data with everyone, so that writers, directors and actors know how much people are watching the shows they’ve created, and know how much they should be fairly paid for those. Residuals are how this career has been viable for so long. For so many people, you’re able to write on a show that ends up getting reaired again, again and again. Then, you can make hundreds of dollars; that’s a huge part of your supplemental income.
My third concern, which is maybe my most esoteric concern, is the idea that shows and movies can just be erased without warning, without any viable reason. It is concerning not just because of the hard work that so many creators have poured into those projects, but also because if you can erase media without warning then you can essentially control a huge aspect of human culture.
Seemingly, the media that is erased most frequently tends to be media that is making strides in terms of diverse representation. I have very deep concerns about how the erasure of media can be used to influence conversations that we should be having as a society, and also be used to influence what we value as culturally important. I think about art that we see in museums today, as well as art that has been destroyed due to one reason or another, and how that influences what historical art we see as important. I worry that by being able to erase media so easily, we may be erasing things that have or could have huge cultural impact. I think about things like “Star Trek,” which I was raised on, even though I don’t think there was any “Star Trek” airing when I was a kid. Yet because you had access to it, these shows in the ’90s have huge staying power in our culture. Then, it ends up having this huge revival over the last few years with CBS and Paramount+ — and that would never have happened if we just erased it when the second series was made in the ’80s and ’90s. I have no doubt “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would have been canceled after its first season if it was made today. Yet it ended up being one of the most popular shows with time.
What do you think this strike says about the ability, or lack thereof, to be a “working actor” these days?
We need to start valuing the art over the bottom line. Living in Los Angeles is already extremely expensive. It’s a barrier to entry within the industry to have to live in a place like Los Angeles or New York City. By diminishing things such as residuals, by making it so that someone working on a feature only gets paid for the first and final draft and has to do all this free work in between, you are raising that barrier of entry so high. When you make everything about the bottom line, it is a killer of dreams. Selling one thing isn’t a career. You want to have that longevity; you want to have people who start in the industry as staff writers and end up becoming showrunners and mentoring the next generation. If you don’t have that, what happens to the industry in 20 years? When the showrunners who have come up through the industry have all retired? When potential mentors were never able to break into the industry?
What does this strike mean for Gen Z and preserving entertainment for the next generation? I feel like this strike is honestly emblematic of a larger and much-needed labor overhaul in this country.
I absolutely agree. You can see that with all these strikes from all these industries coinciding together: the hotel workers strike in Southern California, the UPS Teamsters threatening to go on strike, a nurses strike in Texas. The message that I want people to take away is that workers have power. There’s power in community. Community change is possible, even when you feel like the cards are stacked against you. The power of community and community organizing will be the thing that sees you through to the other side.
I’m going to reference a movie that I loved when I was a kid; in “A Bug’s Life,” the premise of the movie is the ants finally realized they outnumber the grasshoppers. They staged a rebellion. I think that metaphor is very applicable to the current strike: workers far outnumber executives. A lot of us are at that tipping point, and it’s about time that we’re all recognizing the power we have in each other.
A lot of people look at the film industry, and they see the strikes as vapid because our job is perceived as “fun.” We’re writers; we’re actors. But it’s important to emphasize that a lot of us are working class, even if we’re working in a place that seems as glamorous as Hollywood. Because of that, a lot of us have solidarity with other workers, who are unionized or not, who also deserve to be working under fairer conditions.
The hope for a lot of us is that once the strike is over, we’ll be able to pick that momentum back up where we left it off. But of course, there’s always that uncertainty that you’ll never be able to get that momentum back.