Credit Where It’s Due

I don’t have enough TV writing to my name to be a guild member — yet — but I’m proud the union put it all on the line to allow creative talent to labor on.

Author: Reggie Henke ’12

I’ve lived and labored in “Tinseltown” 10 years now, hustling, scrapping, sometimes steadily but more often in frustrating fits and starts, ever aimed at a twinkling north star. I’m trying to be a TV writer. This spring, I crossed an important threshold; I earned my first “Written By” credit. I’d done it! There was my name in the end crawl, smack dab where I wanted it on screen. When I first heard, I couldn’t stop grinning like a nervous chimpanzee. I texted family and friends, prouder than hell. The heart reactions rolled in.

Days later we went on strike, and everything shut down. (I say “we,” but I’m not even a guild member. Not enough credits. Not yet.)

The Writers Guild of America made fair asks, first thing. But negotiations quickly cratered as the studios refused to bargain in good faith, and talks clammed up completely. Days off work turned into weeks, turned into months. The actors joined the indignant block party. Months melted into whole seasons. Historically hot ones. For so long, nobody was even talking about talking. What I could once conceive of as a minor speed bump began to shred my tires. Any career momentum I could claim was running on rims, spraying very concerning sparks.

A vibe started to shift, something smelled familiar. Wasn’t there already a year, like a few years ago, where the industry shut down? I’m almost positive, yes. I remember it sucking pretty hard.

Writers Guild Strike Henke

This strike needed to happen. Not to give me time to reflect, but it did do that too. Too much time, too much of it in front of the TV, to be honest. It made me feel impossibly behind the curve, too old to be so youthfully naive. Made me a realist. Made me question, is a TV writing career even viable? Or have I been skinning my knees through the sand for a mere shimmery mirage? Writing on one hit show then the next, until you finally retire to your huge ranch paid for by reruns? Minus a mogul or two, I think that particular path might be a myth. Crap.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had shown their hand. Writers deserved an amorphous gig economy over the comfort of career tracks. Bigwig bonuses were cool, fair compensation for creatives was not. And it went beyond better residuals and base pay. Other watershed, nuanced issues hung in the balance, over my head; protections against artificial intelligence, access to streaming data, the fundamental existence of writers’ rooms. At times I felt lost in the massive moment, a baby flea on Bigfoot’s back. I tried to tune out and trust leadership, the negotiating committee. They got this, dude. Stop refreshing Deadline.

Don’t get me wrong, I hit the picket lines plenty. Sometimes I slipped and called them protests. The honk-scored sidewalk camaraderie was genuinely inspiring; other new and wannabe writers, waving signs shoulder to shoulder with showrunners, every level in between. Generosity like gratis mini Gatorades and gifted taco trucks kept moods boosted, even when we were being booed or mooned (I saw only one butt, personally). For 148 days we got our sweat on and our steps in, together, before solidarity paid off. The studios returned to the table, talks finally resumed and a fair resolution was finally reached. We got what we asked for, finally. The actors are still out there though, as I type this, and we’re still showing up in support.

The writers’ strike is over and I’m just getting going. But really, I’ve been going for a decade. I drove cube trucks and ran call sheets, at first. It was a good long while before anybody allowed me near any writing. I crawled and clawed at it nevertheless, circling closer and closer by the year, starting to see some glimpses. I eventually got gigs where I heard writing, was in the same room as it. I wrote down others’ writing, proofed it, distributed it. I did some uncredited writing, wrote on spec, wrote snappy lines for a member of the Black Eyed Peas’ smart watch’s digital assistant. But none of that is technically TV writing. To be a TV writer you need TV writing credits, and I have one now. Let’s go! Hopefully more follow, obviously. Enough to call a career, if I’m diligent, patient . . .

A career is a funny thing. It cranks on life’s handlebars, but it is not life. What you do, not what you are, etc. Family, that’s something real. Yet children cost money, I’ve heard. So I shuffle forward, fingers crossed, feeling queasily optimistic that I’ll get to have any, or a mortgage, doing this. Feeling like maybe I’m lying to myself, trusting security will come paired with the dream. Have faith. The good guys won! God forbid if they hadn’t. Productions are ramping back up, or are things contracting? I’m champing at the bit.

Would I do it all over, choose this chaos? I know I would. Hollywood makes magic, often cruelly and callously, but magic for sure. I’m still wet behind the ears, I’ve only cast a couple silly spells — consider me addicted all the same. More credits will come, of course. Meanwhile, I’m rooting for the Screen Actors Guild, for myself, for laborers everywhere. Keep your heads up, killers. We got this.

Reggie Henke is a comedy writer and producer who has written for Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave. He lives in Los Angeles.