Candidate for WGAW BOARD

Robb
chavis

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ABOUT ME

I joined the Guild in 2014 and immediately knew things had to change.  As a former lawyer, I recognized that the way our agents represented us was a conflict of interest.  As a former advertising executive, I saw that although writers were the most essential people in this town we’re often treated like an afterthought.  I was in one of the diversity writing programs, but didn’t get a job during the staffing season following my completion of the program.   A year later I got my first staffing job and did two consecutive shows at Staff Writer before going an entire year without working again.  I was concerned I only had value as long as I didn’t cost anything to production.  My insurance lapsed.  After wondering if I was going to have to wait for the next staffing season, I finally got an opportunity to work on a new show, starting again at Staff Writer.

That show got renewed and I finally started moving up the ladder.  I’m now a mid-level writer with a career that has started to gain some traction.  But I know how easily I could still be making rounds at Staff Writer.  All of that feels incredibly close.  I remember the fear of not working.  I think writers who are still at the beginning of their career like I am have a different set of needs and concerns that we want addressed by the Guild, and I’m running for the WGAW Board to represent those writers.

 

CREATING SUSTAINABLE CAREERS 

When I arrived here in Los Angeles and started to understand how the entertainment industry worked, I saw that writers had one of the least stable and sustainable careers in this business.  Our creative executives at the network and studios have office jobs with vacation days, year-round employment, benefits and 401k accounts.  Our agents work in Class-A office buildings with careers built on salaries and bonuses.  Our jobs and assignments last only as long as absolutely necessary to get the job done and we are let go the moment that work is over to keep costs as low as possible.   

The Guild has worked to create stability for all of us.  Health and Pension.  Minimums.  Limited span.  But as the industry changes and evolves, new areas of opportunity are not built as solidly as the rules we have in place based on the way network television works.  Streamers and Cable companies aren’t scrappy startups taking wild risks on edgy content.  They are award winning, stand-alone brands and platforms that dominate awards season, create outstanding content with incredible talent, and in many cases have created completely new revenue streams on their own unbundled platforms.  So why are they allowed to pay below Guild minimums for the same writing talent?  Why are they allowed to send everyone home when the writing is done so that writers never become producers, and producers never become Showrunners?  The platform of distribution for the things we make shouldn’t be the lottery that dictates how much writers get paid.

Beyond shoring up our financial stability, we also need to ensure that we have the opportunity to grow.  We need to make sure we help promote those who are artificially being held down at the lower levels.  We also need to make sure that writers who are lucky enough to climb up the ladder quickly because they staff on successful returning shows are prepared and have the skillset they need when they attain producer titles.  Titles don’t always reflect ability and experience, and while we do a lot to mentor and train writers at the lowest and highest levels, there is a critical need to help those in the middle where many careers stall out.

 

FIXING THE PROBLEMS WE CAN FIX OURSELVES 

It’s easy to focus on the work the Guild does to negotiate on behalf of writers with outside entities.  We’re fighting hard to resolve the conflict of interest with the ATA and the way Agencies run their business.  Every three years we negotiate with the AMPTP to raise minimums and define residuals and payment terms.  But there are also issues we can solve within our membership.  The diversity of the writing staff in every room is dictated by the Showrunner.  Those are our members and we can hold them accountable.  Ensuring women have opportunities at all levels within writers’ rooms is dictated by the Showrunner.  We stand alongside those Guild members every day and we can hold them accountable.  Staff Writers are asked to repeat the position over and over again, diverse writers are let go when diversity programs no longer pay for them, writers of color and women are paid less than their white male counterparts.  The membership of this Guild has the ability to change things using power we already possess.  We don’t need to ask permission.  We don’t need to negotiate or fight or strike.  We have the ability to make our own changes and improve the lives of writers ourselves.

 

ELIMINATING THE HAZING PROCESS FOR EARLY WRITERS

The second thing the Guild can focus on is continuing to push to not only raise minimums, but also limit the frequency that writers can be held to those minimums.  There should not be an inherent hazing process by which writers are asked to be Staff Writers across three or four shows and build experience across 30 or 40 episodes of television before they are given the opportunity to move up.  Cancelled shows don’t mean that the experience didn’t happen.  Why does the career success of a Staff Writer require them to be lucky and “successful” on a show where the Staff Writer rarely has the ability to impact that success?  Yet everyone knows that certain studios will try to hold you at Staff Writer as many times as they can.  And everyone knows that you will automatically be offered the minimum for your first feature.  Or that certain studios pay less or won’t allow you to develop, regardless of merit or value to the show.  We trade these war stories like they’re funny, but in many cases our membership and our Showrunners have the ability to help impact these offers and decisions.  This doesn’t have to be a hands-off process.  Individually, we’re all happy to have an offer to work, or the opportunity to make the show you worked so hard on, but the more powerful and influential among us need to remember what it means to be early in our careers and pay for the writer of color who was free last year, pay for the team that you hired because they are worth so much more than a single individual, promote the Staff Writer who has already done 30 episodes of television and whose writing you loved and who did a great job in the meeting.  You picked them because they are valuable.  Treat them that way… and make sure the studios you work with treat them that way too.

 

ENSURING WRITERS ARE NOT LEFT OUT OF THE FUTURE OF THIS BUSINESS

Finally, this business is inevitably changing.  We’ve seen this before. The music business changed.  Film has changed and continues to change.  Television is in the middle of a tremendous shift and the need for writers isn’t going to disappear.  But as it changes, we need to make sure writers are always receiving our fair share of the pie.  There isn’t a digital arms race for streaming platforms going on right now because no one thinks these new platforms are capable of making money.  We know better.  And with the AMPTP negotiations coming up, we need to fight so our importance isn’t minimized.

I am running because I think the work of the WGAW Board is incredibly important.  I have a unique blend of legal, business, and creative experience that makes me well suited to do this work and fight for a better future for our membership.  I hope I earn your vote and the opportunity to work hard for all of us.

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