‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’ Writer Explains Why WGA Strike Matters: ‘We Want to Be Able to Survive’

Hollywood writer Santa Sierra. (Credit: Caroline Carrigan)

As the Writers Guild of America strike marches into its second week, television writer Santa Sierra worries about a changing industry, being able to make a middle-class living, and supporting her family.

Since the strike began on May 2, Sierra has been on the picket line with other guild members as the WGA calls for change.

“We want to get paid what’s fair,” she told Urban Hollywood 411 outside Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. “We want to be respected and we want to be able to survive.”

Sierra was born in the Dominican Republic, and grew up in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, took writing classes, and eventually landed a job writing for the Netflix cartel drama Narcos. Since then, she’s written for FX’s Mayans M.C., and the Starz dramas Power Book III: Raising Kanan and Vida.

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The WGA member says it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to earn a solid middle-class living as a writer.

“With the job as writers, some of us struggle to survive on what we make, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Sierra explained. “You have some of the shows that we’re on, they go on to make a lot of money. Sometimes they make billions of dollars, sometimes they make millions of dollars, and we only get to see probably 1 percent of that.”

Most network shows air for 22 episodes a season, employing writers for almost a year. But streaming and premium cable shows usually have six, eight or ten episodes per season and smaller writers’ rooms, meaning there’s less work and their writers are constantly hustling to find new gigs.

Santa Sierra pickets with friends in Burbank during the WGA writers strike. (Credit: Anita Bennett/Urban Hollywood 411)
Santa Sierra pickets with friends in Burbank during the WGA writers strike. (Credit: Urban Hollywood 411)

Sierra said film and TV writers are undervalued.

“We are the ones that are creating every action, every word that you see on screen,” she said. “So why is it that some of us are struggling to survive? I don’t think it makes any sense.”

Before the WGA strike began, Sierra used her earnings to help financially support her mom.

“I help my mother with her bills. She lives in Massachusetts, so I help her out. Right now because of the strike, she had to [get] a second job until the strike is done,” Sierra explained. “That’s just the way things are. We just want to be able to survive in a city like Los Angeles. This is a very expensive city to live in. We’re not asking for mansions, we’re just asking to be able to reach the middle class.”

Talks between the WGA and the major studios and streamers broke down earlier this month.

The guild represents 11,500 film and television writers, mostly in Los Angeles and New York.

The union is calling for industry standards on the number of writers assigned to each show. According to a breakdown of its contract proposals on the WGA website, the union requested a minimum staff of six writers per project; pay increases; increases in streaming residuals; and rules that would limit the use of artificial intelligence in writing projects.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios and streamers, has said it made a “generous” offer to the union before the talks broke down.

“The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the guild… which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals,” the AMPTP said in a statement on the eve of the strike.

This is the first WGA strike since 2007. The last walkout caused an estimated $2 billion in economic damage.

Since the current strike began, writers and their supporters from other unions, including SAG-AFTRA, have been picketing at designated sites outside Sony, Disney, NBCUniversal, Amazon, Netflix, Fox, Warner Bros., and Paramount.

The walkout has caused an increasing number of shows to halt production, including late-night programs and Saturday Night Live. The MTV Movie & TV Awards canceled their live show on Sunday, only airing clips from past awards and pre-taped acceptance speeches. As the strike continues, there will be more fallout.

On its website, the WGA West is asking members here on the West Coast to picket “each week day, for a 4-hour shift.”

Santa Sierra said she hopes the two sides can reach an agreement soon, but she’s planning “for the worst.”

“The thing about being a writer is that you always have to prepare because you don’t really know what is going to come next,” she explained. “You don’t really know if you’re going to have a job… we’re always prepared for the worst.”