Did You Write That Spec Script? Writers Detail How They Stayed Creative During WGA Strike

Writers strike
Getty Images

As writers hit the picket lines during the 146-day WGA strike, they were absolutely barred from writing anything for the Hollywood studios and streamers. But there was no reason they couldn’t write their own scripts on spec. Now, as Hollywood’s writers return to work, those TV pilot and movie scripts written over the course of the strike could make their way to market.

There were plenty of jokes on social media about writers taking advantage of the strike to tackle passion projects that had long been put off due to other obligations. So, with the strike over, how many actually did it?

Variety spoke with several WGA members to see what they worked on during their months on strike and what they did to stay creative. One writer said he had a chance to write a comic book for one of the major publishers during the strike, which he called a “nice distraction.”

“I’ve loved comic books my entire life, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to actually write one,” he said. “While the muscles are similar, they are a little bit different. But, stories are stories. In a strange way, I have some solace in that fact that in this ever-changing media landscape, even if in the future streaming gives way to crystals beaming stories directly into our prefrontal cortex, story structure will always be a valuable commodity.”

The scribe, who preferred not to be named, also took time to delve back into an old miniature wargame hobby.

“My projects outside of the the film and television industry have included a return to Warhammer 40,000 on the weekends,” he said. “Some friends of mine from high school convinced me to start building a new army. I have an Iron Hands army, by the way, if that matters.”

Another writer, Rebecca Klingel, said the strike led her to look through her notepad at different ideas she has jotted down over the years, and figure out what to make of them.

“I went up to a cabin by myself and I wrote all of those [ideas] on Post-It notes, posted them on the wall and decided to see if I could make a movie out of that,” Klingel said. “Over two days, I outlined it, and then I went back up there a few weeks later and wrote it. I wasn’t able to do it at home. I felt very stressed out during this period.”

Klingel compared the months on strike to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when she “didn’t feel productive or creative at all.” But rather than lapse into not writing anything, she viewed it as a chance to do the type of writing she did before she was a professional.

“I decided that I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do with no notes at all, because I didn’t know what Hollywood was going to look like on the other side,” she said.

Jorge Ramirez-Martinez wrote a half-hour dramedy pilot, which he said was a good exercise since he is primarily known as a drama writer. “My manager was like, ‘Wow, this is great. Now I can put you up for comedy!’” he said.

He then began working on original song lyrics, which inspired an idea for a music drama feature, and even took up fashion sketching. But the pressure of living off his savings made Ramirez-Martinez consider his options.

“At times it was difficult, because it’s like, OK, how long is this going to go on? Do I really needing to start making dresses for income? Or what else can I go do?”

One writer and his friends came up with a unique own solution to “stave off the depression and misery” as he put it: Hold their own writers’ room. The writer and his friends would log onto Zoom every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and do “half therapy, half f—ing around.” While it helped them, the group soon recognized it was not the same as being in a writers’ room on a real show.

“The pace was so much slower,” the writer said. “It was more relaxed in a way that was probably not conducive to creating the best stuff. I think that the pressure of a writers’ room and knowing that there’s a finite amount of time, helps spur ideation.”

Nevertheless, the unofficial writers’ room did get a lot done. For a 30-page comedy pilot, they now have a Google Doc with over 400 pages of notes.

“I think the biggest difficulty was trying to discern what was busy work and work that was keeping us sane and what was actually usable,” he said.

From Variety US