Amid the heat in Los Angeles, the cast and crew members of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul hit the picket lines Tuesday at Sony Pictures Studios. Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, Rhea Seehorn, Jesse Plemons and Matt Jones were among the stars seen strolling past the familiar rainbow in Culver City.
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“Honestly, it just feels like it’s just beginning,” Paul told Deadline as the SAG-AFTRA strike approaches Day 50 on Friday. “It’s important for everyone out there to know we’re not going anywhere. … We’re fighting the good fight. We’re standing in solidarity with every SAG member out there, trying to make ends meet, put food on the table and do what we love.”
One of the key proposals from both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, the latter of which remains a sticking point in negotiations with the AMPTP, is a success-based residual for projects created for streaming services.
Given that, since premiering in 2008, Breaking Bad has become one of the highest-rated TV series of all time, and Cranston reflected on being able to share in the success of the series and why SAG-AFTRA will continue to fight for an equivalent model in the streaming era.
Creating content for streaming is “not becoming common as much as it is the standard,” the six-time Emmy winner said. “Broadcast is diminishing, year after year after year, and even if you do a broadcast show, your residual is going to be greatly cut. When we first started coming up in this business, a long time ago, we relied on residuals to be able to pay our bills. I mean, part of the equation of working was residuals, international residuals, DVD sales and things like that. But those are gone.”
During the 2007-08 writers strike, the WGA won jurisdiction over projects created for new media. At the time, it would have been difficult to predict the dominance streaming would have a decade or so later, which is why Cranston says the previous contract “was very general and very low and unsustainable.”
“So we’re here now saying the working actor has to have a considerable raise in order to just make ends meet,” he added. “The AMPTP is made up largely of businessmen, MBAs, and they’re very good at their job. Their focus is to make as much money as they can. That’s their whole job. So they kind of like it that it’s the movie and television business, but in truth, they could be selling wrenches or lemonade. It doesn’t matter to them. They just want to make money. That’s what they’re trained for. So we’re different. We want to make a lot of art — and hopefully make a living by doing so. That’s, that’s really it.”
(WATCH) We caught up with Breaking Bad alums Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul outside of Sony today as the #SAGAFTRAStrike approaches Day 50: “I really do feel we’re going to find a common ground and march forward with this” pic.twitter.com/Co3Xv5f6QN
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) August 29, 2023
While a path forward isn’t clear just yet, Paul added that he does see one on the horizon for the guilds and the studios.
“They just are not really understanding the reality of the situation,” the triple Emmy winner said, “and once the higher-ups sort of come back to Earth … I really do feel that we’re going to find a common ground and march forward in this,” he said.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, kids with painted faces and picket signs joined their on-strike moms and dads outside a toy store in Manhattan as the Writers Guild of America paid tribute to creators of children’s and family television.
Stars and writers of Sesame Street, Helpsters, Bear in the Big Blue House and more spoke at the Children’s/Family TV Writers Solidarity Picket held by the WGA with SAG-AFTRA at Rockefeller Center, where the world- and movie-famous FAO Schwarz toy store shares space with NBCUniversal headquarters.
Joining the picket line were writers and actors known for more grown-up or primetime fare, including Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Wire creator David Simon, multiple Emmy winner Alfre Woodard and longtime The Cosby Show regular Geoffrey Owens.
Picketers also heard from SAG-AFTRA chief Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. A father of five children ages 3-18, Crabtree-Ireland began with a bow and hands clasped in a gesture of thanks to “everyone who works in children’s television programming in this entire circle.”
“It’s entertainment, it’s also education, and frankly for parents it’s also a moment to take a breath,” Crabtree-Ireland said of the kind of programming that got its start at NBC studios at “30 Rock” with the premiere of Howdy Doody in 1947.
Speakers, introduced by actor and writer Moujan Zolfaghari, took turns advocating for a living wage and for protections against replacement by artificial intelligence in a field they love.
“We are kids at heart,” writer-director Susan Kim told the more than 100 picketers, adding that makers of children’s films and television like her don’t get into it for the money. Kim, who wrote episodes of the kids series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, said that she’s received — and cashed — royalty checks for as little as 17 cents during her career.
“If I don’t cash it, someone’s keeping it, and I don’t want that happening,” Kim said to laughter.
With a nod toward the store window behind her, Kim also said, “A lot of people make a ton of money off of what we do.”
Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of the fictional Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street, drew cheers when he called for his striking peers to receive “an equitable share of this very large piece of pie — or, as a friend of mine wanted to use the analogy, a cookie.”
On the scene today in NYC for the writers on children and family shows picket outside of NBCUniversal
📸 Sean Piccoli/Deadline pic.twitter.com/waRrG1hoJ5
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) August 29, 2023
Noel MacNeal, an alumnus of PBS’ Sesame Street and an actor, puppeteer and writer who played the Bear on Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House, praised public television in particular for a history of educational programs ranging from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to The Magic School Bus.
In a dig at AI, MacNeal said that all of the shows he’s worked on “took people.”
“It all took writers sitting down and coming up with some of the most ridiculous concepts you could ever think of for a puppet to do,” MacNeal said. “But we did it because we were having fun.”
Stephanie D’Abruzzo, like MacNeal an actor, puppeteer and writer, said that she loves her job and that it’s risky to say so out loud because at that point people — especially studio executives — “think your work isn’t work.”
“They think it writes itself,” D’Abruzzo, who has worked on Sesame Street and the PBS Kids’ preschoolers series Donkey Hodie, told picketers. “I mean it is not easy to make an inanimate puppet come to life and be something that people care about. And to tell a compelling story in 11 minutes or 9 minutes or 5 minutes or 3 minutes, including curriculum points that aren’t supposed to sound like curriculum points and using a fraction of the vocabulary that everyone else is allowed to use — that is not easy.”
Pointing to the building behind her as the birthplace of Howdy Doody, D’Abruzzo said: “This little kiddie show sold a lot of Wonder Bread and a lot of Twinkies, and it sold a lot of television sets for RCA. And that’s when showbiz learned the value of children’s television.”
She added that Warner Bros. Discovery executives have said one reason HBO Max became Max “was to make it seem more family-friendly” because kids’ viewing habits are driving the budget-minded streaming choices that parents make.
D’Abruzzo noted that not everyone at Tuesday’s picket is on strike.
“A lot of us who work in kids and family [programming] here today are on different contracts, are on Network [Television] Code, PBS contracts,” she said. “We are here in solidarity, but we also know that this fight is our fight, too. We know that when Network Code is negotiated and PBS Code is negotiated, this is going to set the tone and it’s going to set the precedent, and that is vital to all of us.”
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