Article by Hilary for Pass the Remote
Kate Purdy didn’t always want to be a writer. “In elementary school I wanted to be a teacher. In junior high I wanted to be an astronaut. In high school I wanted to be [the] first lady president. It wasn’t until college that I realized I wanted to tell stories,” she explains. And telling stories is what she was doing for CBS’s top-20 hit Cold Case. That is, until this past November when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the big studios (known collectively as the AMPTP) hit an impasse on the issue of fair compensation for new media.
Suddenly, Purdy’s world went from sitting around a writer’s table and collaborating on the next episode of the hit crime drama to collaborating with her fellow writers on the picket lines where she serves as a Strike Captain and regular contributor at United Hollywood. With the strike closely approaching its third month, Purdy says she might be dividing her time even further.
“I’ve started looking for part-time work,” she admits, something that many other writers may be doing as well. But their choices are restricted. “We dedicate several hours a day to picketing or other strike activities, so our options for jobs are mostly limited to part-time work,” Purdy explains.
At issue: who should be compensated and how much when episodes of television shows stream on the web and get downloaded on sites such as iTunes. Under the current system, the writers get nothing. The WGA wants to change that by adding a 2.5 cents-on-the-dollar residual into the Guild’s new contract with the AMPTP. In other words, for every dollar the big studios make on new media, the writers get 2.5 cents.
But what about shows such as Cold Case that aren’t available online or on sites such as iTunes? For Purdy, it’s about ensuring fair compensation for the future as well as the present. “Believe it or not, we’re striking not only for workers in the industry today, but for future generations of workers,” she says.
It was only this past fall that Purdy earned her full-fledged WGA membership around the same time that she was promoted from a researcher to a staff writer on Cold Case. “Researching for the show was a terrific experience and it allowed me to know the show in and out before being promoted,” she explains.
Now that she knows the ins and outs, she says that one of her favorite things about Cold Case is its use of different time periods and the challenge of making the characters relevant today. “Delving into the past allows the character to move against obstacles that might not exist in the same way they do today. But the central concept of a character moving against obstacles, in any time period, is universal.”
One thing that Purdy is quick to point out: working as a television writer is not as glamorous as it has been portrayed in recent media reports. “I have a 10 year old car that I hope can make it a few more years. I watch a lot of TV. Every time it rains my bathroom floods. You know – glamorous.”
The writers and the studios aren’t the only ones affected by the strike. Crew members on many series have had to find other work in order to make ends meet. When the strike ends and production resumes, some or all of them may not be able to return. Purdy says that she empathizes with the dedicated folks who work behind the camera. “I hope that when the strike ends we’ll be able to go back to working on Cold Case with our crew. We love our crew and hope they are available . If not – we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Some shows were able to crank out a few extra episodes to carry their crews through a little longer, Cold Case however, was only able to produce 13. But Purdy insists it was just a matter of too little time on a show this intricate. “There are several approval steps to prepping a script for shooting and each of them is essential on a show like Cold Case where each word could and might be a clue. The puzzle aspect of the show does not allow for hurried writing – it’s detrimental to the final product,” she explains.
It’s a process that she hopes she can get back to doing very soon, but both sides will have to reach a fair deal first. “The emotionally draining part is feeling like the media moguls are happy to see the town burn rather than give an inch. It’s hard for us to not work, to not write scripts for the shows we love. We just want a fair deal and know that what we’re asking for is reasonable,” Purdy says.
One thing that has kept the writers going, according to Purdy, is all of the support from the fans. “The fans have been TREMENDOUS!!! We could not have done it without their continued support, organizing, and outreach! Thank you!!!”