Some did it out of a sense of obligation. Some did it out of fear of being idle. Some leaned on maternal instinct, and some acted purely out of anger. Whatever the motivation, female writers and showrunners stepped up in record numbers to serve as strike captains during the Writers Guild of America’s five-month contract battle.
“Why did this strike look different? The people at the forefront of it really have been a lot of marginalized writers — writers of color, women and queer writers,” says Caroline Renard, an early career writer-director who was a Disney-based strike captain. She came to the role with plenty of relevant experience as an activist and organizer.
“I’m loud. I know how to talk, and I know how to organize,” she says.
The WGA enlisted an estimated 365 strike captains during the 148-day action that began on May 2, relying on them to fulfill a crucial logistical role — organizing picket lines.
The captains network was essential to the execution of large-scale picketing at multiple sites a day in Los Angeles and New York, in addition to tactical dispatches of picket teams to shut down location shoots. The captains created their own concentric communication circles through every available channel, from WhatsApp and Signal to X direct messages to Zoom calls to large text message chains. The captains were the backbone of the guild’s campaign to put a human face on the guild’s work stoppage through the highly symbolic sight of writers carrying signs as they withhold their labor outside of studio gates.
“If you are a woman or a person of color, you have probably jumped through a few more hoops to get where you are in our business,” says Niceole Levy, a strike captain who was based at Universal. “We have a natural appreciation for why we need to do this work — so someone else doesn’t have to jump through these hoops.”
Amy Berg, the seasoned showrunner who led the picket effort outside the Fox Studios lot in West Los Angeles, shares that sentiment. “To cope, we’ve naturally created our own community to support one another along the way,” Berg says. “The strike was basically a large-scale extension of that, so maybe it came more naturally for us to step into that role.”
Jonterri Gadson, an Amazon-based strike captain, had a tough adjustment at first until she realized the larger purpose of picketing.
“It took me a long time to be comfortable with just walking in circles, until I realized it was more about the community we were building and the solidarity we were building. We became very close on the picket lines. We’re friends for life.”
For sure, the experience of serving the guild as a strike captain was life-changing for many. Strike captains help direct traffic, keep pedestrians safe in crosswalks, battle picketer sunstroke and fire up crowds with bullhorns. But even more profound is the role they play in building the camaraderie and the community safety net that get people through the dark days — or the hottest, for that matter.
“I always walked away from even a casual chat with one of our captains feeling better about what we were doing, the impact we were having and also how beautifully everybody was looking after each other,” says Sheryl Anderson, a veteran WGA member who picketed regularlyat Amazon. “In the middle of the summer when it was so hot — people were worn out. Captains were always coming up to you, ‘When was the last time you had water? Do you need sunscreen? Can I walk with you for a minute?’ Our captains showed fantastic personnel management skills as well as keeping us emotionally and mentally upbeat.”
Anderson cited small but meaningful gestures, such as veteran WGA strike captain Patrick Meighan’s habit of bringing puzzles and board games to the Amazon picket sites and encouraging pickets to take mental-health breaks from walking in circles.
“He even brought Jenga,” Anderson said. “There was so much kindness all around us.”
It was no surprise to anyone that so many showrunners raised their hands for captain duty.
“The showrunner skill set was definitely an asset,” Berg said. “In fact, the vernacular even snuck in. Someone once introduced me as the person ‘running the Fox lot’ and I was surprised how real that felt.”
Nicole Yorkin, a longtime WGA member who was a member of this year’s negotiating committee, says the strike captains are always a vital link between the guild and members.
“They were all so responsible and so smart and came up with these systems that worked incredibly well,” Yorkin said. “There were people there to answer any question and they would greet you by name. It became such a warm, communal feeling out there.”
And certainly, the number of women and younger writers of color who stepped up to serve did not go unnoticed by guild leadership. There is fervent hope that picket-line connections will soon turn into job opportunities for promising members who are younger or less experienced, Yorkin said.
“It’s much more inclusive than it’s ever been since I joined the guild” decades ago, Yorkin said. “I think the fact that we were all strike together and we met every type of person out there hopefully means that now that [writers] rooms re getting back together, people are getting jobs.”
For the captains, each day was an adventure and usually a learning experience. One early lesson that was put to good use: Theme pickets drive attendance. Writers of all ages responded well to the ability to self-select their picket site for the day, and that also helped members make powerful bonds that will likely them well in their careers.
“Going to the HBCU picket and the Black writers picket – they were flooded with people,” said Gadson. “We saw the same thing for Asian American and Latino and Native pickets. I’d never seen that many writers [of color] before. Oftentimes I’d be the only one in my [writers] aroom. It was a wakeup for me. I didn’t realize there were so many of us.”
Strike captains were also surrounded by examples of the need created by the contract battle. And they were overwhelmed by the generosity of veteran guild members who have the means to pay for a food truck for a day or make other substantial donations that made a difference for members overall.
“What we saw after the first couple of months was obviously there were people who were struggling more than others,” said Levy. “Being able to have food at the picket lines – the free pizzas and the food trucks – was real support for people. It wasn’t just all about let’s try to make it fun. People needed to eat.”
Renard was impressed at how much the general public paid attention to Hollywood’s summer of strikes. “I’d tweet, ‘We need water’ and we’d get five deliveries of water just from people who lived in L.A.,” she said.
Joelle Garfinkel, a strike captain based at the CBS Radford lot in Studio City, was an inspiration to many as a single mother, strike captain and creator of the Green Envelope fund that helped WGA members and others buy groceries. The fund to date has raised $225,000 and has awarded about 2,100 grants.
“The challenge was figuring out how to stay motivated while also keeping others motivated,” says Garfinkel of her work as a strike captain. “I called on my former training as a cheerleader. It was about figuring out how to have a smile on your face when it feels awful.”
Grassroots mutual aid efforts reinforced her faith in the future of Hollywood. She was not alone.
“It’s easy to be jaded about this industry. It’s easy to see the corruptness and the badness and the stuff we all know,” Renard says. “To see the way a lot of people stepped up and stood together and the amount of people who were taking care of each other. The number of people who said ‘We’re with you’ even if they weren’t writers. I was like, damn, people are good. That fact that people care about the work we do and that we’re all being paid fairly — that gave me a lot of hope.”
In the end, the WGA scored numerous achievements with the contract deal that ended the strike as of Sept. 27. For many captains, one of the most profound takeaways from their time in the trenches has been the understanding gained of the creative community’s connection to the labor movement in the U.S. and beyond.
“The biggest thing for me was the understanding of solidarity, and not just within the guild but with other unions. When the nurses would show up at Amazon, when the janitors marched from Sony down to Amazon in support of us – I was overcome,” Gadson says. “It really helped me to understand my place as a laborer. It helped me to say ‘no’ and push back for a better deal. It helped me understand our connection to other workers.”