A ‘BEAR’ writer attended WGA Awards with negative bank account

The Bear
Jeremy Allen White

Last night, The Writers Guild East and Writers Guild West called for a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies’ business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions. Our chief negotiator, as well as writers on the committee, made clear to the studios’ labor representatives that we are determined to achieve a new contract with fair pay that reflects the value of our contribution to company success and includes protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession,” the Guild said in an email to its members.

The Guild is seeking higher compensation for writers, higher wage floors across the board, standardizing fees for streaming and theatrical films, expanding span protection (which shields writers being compensated per episode from working for long periods on short-order series) and instituting a mandatory two “steps” (points of payment) for feature writers.

The WGA union also wants to address “mini rooms,” which allow studios to pump out a script with fewer writers before a show is greenlit. There are also concerns about using artificial intelligence to produce material.

Many outsiders will ask why are the writers striking. Even with lower compensation they are still making more than working a counter at Macy’s.

Eh, not so much.

Late last week, Business Insider did a profile on Alex O’Keefe.

O’Keefe is a Brooklyn-based 28-year-old writer for FX’s award-winning series The Bear, which is shot on location in Chicago. He’s one of several writers for the Jeremy Allen White-led breakout comedy. While the show is a hit, O’Keefe’s lifestyle is far from posh.

While writing for The Bear for nine weeks, O’Keefe lived in a tiny, heat-challenged apartment in Brooklyn. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he wrote at a public library and was never flown to the Chicago set, according to The New Yorker.

“It’s a very regular-degular, working-class existence,” O’ Keefe, who has also worked as a speechwriter for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, told the magazine.

When the show was nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Writers Guild of America Awards in March, O’ Keefe told The New Yorker he attended the ceremony with a negative bank account and dressed in a bowtie purchased with credit.

The series won the Best Comedy Series award that evening, beating Abbott Elementary and Barry.


Last month, Guild members voted 98% in favor of going on strike if no new deal was reached with studios over the lack of jobs, smaller writers’ rooms and the loss of some sources of income due to an industry shift toward streaming services. 

And as streaming services slash costs by removing shows from their libraries, writers are also paid fewer residuals, the Associated Press reported.

O’Keefe told The New Yorker that his compensation didn’t add up to much after accounting for representative fees and taxes. Agents or representatives who help clients obtain work and negotiate contracts typically take a percentage of a writer’s check.

Television writers are paid weekly rates, according to WGA’s compensation guide. First-time and newer writers could make around $40,000 to 60,000 for ten weeks of work. 

“A lot of people assume that, when you’re in a TV writers’ room, you sit around a table, and you just dream together,” O’Keefe told the magazine. “With The Bear, I learned from these masters that, if you are given a shit sandwich, you can dress that up and make it a Michelin-star-level dish. And they were consistently given shit sandwich after shit sandwich.”

A disillusioned O’Keefe is now looking for a job in movie theaters.

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