The reports that the writers' strike could be nearing its end are good news for TV and movie fans, but they've got to be even better news for folks like Nina Bargiel. As a member of the Writers Guild of America, Bargiel — who wrote 17 episodes of Lizzie McGuire and has worked for several animated shows — has been on the run since the strike began in November, working three part-time jobs, blogging on a couple of websites, and marching on the picket lines.
As part of the Adopt a Writer project, Bargiel answered some of my questions about her life on strike. You can check out her work at The Slack Daily and The Post-Apocalyptic Workout, and to see what Bargiel had to say to me, read on:
What was your first TV writing job, and how did you get it?
I moved out to California right after college in 1994 with the thought that I'd be an agent. Two weeks in the UTA mailroom disabused me of that notion, although I did end up at ICM as an assistant to a television lit agent. I'd read client scripts and think "I can do that" (which is what everyone thinks!) but it wasn't until a few months later when my older brother, a naturally funny guy, decided that he was going to quit his finance job in New York and move out to LA to be a stand-up comedian. I suggested we try writing a script together, and suddenly we were TV writers. At that point I had started working as an assistant to my friend and mentor who was an executive producer, and when she was tapped to run Lizzie McGuire in 2000, we were offered our first gig.
When did you become a member of the WGA? In practical terms, what does that mean for you, whether you're working on a show or not?
That would be 2000, when I got the job as a staff writer on Lizzie McGuire. As a Guild member you're eligible for insurance if you earn a certain amount of money per quarter, and they also handle your residuals and your pension. However, it does not mean job security. The WGA doesn't get you work; you and your representation are responsible for that.
I've got lots more from Bargiel on her life as a striking writer, so just
How did the strike affect your ability to work on new material?
Well, I have less time to write because I'm picketing. But I had just finished a spec pilot prior to the strike. I always have four or five projects that I'm working on simultaneously, so instead of TV/film stuff I've been working on a book proposal based on one of my blogs and a children's book.
How far in advance did you know about the potential for a strike? Were you able to stash away any extra money or prepare in other ways?
I hadn't worked on a Guild show for a couple of years (in the years since Lizzie I've mostly been working in animation) so there wasn't really anything to do to prepare. We knew the potential was there for a few months, though.
One of the major issues of the strike has been residuals for reruns, DVD sales, Internet broadcasts, etc. What have residuals meant to you?
Residuals have meant everything to me. Like I said, there's little to no job security in this business, so residuals are what keep you afloat during the lean times. I've picked up a couple of part-time jobs to ease the financial strain, and one of those jobs is working front desk at a gym. I have to be there at 5:30 a.m., so when I wake up at 4:45 a.m., I think about things like that extra four cents for DVD sales.
Are there other issues involved in the strike that you feel strongly about personally?
Animation and reality were on the table initially, as the Guild wanted both of those areas covered. If animation and reality fell under Guild jurisdiction, those two areas would be regulated, meaning writers would have money paid into their pension, into their insurance, and would ideally have a residual plan in place. I had hoped that those two would stay on the table, as I've done a ton of animation writing, but alas, they were both taken off in favor of new media. Which I totally understand and I would have done the same. But still, it's frustrating.
How have you been spending your time during the strike? How is it different from the months just before the strike began?
Well, I was working a couple of part-time jobs prior to the strike, so I've added picketing to my schedule as well. There's a lot of running to work to picketing and back to work. There are days that I'm going from 5 a.m. till midnight.
When a lot of people hear "TV writer," they think of JJ Abrams or Shonda Rhimes or the biggest of the big deals. What do you think would surprise people about your life as a writer?
People are shocked when they discover that I don't drive a car made of gold and carry a handbag made from orphan babies. Being a writer means zero job security. Every job you're at has a specific end, whether it's when the show ends, when your contract's up, or when the script is complete. You have to work on one thing and look for the next thing. It's hard to ever sit back and relax because the rug could be pulled out at any time. A lot of people think that if you're on a successful show that you're set, you'll just hop from show to show for the rest of your career. But it's a lot like musical chairs, and depending on who you know, who's working, your representation, and the current TV climate, you never know where you're going to land. For most everyone there's going to be lean times. My joke is that if you can live with fear, panic, and desperation and manage to be creative at the same time, this is the job for you!
Photos courtesy of Nina Bargiel