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Peak Hustle on the Picket Line
Today 'grindset' makes even shouting Ted Sarandos' name outside Netflix a networking opp
I’m a TV comedy writer who writes for The Ankler under a pseudonym for obvious reasons. Previously, I wrote Finding Love on the Picket Lines, a Valentines’s Day Dating Manifesto, a PSA against being a TV writer, Getting Fired the Hollywood Way, The Misery of Writer Twitter, Hollywood’s Zoloft Blow-Off and How to Age Gracefully in Hollywood.
My first day of picketing was at Netflix. I walked over alone, but I wasn’t worried. It was Week One which meant a big turnout, and I figured I’d run into someone I knew. Barring that, I’d use the surefire friend-making strategy that’s worked for me since third grade: find the least threatening person and glom onto them until your co-dependent bond eventually sours into mutual recrimination.
I soon found myself talking to an affable writers’ assistant. The picket was full of younger writers, and to them I probably looked grizzled-yet-well-dressed enough to be potentially powerful and important. It felt great. Of course, it soon became clear that I wasn’t powerful and important, just grizzled, and as soon as we reached the Sunset Gower gate my strike buddy politely excused herself to get a snack. The next time we passed each other, she was talking to an actual showrunner.
I smiled and waved. I didn’t blame this woman any more than I blamed my college boyfriend who, years before, ditched me on New Year’s Eve because he got a chance to hang out with Wu-Tang Clan. Not coincidentally, he went on to have a very successful career in the entertainment business. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. That guy had a show. A Hulu show I’d never watched, named after a meme from eight years ago because that’s how long development takes now, but a show nonetheless. All I had was a bag of Cheez-Its and war stories about getting fired from the VH1 Music Awards because I “wasn’t quite nailing Eric McCormack’s voice.”
Successful writers were like rock stars to me. I saw them as powerful and glamorous. It took me years to figure out just how needy and sad they were. Just fucking go up and talk to them.
Not only was I not offended by my erstwhile assistant friend, I was impressed. Back in ’07, when I was her age, I thought the point of the strike was to bring The Man to his knees. I didn’t realize the point of the strike was to bring The Man to his knees while simultaneously kissing the ass of a different Man. I naively believed that being a writer was about writing. I thought networking was for agents and executives and guys with MBAs who said things like “synergy” and “open the kimono” and “arbing the spread.” So in between picketing with the same three unemployed friends every day, I wrote. (On spec, of course!) In fact, I wrote what may be the worst spec script of all time, a script so bad that years later they made a Rob Schneider movie with the exact same premise. Honestly, between my scripts and horrible social skills, I don’t know how I ended up with a career at all. I think it was just easier back then.
Anyway, back to the picket line. As I watched that nice young woman chatting up the EP of On Fleek or Pizza Rat or whatever it was called, I went from being impressed to feeling anxious. Guilty, even. Some people may be Quiet Quitting, but the rest of us are living through Peak Hustle culture. Rise and Grind isn’t just the name of a coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard that I’m pretty sure is a drug front, it’s a whole mindset. A grindset, if you will. If you’re not hustling, well, you’re doing whatever the opposite of the word hustling is. My last job was a mini room for a now-canceled show on a streamer. As anyone following the strike knows, that meant it didn’t pay very well. And I can’t keep living a TV writer’s life on a Part-Time Content Creator for Greenpeace’s salary. When this is over I, like many of my fellow unemployed Guild members, will need a new job. Is the picket line a good place to try to find one? Is it a good place for new writers to get a foot in the door? Let’s look at some pros and cons:
It’s One Big General Meeting
The picket line is the great equalizer, where the super rich are forced to rub elbows with the unwashed masses. You will see showrunners on the line, even the ones who are secretly iffy about the strike. This is because deep down all writers want to think of themselves as good guys. Also, writers are pussies. One strongly-worded iMessage from a Strike Captain is enough to evoke images of John McAfee in a dank prison cell awaiting repatriation, except instead of Belize they’re being extradited from Malibu.
(*Rest in Power)
You Really Can Just Walk Up to People
Okay, so you’ve spotted a mover/shaker of some sort. Now what? Talk to them. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young writer was being intimidated by people. Successful writers were like rock stars to me. I saw them as powerful and glamorous. It took me years to figure out just how needy and sad they were. Just fucking go up and talk to them. I’m serious. Be prepared, have something interesting and original to say, don’t be a dickhead, but don’t be self-conscious either. If you find yourself thinking “But I don’t want to be annoying” knock it off. Especially if the person went to Harvard. People who went to Harvard deserve to be hounded to death like they’re Brett Kavanaugh trying to eat at Morton’s for the rest of their natural lives.
Even Total Nobodies Can Be Useful for Personal Advancement
Feel free to starfuck and social climb as much as you want, but don’t make that your only strategy. You’ve probably heard the term “horizontal networking.” That means connecting with peers. Issa Rae calls it “networking across” and she’s a big proponent of it. That’s probably because she’s sick of people trying to shake her down for jobs at pickets, but it’s still good advice. The picket line is a place where you can network up, down and across. So get over whatever deep-seated neurosis led you to pursue this awful line of work and, again, just start talking to people. The person next to you could be your next connection or creative collaborator. I promise I’m not just talking out of my ass here. I met two of my closest friends on Twitter, which is basically the online equivalent of a Greyhound bus. You never know where you’re gonna find gold.
This advice applies regardless of what level you’re at now. Some of the most talented upper levels working today are people I met while they were working as support staff on shows I was writing on. I gave them advice, read their scripts and encouraged them to keep it up. Have any of them hired me? No, but keep in mind that I’m completely insane.
Being Around Other People is Good
It’s become fashionable, especially in online spaces, to declare oneself an introvert. The tendency is understandable, but it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The less you see other people, the worse you get at being around them, and the worse you get at being around them… well you get it. This isn’t just bad for your career, it’s bad for your mental health. Plus, the more you interact with people the more you’ll have to talk about, which in turn makes you a better networker. If a few days go by and you still don’t have anything interesting to talk about, start making stuff up. You’re a writer, right?
The Strike is Great Content
Nothing is guaranteed to get more social media likes than a strike photo dump. This probably won’t do much to help your career, but a series of well-lit picket line thirst traps might entice a rich person to marry you, eliminating the pesky need for a career entirely. If you’re young and even remotely attractive, I highly encourage this. When I was a young up-and-comer, a woman I met at a Democratic fundraiser set me up with a millionaire. He was 53, had never been married and interrupted me constantly. I declined a second date. I didn’t need a man anyway. I was betting on myself.
Worst mistake of my life.
Writers are often by nature procrastinators, and the strike is the equivalent of 15 unread browser tabs. There are pickets every day, and once your shift is over, well, you need to eat. And if you’re going to get lunch or dinner you might as well have drinks, right? And by the time that’s over, it’s time to watch your favorite show produced by a struck company on an evil streaming service. My advice here is to treat picketing like a second job. Make a schedule and stick to it. The schedule should include writing. That thing you promised yourself you’d write during Covid but never got around to? Do it now. Actually, you know what? Don’t. I don’t need more competition.
Karaoke Days and Other Theme Days
This doesn’t have anything to do with networking per se, it’s just a hazard associated with striking in general. My only recommendation here is to be vigilant. Check the WGA site daily, as well as social media. If this goes on long enough, maybe someone will design an app, a version of Waze that helps you avoid theme days and, more importantly…
That One Asshole
We all have at least one person we are aggressively avoiding during this we’re-all-in-this-together labor action. Whether it’s a frenemy, toxic ex-lover, or evil boss who everyone else thinks is “the sweetest guy ever,” my advice here is to do the opposite of what your instincts tell you. Stalk their social media, find their favorite lot then go there. Stay all day if you need to. If they don’t show up, come back the next day. Let yourself get burned to a crisp. Do not let up. Make sure he sees you living in the shanty you’ve built outside Gate 3 at Disney from discarded picket signs and Dunkin’ Donuts cups so that he knows that you’ve won. This is the essence of The Hero’s Journey or “monomyth,” because what story is more timeless and universal than someone who constantly fantasizes about murdering their former sitcom writing partner who was way better at glad-handing than writing and now makes slightly more money than them?
You could also just send their name to that anonymous WGA website and report them for scabbing.
I’m looking back over my list and I think it’s pretty clear that the positives of trying to network on the picket line far outweigh the negatives. So next time you’re out there, take out those headphones and talk to some people. That podcast about historic engineering disasters can wait. You never know who you might click with. Remember, as an old colleague of mine who’s incredibly lazy and bad at writing used to say, “It’s all about who you know.”