My Dad Was On The Picket Lines In 2007.
Now, I’m Striking With My Peers.
“I don’t expect anything different by now because I think I’m used to the way they treat us.”
Emily Kim is a 25-year-old comic book author and screenwriter. She wrote “Spider-Gwen” and the “SILK” miniseries at Marvel. Previously, she has worked as a staff writer on television series such as Netflix’s “XO, Kitty” and NBC’s “Quantum Leap.” Growing up with a parent in the industry in Manhattan Beach, California, Kim was on the picket lines during the strike of 2007-08. As a screenwriter, she briefly served as a strike captain for WGA.
Tell me about the moment you knew you wanted to pursue entertainment and work in the industry.
I always wanted to be a writer. I originally wanted to write novels, and I would still like to write a novel. That’d be a dream. When I first moved to Los Angeles as a kid, it was because my dad became a TV writer. Then when he explained to me the process, I immediately was like, “That’s exactly what I want to do.” Sitting in a room with other writers, just talking about the story, sounds like so much fun. I couldn’t believe that was a job. Around middle school, I was having a hard time with friends, then at the same time, falling in love with a lot of TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost.” I think those shows helped me in my personal life, but I also fell in love with everything about TV: how you can follow a whole group of characters across years of your life. You literally grow up with them, and I love that format so much.
How did COVID-19 impact the trajectory of your career as a Gen Zer?
I graduated in 2020, so I graduated just as the pandemic happened — and I had no idea how to get started. I was definitely prepared to be an assistant for a long time. Obviously, I’m super, super lucky and privileged that my dad is in the industry, because the first job is always the hardest — and I got my first job through him. I’m always grateful for that, and I know how lucky I am to have that. I started working with him during the pandemic, and I feel like it worked out because I was living at home with my parents. Since then, all my work has been remote. My current job is the first job that I’ve had in person.
I definitely felt like I was missing out on a social aspect, especially because when you’re an assistant, most of the time while the writers are working in the room, you’re just sitting there. I was taking notes as a writer’s assistant, but you don’t get a lot of time to actually talk and become friends with the writers. If you’re an assistant in person, it’s a lot easier to get along and make friends. It was definitely harder on Zoom.
Where were you when news of this strike broke out? Were there rumblings or discussions in your professional community?
I feel like people have been talking about this coming. In all my rooms, it was always like, “Oh, be careful. The strike is gonna happen in May.” In December of last year, all the rooms were rushing to open so that they could be done before May. It was like a mad dash. Every week in my writers room, it was like, “What’s new? What’s going on?” I was prepared to have to wait until midnight to find out because the other writers were saying that [during previous negotiations] in 2017, they didn’t find out until past midnight that they had actually reached a deal in the last hour. But then around 8 p.m., we got the notice that we were on strike.
How has your career changed, and what are you doing now to pay the bills?
I was lucky to work a lot last year actually. Prior to the strike, I told my managers that, because of the issues in streaming, I wanna work on a network show at least for a season. So that’s why I went to “Quantum Leap” because everyone told me, “Oh, network is the only way that you’ll get to produce your episode and that you’ll actually get a residual check. It’s a longer contract, so you’ll get paid for longer. You’ll make more money.” I didn’t do that just in preparation for this strike, but I did that because I wanted the experience — then it turned out really well because I was able to make a good amount of money that I was able to save for this year too.
“We have to make change now or never. We’re almost on the brink of a lot of our jobs disappearing or becoming part of the gig economy.”
This is another issue that we’re fighting for. Because I wrote on a network show, I got a residual check this year. That’s been huge. If I had been only on a really short streaming show and I didn’t have the residual check, I would probably be in trouble, which is exactly why we’re fighting.
Can you recall what the strike was like in ’07 and ’08 as a kid? What was like being the child of an entertainment worker during that time?
I don’t remember that much since I was young, but we had just moved to LA. Because of the strike, we were close to having to move back to New Jersey. My dad was gonna have to go back to his old job. He actually started as a journalist; I had no idea that they were preparing to move us back because I had just moved there. He took me picketing and all I can remember is walking and I saw a lemonade stand. Writers were working the lemonade stand and it had a sign that was something like, “25 cent lemonade. This is more than the companies pay us for a DVD.” I remember thinking, “That’s so silly. It seems so simple. Why don’t they pay more than the lemonade?!” We stayed in California, but then, like, years later, I was told that we were on the verge of moving back to New Jersey.
How does it make you feel to see yet another cycle of corporate greed in entertainment?
I could say it’s disillusioning, but I also think growing up with my dad in the industry probably made me see a lot of this stuff from a young age. I don’t expect anything different by now because I think I’m used to the way they treat us. It’s a little bit of a bleak answer. But my mom, she has a really strong personality, and she’s always like, they will never change. So I feel like I’ve come to think a little bit similarly to her. It’s made my bond with other writers a lot stronger. We’re always in it together and all we can do is just keep doing what I like to do, which is writing.
Is there a particular topic — be it residuals, mini rooms, on-time payment or insurance benefits — that you’re most concerned about?
I feel like one of the things I’m really concerned about is companies taking shows off their platforms. We’ve seen a bunch of shows such as “Gordita Chronicles” and “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” just getting pulled from platforms. All this hard work that people have put into these shows that we can never see again. It’s so sad to me that it’s so hard to get a show made and then you make it and then they just get rid of it. Then they don’t have to pay any residuals. There are some shows that take a few seasons to build, and maybe it doesn’t hit the right chord with this current generation, but maybe in five years it will become a huge success. You can never predict that stuff, but if they just pull it off, there’s nothing we can do really.
There’s also been the deliberate erasure of content from marginalized voices, how does that make you feel?
It’s super disappointing. I’ve also seen diverse executives get fired or laid off from companies. On the other hand, I’ve also been super lucky that I’ve gotten a lot of my job opportunities from other people of color. They’re the ones who’ve hired me and gotten to me where I am today. And I hope I could do the same in the future for other people of color.
What is something you want the general public to understand about the industry and this strike?
I think most people assume a show or a movie comes from the mind of one brilliant-minded director or one showrunner. But there’s a whole army of people behind them: a writers room and crew and so many people that make it happen. There’s all these other people who deserve credit and deserve for people to know about them and to get paid.
What does this strike mean for preserving the entertainment industry and ensuring that it is a viable profession for the next generation?
We have to make change now or never. We’re almost on the brink of a lot of our jobs disappearing or becoming part of the gig economy. I care a lot about the shows that are getting made now. But I also feel almost a bit sad that long-running shows like “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” don’t get made as often anymore. Someone in the Guild said something like, the companies don’t realize that the greatest era of TV that was most profitable for them was also a time that they were paying their writers really, really well. It feels like maybe they’ve forgotten that if they were to invest in our careers and invest in seeing our visions all the way through, then the work would reflect that as well.
What was your reaction to those comments from studio executives talking about how they want to bleed y’all out until you all are forced to lose your homes?
It’s definitely frustrating to hear that. I’m super lucky to not be hurting too much and so my main concern was for a lot of support staff and other crew members who are also going to be hurt and lose their homes in that process. All the writers I follow on Instagram were posting about how this is literally the line of a villain in a movie we would write. It seems so evil that it can’t be believable that they would hope that that happens.
What is your hope for the outcome of this strike? Where do you want this to go with respect to transforming the industry?
I would love for companies to be clear about their viewership numbers, which would then lead to clear residuals for both SAG and WGA. That’s what I care about the most. If they could also negotiate other demands in regards to writers room size and duration, that’d be great.
As far as the future goes, even if I didn’t get paid, I would always still write. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And I think that’s similar to a lot of other writers. So we’re always gonna keep writing and I think it’s always gonna be valuable.