Monday, January 28, 2008

ADOPT A WRITER: Kate Purdy


Author's Note: Pass the Remote is one of many blogs participating in Adopt A Writer - a project organized by TV bloggers in support of the WGA, in association with Fans4Writers and United Hollywood. For more, visit the project's official site.

Kate Purdy didn't always want to be a writer. "In elementary school I wanted to be a teacher. In junior high I wanted to be an astronaut. In high school I wanted to be [the] first lady president. It wasn't until college that I realized I wanted to tell stories," she explains. And telling stories is what she was doing for CBS's top-20 hit Cold Case. That is, until this past November when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the big studios (known collectively as the AMPTP) hit an impasse on the issue of fair compensation for new media.

Suddenly, Purdy's world went from sitting around a writer's table and collaborating on the next episode of the hit crime drama to collaborating with her fellow writers on the picket lines where she serves as a Strike Captain and regular contributor at United Hollywood. With the strike closely approaching its third month, Purdy says she might be dividing her time even further.

"I've started looking for part-time work," she admits. Something that many other writers may be doing as well, but their choices are restricted. "We dedicate several hours a day to picketing or other strike activities, so our options for jobs are mostly limited to part-time work," Purdy explains.

At issue: who should be compensated and how much when episodes of television shows stream on the web and get downloaded on sites such as iTunes. Under the current system, the writers get nothing. The WGA wants to change that by adding a 2.5 cents-on-the-dollar residual into the Guild's new contract with the AMPTP. In other words, for every dollar the big studios make on new media, the writers get 2.5 cents.

But what about shows such as Cold Case that aren't available online or on sites such as iTunes? For Purdy, it's about ensuring fair compensation for the future as well as the present. "Believe it or not, we're striking not only for workers in the industry today, but for future generations of workers," she says.

It was only this past fall that Purdy earned her full-fledged WGA membership around the same time that she was promoted from a researcher to a staff writer on Cold Case. "Researching for the show was a terrific experience, and allowed me to know the show in and out before being promoted," she explains.

Now that she knows the ins and outs, she says that one of her favorite things about Cold Case is its use of different time periods and the challenge of making the characters relevant today. "Delving into the past allows the character to move against obstacles that might not exist in the same way they do today. But, the central concept of a character moving against obstacles, in any time period, is universal."

One thing that Purdy is quick to point out, working as a television writer is not as glamorous as it has been portrayed in recent media reports. "I have a 10 year old car that I hope can make it a few more years. I watch a lot of TV. Every time it rains my bathroom floods. You know - glamorous."

The writers and the studios aren't the only ones affected by the strike. Crew members on many series have had to find other work in order to make ends meet. When the strike ends and production resumes, some or all of them may not be able to return. Purdy says that she empathizes with the dedicated folks who work behind the camera. "I hope that when the strike ends we'll be able to go back to working on Cold Case with our crew. We love our crew and hope they are available - if not - we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."

Some shows were able to crank out a few extra episodes to carry their crews through a little longer, Cold Case however, was only able to produce 13. But Purdy insists it was just a matter of too little time on a show this intricate. "There are several approval steps to prepping a script for shooting - each of them is essential on a show like Cold Case where each word could and might be a clue. The puzzle aspect of the show does not allow for hurried writing - it's detrimental to the final product," she explains.

It's a process that she hopes she can get back to doing very soon, but both sides will have to reach a fair deal first. "The emotionally draining part is feeling like the media moguls are happy to see the town burn rather than give an inch. It's hard for us to not work, to not write scripts for the shows we love. We just want a fair deal and know that what we're asking for is reasonable," Purdy says.

One thing that has kept the writers going, according to Purdy, is all of the support from the fans. "The fans have been TREMENDOUS!!! We could not have done it without their continued support, organizing, and outreach! Thank you!!!"

PHOTO CREDITS: Adopt a Writer banner (Ramblings of a TV Whore), Cold Case courtesy CBS (screencap: RichE at Look Again), and writers picketing on the first day of the strike 11/5/07 (Hector Mata/Reuters)

Get to know Kate's story better through my complete Q&A with her:

How long have you been a member of the WGA? Did you always want to be a writer?
KP: I've been a full fledged member of the WGA for three months - the length of the strike. Before that I was an associate member for a year - meaning I was working my way into becoming a full member. So, three months.

No. In elementary school I wanted to be a teacher. In junior high I wanted to be an astronaut. In high school I wanted to be first lady president. It wasn't until college that I realized I wanted to tell stories.

You were promoted to staff writer this season on Cold Case. How did you get the job writing for a hit series?
KP: I was the researcher on Cold Case for two seasons before being promoted to staff. Researching for the show was a terrific experience, and allowed me to know the show in and out before being promoted.

You made your debut on Cold Case in the episode, coincidentally titled, "Debut" back in season 3 and you also wrote this season's "Devil Music." Do you enjoy writing about a different time in history?
KP: It's one of the greatest aspects about writing on the show for me. I love researching different periods in American history.

What sorts of challenges do you face when writing a story that takes place 40-50 years ago while still making it relevant today?
KP: Delving into the past allows the character to move against obstacles that might not exist in the same way they do today. But, the central concept of a character moving against obstacles, in any time period, is universal.

The challenge of writing a story that takes place 40-50 years ago is - as a writer - internalizing those obstacles so they feel real to you, your character, and hopefully the audience.


What are some of your favorite shows (from Cold Case) past and present?
KP: It's so hard to choose, but off the top of my head - some of my favorites are:
Sleepover, Best Friends, Saving Sammy, Static, Creatures of the Night, The Woods, The Goodbye Room, Dog Day Afternoons, A Dollar, A Dream, Offender, Mind Hunters, Thick as Thieves, Boy Crazy, Family 8108, The Letter, The Plan, and Factory Girls...

What is a typical day like for you when you are working on Cold Case?
KP: Typically, we meet in the writers' room all day at a big table, facing a giant white-board where we figure out the details of the episode together.

What is it like now with the ongoing strike?
KP: We strike. We picket. We volunteer at the guild.

In the San Antonio Express-News article from November, you mentioned that if the strike lingered into the New Year you would have to find a part-time job. Have you reached that point?
KP: I am quickly reaching that point. I've started looking for part-time work.

Explain to people who may not understand how difficult the strike is financially on the writers.
KP: We've been going without income since the strike began. We dedicate several hours a day to picketing or other strike activities, so our options for jobs are mostly limited to part-time work.

What is something you think people might be surprised by in terms of your lifestyle in Hollywood and your life as a working writer?
KP: I have a 10 year old car that I hope can make it a few more years. I watch a lot of TV. Every time it rains my bathroom floods. You know - glamorous.

How did you become a strike captain? Do you find it emotionally draining to stay upbeat for all of the writers fighting on the line beside you?
KP: The other writers on the line have been amazing - no need to keep their spirits up. The emotionally draining part is feeling like the media moguls are happy to see the town burn rather than give an inch. It's hard for us to not work, to not write scripts for the shows we love. We just want a fair deal and know that what we're asking for is reasonable.

For the critics out there, explain why the issues surrounding the strike are important to you even though you work for a show that isn't available on the Internet, pay-for-play formats such as iTunes, or DVD.
KP: Believe it or not, we're striking not only for workers in the industry today, but for future generations of workers.

There is the concern that the strike has broken up the staff on some shows because the crewmembers have had to take other jobs, and therefore, won't be able to return when production resumes. What sort of impact does that have on you guys?
KP: I hope that when the strike ends we'll be able to go back to working on Cold Case with our crew. We love our crew and hope they are available - if not - we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Some other shows had stocked up on episodes to carry their crew through the holiday season, but Cold Case seemed to stick with its typical schedule. Was it just a matter of time running out before there was an opportunity to get more episodes completed prior to the strike?
KP: We ran out of time and did not want to push through scripts that weren't finished. There are several approval steps to prepping a script for shooting - each of them is essential on a show like Cold Case where each word could and might be a clue. The puzzle aspect of the show does not allow for hurried writing - it's detrimental to the final product.

How has the ongoing support from the fans via the Internet, on the picket lines, and the Pencils2MediaMoguls campaign affected the striking writers? What else can fans do to help?
KP: The fans have been TREMENDOUS!!! We could not have done it without their continued support, organizing, and outreach! Thank you!!!

Anything else you want to talk about that I missed?
KP: I think that covers quite a bit. Thanks for having me!


You can read more writers' stories at the Adopt a Writer official site.

6 comments:

LillyKat said...

This is a GREAT interview, tvfan! Really well done! As the strike wears on, I think it becomes increasingly important to remind everyone why this thing is so important (and to also remind everyone that most writers are NOT in the Paul Haggis tax bracket).

Kate's thoughts do just that. :) Thanks to her and you for a great read!

Liz said...

Great interview! It's great to hear from someone like Kate, who has only been in the WGA for three months, but believes in it strongly enough to devote her time to being a strike captain. (And of course, as LillyKat pointed out, it's important to hear from someone in a more relatable tax bracket.)

suekola44 said...

Very enlightening interview. I had no idea all they were asking for was 2.5 cents on the dollar. The networks are nothhing but greedy sobs!!

Anonymous said...

It's not like the writers had changed their demands. The networks know/knew what they are seeking. This just all makes the networks look bad. It's all be so totally unnecessary. Sounds like a resolution may be a hand very very soon!

~Naj

Ole said...

Good interview! It's great to hear from someone like Kate, who has only been in the WGA for three months, but believes in it strongly enough to devote her time to being a strike captain.

daniel said...

This is a great post Dmitry. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advise. I get less comments than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.


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