Katie Buckland has been experiencing a lot of firsts lately as the executive director of the Writers Guild Foundation.
When the WGA strike kicked off in May, she and her small staff were asked to manage the “forlorn and sad little” picket line outside of Universal Gate 8 on Barham Boulevard, where they experienced brutally hot days and the not-so-pleasant development that’s come to be known as Treegate.
“I felt like I lived there for a couple of months, but my staff did a tremendous job of keeping it as entertaining as possible,” Buckland says proudly. “I don’t know why, but every time we pushed the button for the stoplight at that corner, it said ‘change password.’ We never figured it out.”
Now that the strike is over, she’s facing an unprecedented chapter in her 10 years of managing the non-profit that offers support and training programs for aspiring screenwriters: her operating budget is at 0. The five-month-long work stoppage dried up any and all donations to the foundation that is a separate legal entity from the WGA, even though they rent space inside the guild’s building and do occasional projects with the union.
“The studios fund some of our pipeline programs, particularly a program called Writers Access, which is amazing and has trained brilliant young writers to be script coordinators and writers assistants as a stepping stone to a career in writing,” explains Buckland. “There’s also some studio funding for a screenwriting program we run for veterans. The [studio people] felt very bad about it, but the second day of the strike they called and said, ‘we’re so sorry. We cannot give you the money that we had promised you.’ Writing a check to us was the same thing as writing a check to the Guild, which they were not going to do. So it was kind of a tough day at work.”
Donations from writers during the strike were predictably nonexistent, as was the FYC money the foundation typically generated from their newsletters. Some folks still sent in cash, but Buckland quickly realized the donors wanted to offer direct assistance to people in need so she rerouted the money to the Entertainment Community Fund.
Eventually, Buckland had to dip into the foundation’s savings to cover payroll for her eight staffers.
“We’ve never had to do that,” admits Buckland. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had to use our emergency savings account for operating expenses. The point of a savings account for a nonprofit is to cover one-time capital expenses that are approved by the board. I have never worried about money the way that I’m worrying now.”
Now that the strike is over, Buckland and the foundation’s board have to figure out how to replenish their savings and get their operating budget back to normal. Her hope is to seek donations from “established writers who were not impacted in the same way as some of the younger writers by the strike.” How to do that? By reminding everyone of the foundation’s popular programs and the difference they make in Hollywood.
“The goal behind Writers Access was for people with absolutely no connection to Hollywood to get employed,” says Buckland. “The positions of script coordinators and writers assistants are a way in the door. The first time we opened up the very first class, it crashed our servers. We had something like 900 applicants for 16 spots. It’s essentially a writing competition. They’re not all young people, but for the most part, they come from the most diverse backgrounds you’ve ever seen in your life. They’re amazing writers, and several of them have already been staffed on TV shows. So it’s a really effective pipeline program.”
The foundation also maintains an extensive script library that also serves as a place for writers to work. For more information about the foundation, click here.