Writers Strike: Why It Doesn’t Shock One Gen Zer

I Worked On ‘Gordita Chronicles’

— And Now, It’s Nowhere To Be Found

“Sometimes you’re a Latino writer and you’re only given Latino jobs, and if those shows are getting canceled or aren’t getting made, then when are you gonna work?”

Courtesy Francisco Cabrera-Feo

Francisco Cabrera-Feo

Francisco Cabrera-Feo is a queer Los Angeles-based screenwriter and director who was born and raised in Venezuela. At 11, Cabrera-Feo emigrated to the United States, settling in Broward County, Florida. A 2020 graduate of Florida State University, he has worked on series such as Netflix’s “Gentefied,” Max’s “Gordita Chronicles,” Netflix’s “Blockbuster” and others. After clawing his way through the pandemic to jumpstart his career, Cabrera-Feo has taken up translation jobs while he waits for a fair contract.

Tell me about how you got started in this industry.

I went to school for directing, and I thought that was going to be everything that I was going to be doing. I never wanted to do comedies. I was always making these sad dramas. Then the pandemic started right as I graduated. I actually ended up graduating on Zoom. I had to move back in with my parents. So I just wrote, wrote, wrote and decided to write a comedy about living in Tallahassee. And then that became my sample into comedy rooms.

So after that, I became an assistant to the co-showrunners of “Gentefied.” So I went from being a showrunner assistant to writer assistant to script coordinator to writer on that show. It was the craziest six months of my entire life. That was my first gig. From then, I went to “Gordita Chronicles” on Max. That was my first staff writing job. Then I went to “Blockbuster” for Netflix. And then I went to “Acapulco” on Apple TV+. We were in the middle of filming my episode in the middle of the strike. Those four shows are the four shows that I’ve written on, all created by Latinos.

Can you talk about the moment when the strike was announced and you were on set?

Even prior to everything, Apple asked us, “What is your schedule if there’s a strike? Can you get the scripts done?” So they were already kind of creatively being like, “How do we make sure all the scripts are done before a possible strike?” So we were already writing really fast, trying to make sure that our scripts were done when our union contract ended. We had already voted to strike. It was really about those last few days where people were like, “Maybe there’s a chance.” I was in Mexico in Puerto Vallarta shooting my episode.

Luckily, I wrapped my episode by that Friday. By Monday, the strike had started. So I flew back to LA, and actually some of the “Abbott Elementary” writers organized a bar hang where all of our writer Twitter friends were together at this bar as we awaited a response. That’s when we found out that it was gonna happen. And it was nice ’cause we were all around writers of color, queer writers, new writers. And we all were like, “OK, let’s get a few drinks before we have to wake up tomorrow and pick up our picket signs.”

After graduating college on Zoom during the pandemic, Cabrera-Feo became an assistant to the co-showrunners of Netflix's "Gentefied." The series starred Carlos Santos, Karrie Martin and Joseph Julian Soria
After graduating college on Zoom during the pandemic, Cabrera-Feo became an assistant to the co-showrunners of Netflix’s “Gentefied.” The series starred Carlos Santos, Karrie Martin and Joseph Julian Soria

How has it felt grappling with what feels like an incessant start-stop of this industry? What has it been like explaining your career trajectory to your parents?

There’s two parts to that. Luckily my parents were very activist-forward. They were very much fighting for freedom of speech in my home country of Venezuela. So they understood where we were coming from, and they supported us picketing and protesting for a fair deal. But I will say immediately my mom was like, “So Fran, have you thought about picking a different industry? Something that’s more stable? You’re always looking for a job. You work 16 weeks on a good show and then you have to find the next thing.” That was really scary for her to say.

Then I was trying to basically calm my mother’s worries. Before I had to calm my own worries, I had to calm hers. I had to tell her this was my calling and my dream. Yes, all of us have to think about how we pay rent, but I didn’t want to give up on my dream just yet. I feel like I’m still on track.

What does the strike say about our generation’s capacity to refuse inequity as a standard, but also the constant need to pivot and redirect ourselves?

I was thinking a lot about why I haven’t been shocked about how things are going and the fact that we’re on strike. I haven’t been shocked because as Gen Zers, we entered the industry in flux. We entered an industry when we were already being paid pennies in comparison to previous decades. You say “thank you,” you take the pennies, then you talk to writers who were striking in ’07 and they tell you, “Wait, no, you’re an executive story editor? We used to be able to buy homes at your rate.” Things that we’ve normalized because we entered this industry in the past three years are not normal. And I think that’s what the strike is telling us, is the fact that this feels like a gig economy instead of a career, that’s not the normal. Even though as Gen Zers or as people who are entering this industry right now, it’s all we’ve ever seen and we’re used to this kind of panic; we’re used to corporations taking advantage of their creators. I think the strike is giving that realization to newer writers that we deserve better.

We’re gonna have to come back after the strike and continue to fight. We’re not gonna wake up and be like, “We’re back to work.” And that is honestly the scariest part to me. Because during this time, we’ve seen the lack of commitment to diversity. A lot of the diversity and inclusion people at companies and all the commitments to inclusion have gone out the window. What happens when we get back to work? Who’s gonna suffer first? It’s gonna be those voices.

How did you feel learning that “Gordita Chronicles” had a very limited time left on Max?

My manager and my team have this joke now where it’s like, “Oh, the show got ‘Franceled.’” Every Latino show that I’ve worked on has gotten canceled.

When I got that phone call about “Gordita,” it was incredibly sad, ’cause it was a show that we loved and a show that I loved working on, and a show that I felt so incredibly represented by. It’s been such a wonderful thing to connect with other writers on the picket line and be like, OK, let’s use this time to build community and feel less alone because they’ve shown who they are.

There’s no stability in any way. Sometimes you’re a Latino writer and you’re only given Latino jobs, and if those shows are getting canceled or aren’t getting made, then when are you gonna work? If those are the only opportunities that are afforded to me, then maybe I should have listened to my mom and found another track of stability.

Cabrera-Feo said residuals were top of mind after a show he worked on, "Gordita Chronicles," was canceled and removed from the Max streaming service. "We’re not getting residuals for that. It doesn’t exist anymore."
Cabrera-Feo said residuals were top of mind after a show he worked on, “Gordita Chronicles,” was canceled and removed from the Max streaming service. “We’re not getting residuals for that. It doesn’t exist anymore.”

How did you feel seeing the comments from studio execs threatening to make you all homeless?

Some people read those comments and think that’s just a studio trying to scare us. I was really shocked and frightened when I read those comments. For me, that threat is a real threat. It’s just very scary.

I want people to understand the stakes are high. It’s not just about entertainment, but it’s part of a necessary labor overhaul in this country. Also, the way that we approach the American dream. What does it mean for the next generation to be grappling with these systems?

Right. We just got here, and it’s already a responsibility to help fix it. We are already thinking about not just our current self, but also what might happen 40 years from now. Do we have those residuals? Does our job still exist? Is AI taking over? We have the struggle of breaking in while also having the struggle of making it sustainable in the future. So it’s both things, and you have to hope that things will get better.

How has work shifted for you? What are you doing now?

I was working till the last day before the strike. So that has given me a safety net. I just went to New York for a mentoring job. I’ve been doing some teaching gigs. I’m looking for a job in translating text from Spanish to English for a book. I’m trying to selfishly take this time a little bit to write the things that don’t need studios.

Is there a particular demand that is of utmost concern to you?

Residuals are the most important to me because they took “Gordita” off streaming. We’re not getting residuals for that. It doesn’t exist anymore. I think residuals come top of mind right now because that is how people were able to have continued income during the highs and lows of their careers.

Cabrera-Feo learned the WGA strike was officially on while meeting with other writers at a bar: “OK, let’s get a few drinks before we have to wake up tomorrow and pick up our picket signs.”

David McNew via Getty Images

Cabrera-Feo learned the WGA strike was officially on while meeting with other writers at a bar: “OK, let’s get a few drinks before we have to wake up tomorrow and pick up our picket signs.”

For our readers, how would you explain residuals?

You write for a show and they pay you, upfront, a certain specific fee. As they continue to make profits, put ads on your work and sell it to other places, there’s an industry commitment to continue to split those profits with the creators, actors and the writers. You would have a check that would be sent to you every couple of months. Now, it’s not even enough to pay for your coffee for the day.

People are seeing the show in several countries because of the work that you wrote. Now that we’re on streaming and the viewership numbers are not shared publicly, you can no longer get paid what you’re worth. That’s deeply unfair. We just want a fair cut.

“I want people to understand the stakes are high. It’s not just about entertainment, but it’s part of a necessary labor overhaul in this country. Also, the way that we approach the American dream. What does it mean for the next generation to be grappling with these systems?”

I had mentors who talked to me about how your best years pay for your bad years. When you’re writing, you have years where you’re busy and then there are years where you don’t get a job. Those usually balance out; now they don’t. And that’s what’s really scary. From my second job to my third job, I had eight months of no paid TV work. And every single time you’re in that space, you think that’s the end of your career. That’s the last job you’ll always get. Luckily, I was able to find something after. But during those eight months, you have to make those 14 weeks of work spread out during that time.

Tell me a little bit about how the community has served you in this time and what you’ve learned from people who’ve survived through the 2007-’08 strikes. What has that been like?

It’s been really nice. There are a lot of group pickets: an Florida State University alumni picket, comedy writers pickets. We did our writers room. I did a “Gordita Chronicles” picket, and I did an “Acapulco” picket. Then there’s the sad mornings on a hot day at Paramount, where you’re just picketing by yourself and the person next to you might be a more veteran writer, and you talk to them. And then they slowly start to tell you about what they experienced and how this is different, how the turnout is incredible this year, how social media has influenced the support of people. It has been very amazing to feel and to be connected with people who were at the strike in 2007-08. So that gives you a little bit of hope.

One of the things that people don’t talk about is that there’s a lot of people that can’t show up to the picket lines ’cause they had to get jobs, right? I do think there’s a lot of people of color, a lot of younger people, a lot of people who just had their first job and their staff writer check is not gonna get them through the strike. They have to find jobs. I think that’s affecting younger people the most because they don’t have those savings.

What do you want people to understand about this strike and the industry? What does this strike mean for preserving entertainment for our generation and the next?

To be able to laugh at a screen, it started with writers and a blank page. Those people deserve to have a living wage. Those people are literally creating culture and creating joy every single day. We cannot devalue that. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s really frustrating.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Gen Z writers bring a very modern voice into writers rooms that I think should be valued. The shows that don’t sound like 50-year-olds writing for teens, it’s because there’s probably someone in that writers room making sure that it’s correct. Those are usually those younger writers. We bring a specific value to shows that connect with a younger audience.