Strike hits sidewalks outside studios
EmptyStrike Zone: Latest on WGA talks
UPDATED: 12:15 p.m. Nov. 5, 2007
The WGA rolled out pickets on two coasts Monday, after Sunday's last-ditch bargaining session failed to mark sufficient progress to prevent the first Hollywood writers strike in 19 years.
In the Los Angeles area, the WGA West's well-rehearsed strike captains marched out troops to populate picket lines at 14 studio and network sites starting at 9 a.m.
"The Simpsons" executive producer James L. Brooks, a strike sign in hand, was among the 200 or so writers walking the picket line in front of the 20th Century Fox lot in West Los Angeles.
Marching on the sidewalk of one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, Pico Blvd., the strikers that included "Shark" creator-executive producer Ian Biederman, "Bones" exec producer Stephen Nathan and "American Dad" producers Jim Bernstein and Nahnatchka Khan enjoyed the support of motorists driving by -- mostly truck drivers --who honked in solidarity. The writers were joined by a few SAG members, including Lelia Goldoni.
The mood on the picket line in the muggy air was mostly somber, with strikers talking quietly amongst themselves between strike chants.
"We're scared; I'd be the first to admit that I'm scared," said "Shark" producer Bill Chais, the designated spokesman and only writer allowed to talk to the press.
While speaking to The Reporter, Chais was getting thumbs up from his boss, Biederman, who was walking the line. Biederman was one of many showrunners who didn't report to work Monday despite talk that showrunners could perform some non-writing duties during a strike.
"Ian is not gonna cross," Chais said, adding that the guild shouldn't leave such decision to people's consciousness. "There should be a set of rules," he said.
Most writers didn't know until past midnight if there will actually be strike Monday as rumors of some progress in the negotiations between the WGA and the studios trickled out during the day Sunday.
"Last night was crazy -- we were burning up the phones, exchanging gossip," Chais said. "We had hope, but I'm not totally surprised I'm here today. It speaks to the fact that it's a monumentally important issue to everyone."
Maybe it was the false hope on Sunday, but strike organizers were not fully prepared Monday morning. By 9:30 a.m., they ran of picket signs and red T-shirts at Fox.
"We've got to get it together," Chais said. "We will."
Striking writers took to the main gates at Warner Bros. in Burbank, crossing traffic, shouting chants and waving their signs to passersby.
Picket coordinator Brian Hartt said he expects at least 300 writers, actors and other supporters to walk the picket lines at each of the main entrances throughout the day.
"I have no idea what (the AMPTP) is thinking," Hartt said. "From Day 1, it's been very confusing. I hope they realize we are serious about our future and we'll stay out as long as we need in order to get a fair deal."
Many others echoed Hartt's sentiments, including one showrunner, John, who stood outside the studio's main gate. John, who declined to give his last name, said he faces losing his job on a drama series filmed at Warners.
"There are 150 people on my show who have families to support," he said. "In my view, this strike is bigger than the show. It would be naive and unresponsible to work at this time and think it would not hurt the families I protect in the long run.
"I'm out here for the long haul," John added.
Among the shows shuttered for the day: "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "The Office."
"Christine" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus joined the show's writers at Gate 2, as they crossed back and forth across the street chanting "On Strike. Shut 'em down. Hollywood's a union town" and "Are you ready to fight? Damn right!"
"As a member of (SAG), I'm here to show my solidarity," Louis-Dreyfus said. "A lot of the issues the Writers Guild of America is negotiating right now, are many of the same issues the Screen Actors Guild will be negotiating soon.
"I stand behind the leadership of the Writers Guild," she added.
Actor Oscar Nunez of "The Office" said the show's star, Steve Carell, and co-star Rainn Wilson declined to come in to work. They have just one episode to film, he added.
"They should negotiate in good faith," Nunez said of the AMPTP. "In my opinion, the process hasn't started yet."
Nunez agreed with the strikers that one of the biggest issues at the table is the ability to watch complete episodes of their shows online, which generate advertising revenue.
"It's just a formula," Nunez said of determining the residuals from those episodes for writers, actors and others.
SAG's general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland was also at the Warner lot, which was not one of the four locations the union told its member actors to turn out for support. Those four locations are Universal, CBS, Paramount and Fox.
"Judging by the turnout here, it's an excellent show of solidarity," Crabtree-Ireland said.
While SAG is not encouraging its members to not come into work, the guild is recommending that members take their own time, including during lunch breaks and after work, to join the picket lines.
The same could be said for other unions. But that didn't stop Teamsters Local 399 member Robert Marchetti to show his support.
Standing on the corner at Warners Gate 2 Marchetti got the attention of fellow teamsters driving by in studio trucks, throwing his hands up at them and giving them exaggerated shrugs.
"I'm pissed," Marchetti said. "I'm not crossing the picket line.
"It might not affect them today, but two weeks, three weeks down the line, it's going to affect them. It's going to creep up on them.
"It's them today," he added. "It could be us tomorrow."
"Factory Girl" director George Hickenlooper was among the couple hundred picketers who blanketed Universal Studios as a steady stream of drivers in passing cars showed their support by honking.
The picketers -- most of whom were wearing WGA buttons or T-shirts with such taglines as "Unfair is unfunny" and even "SAG supports WGA" -- were scattered around the various gates of the studio, many in groups along Lankershim Boulevard as well as at locations on Barham Boulevard and a street leading up to the front of CityWalk.
Hickenlooper, who also has written and helmed such films as "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" and "Dogtown," said he chose to stand outside Universal because that's where his first film, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," was cut. He said he was encouraged that "some progress" had been made during the last-minute talks Sunday but noted that it was not enough.
Still, "I'm hopeful that negotiations will continue and the writers guild will get a fair deal," said Hickenlooper, who had been on the picket line since 8:30 a.m. Monday. "Our contract is 22 years old now, and it's completely unfair."
Amid the honking, Hickenlooper noted: "I don't think the studios anticipated the kind of support we have. We're serious about this strike."
Also among the picketers at Universal was screenwriter Alan Sereboff ("Snowblind, "The Payback All-Star Review"), one of the strike captains, who noted the significance of what the writers are striking for.
"It's not just normal housekeeping issues," said Sereboff, who had been at the studio since 8 a.m.
Referring to Sunday's negotiations, he added: "I'm disappointed they didn't provide closure to this. We took DVDs off the table ... but we need to protect our residuals in (new media). We don't want to be fooled again."
At Sony, batches of about a few dozen pickets were broken down into at least three groups for posting at gates around the studio's Culver City lot. A few members of SAG, though still under contract to the studios, were on hand to help with picket duty.
"I'm just here to support the writers," film and TV actor John Dennis Johnston said. "We're all part of the creative team."
He noted the guild's talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers ultimately broke down over terms for compensation writers for new-media content.
"You do your work, and it lives forever, and you should be paid forever for it including (residuals) on all the new technologies," Johnston said.
Screenwriter Rob Adetuyi ("Stomp the Yard") said he was solidly in support of the strike action.
"We're doing what we need to do," Adetuyi said.
Asked why Sunday's session ended in failure despite some clear shifts in previous positions by both parties, the WGA writer said he was supporting the strike based on his faith in guild leadership.
"Our negotiators were in the room and know the tone (of the eleventh-hour talks)," he said. "You have to trust your negotiators."
Film and TV scribe Christopher Knopf, one of the WGAW strike captains at Sony, said there were two main criteria in assigning members to pickets at the various company locations.
"One, it's where they live, and two, where they work," Knopf said.