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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 Los Angeles, 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.
Film and TV scribe Christopher Knopf, one of the WGAW strike captains at Sony, said there were two main criteria in assigning members to picket at the various company locations throughout the L.A. area.
“One, it’s where they live, and two, where they work,” Knopf said.
Batches of about a few dozen pickets were broken down into at least three groups for posting at gates around Sony’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 that the guild’s talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers ultimately broke down over terms for compensation of 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.”
Jay Leno rode his motorcycle to a picket line at NBC in Burbank to pass out doughnuts to the strikers there. Down the street, the striking writers took to the main gates at Warner Bros., crossing traffic, shouting chants and waving their signs to passers-by. Picket coordinator Brian Hartt said he expected 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.”
Added “The New Adventures of Old Christine” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who joined the show’s writers at Warner Gate 2: “As a member of another union, the Screen Actors Guild, I’m here to show my solidarity. … 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.”
Actor Oscar Nunez (“The Office”) said he hopes the writers manage to secure a workable residuals scheme for content streamed over the Internet. “It’s just a formula,” Nunez shrugged.
SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland also was at the Warner lot.
“Judging by the turnout here, it’s an excellent show of solidarity,” Crabtree-Ireland said. SAG has recommended that union actors join the writers’ picket lines in their free time.
At the Fox lot in West Los Angeles, “The Simpsons” executive producer James L. Brooks was among the 200 or so writers walking a picket line, along with “Shark” creator-executive producer Ian Biederman, “Bones” exec producer Stephen Nathan, and “American Dad” producers Jim Bernstein and Nahnatchka Khan.
“We’re scared,” said “Shark” producer Bill Chais, the designated press spokesman at the site. “I’d be the first to admit that I’m scared.”
While speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Chais was getting a 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 nonwriting duties during a strike.
“Factory Girl” director George Hickenlooper was among the couple of hundred picketers who blanketed Universal Studios’ perimeter.
The picketers — most of whom were wearing WGA buttons or T-shirts with such taglines as “Unfair is unfunny” and “SAG supports WGA” — were scattered around the numerous gates of the studio.
Hickenlooper, who 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.
“I don’t think the studios anticipated the kind of support we have,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re serious about this strike.”
In New York, striking WGA East members flocked to picket lines at NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza — including Tina Fey, the star and executive producer of “30 Rock.”
The hyphenate was not shy about criticizing her employer up the street, saying that studios and networks execs have been disingenuous in arguing that new-media distribution platforms are too fledgling to throw off big revenue. “NBC is breaking away from iTunes. They know what they’re doing with new media,” she said, adding that existing scripts can carry “30 Rock” through the first week of January.
Comedy writers and performers from such New York mainstays as “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” made up the roughly 100 writers in the morning shift; the group included “SNL’s” Seth Meyers and “Daily Show’s” John Oliver, who lauded Stewart for choosing to turn out the lights on “Daily Show” during the strike.
Jon Robin Baitz, creator of ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” spent more than an hour alongside series star Ron Rifkin fielding questions from the media. “Our goal is to make sure people realize this is about the future of entertainment and how writers are paid for that entertainment, and not about a rich entity against a richer entity,” Baitz said.
The decision to picket at 30 Rock was a deliberate logistical and symbolic move on the part of the WGA East.
The space, on a crowded stretch of sidewalk in Manhattan, is a ground zero for the media as well as general pedestrian traffic. That served the guild’s dual purpose of attempting to ignite public support and press sympathy.
Throughout the day, groups of school children, tourists and commuters passed by to ask picketers questions and generally express solidarity.
By the time the afternoon shift came, a fresh crop of about 100 had made their way to the lines, including “Dan in Real Life” writer-director Peter Hedges, former “Sex and the City” writer Liz Tuccillo and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” scribe Adam Brooks.
Brooks noted that the fight over residuals was more fundamental to the business than the AMPTP was allowing. “People think residuals are just a small part of how we get paid. But writers live on them for years,” he said. “There are so many good writers who were able to stay in the business because of a residuals check.”
Los Angeles police were investigating a morning incident in which a picketer was injured at Sunset Gower Studios. According to the LAPD, the accident happened when a driver at the studio gates was “swarmed” by striking writers. The driver was questioned and released.
Leslie Simmons, Nellie Andreeva and Kimberly Nordyke in Los Angeles and Steven Zeitchik in New York contributed to this report.
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