Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back in Line: LA vs. NY in Battle of the Rallies

Well it's been a little while since I've posted last, in part because I didn't have much of note to report, but also because of Thanksgiving holiday, et al -- blah, blah, blah, let's get to the good stuff.

Last Tuesday, November 20th the WGA West hosted a union solidarity rally on Hollywood Blvd. -- in the main area of the historic Hollywood neighborhood.

There was live entertainment:

(Yes, that's actually Alicia Keys. Apologies for the washed out shot, but it was EXTREMELY bright and hazy that day.)

After her performance and some brief introductions by WGA West president Patric Verrone, the thousands of people that had gathered -- which included members of the nurses' union, janitor's union, SAG, AFTRA, and more -- marched down Hollywood Blvd. towards Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

[On a side note, I was both surprised and impressed by the amount of other union supporters present. I really hope that if and when their time comes to struggle or strike, that the WGA is present in as equal degree of the support that they have shown us.]

A photo of some fellow union supporters in the crowd:

As we approached the Chinese Theatre, there was a giant Teamster truck parked in the middle of the street which was pretty cool.

For those of you not familiar with Los Angeles, the area surrounding the Chinese -- which also entails the geography of the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- has become sort of like LA's mini Times Square...

Once we arrived there Senor Verrone spoke once more, as did other union leaders, an LA city councilmen and Sandra Oh (Sideways, Grey's Anatomy).

Now take one good last look at this LA crowd...

And now -- we flash forward one full week to today, November 27th, where a very similar rally was held at Washington Square Park in New York City. You may now compare and contrast with the folk at this rally...

I was excited at the prospect of being able to visually juxtapose these two events on opposites sides of the coast. But truth be told the rallies themselves weren't night and day by any means. The format was almost exactly the same.

Once again with the live entertainment:

I'm still not sure how I feel about having musical guests at these events. Part of me feels like some of the past artists have been really well known, i.e. Rage Against the Machine Alumnus and Alicia Keys, which unfortunately I think just plays into these negative stereotypes about the strike. Here we are just a bunch of rich celebrities having a party and hanging out. Which is NOT TRUE. However at today's rally the artists (truth be told, I don't even know their name, bad journalist, bad) were much more anonymous -- and their presence there seemed to function as more of a mood bolstering element than a privileged one. Instead of -- hey look we can get Alicia Keys to come play our event for free! It was more -- chin up union brother and sister -- "I think I can make it now the pain is gone... all of the clouds seemed to have disappeared. It's going to be a bright, bright sunshiney day..." (They did actually sing that by the way). They also played little bumpers in between the speakers which made it feel like you were at a taping of the Tonight show, but in the best possible way -- especially the rim shots after strained jokes.

The music was followed by a bevy of speakers -- more than there were in LA, due in part to the fact that we did not march anywhere, rather stood in place in front of the stage where we clapped, listened, hooted, hollered, and pumped our signs.

The Vice President of the WGA East spoke, as did the head of the local Teacher's Union. The biggest show of the day was probably presidential democratic candidate John Edwards.

His appearance seemed to cause a bit of a stir, as there were people milling about who were petitioning to have him put on the ballot in NY -- as well as folks who were trying to pull the veil on Edwards' history with big business, namely how he's received campaign funding from Hollywood moguls in the past. I never did see individuals from these two opposing groups butt heads, but it was interesting to see them working the same crowd.

There were also several members of the Screen Actors Guild who came out to the rally and spoke in support of our cause. Among them, Tim Robbins, Danny Glover, and, yes, Gilbert Gottfried.

Not that I don't appreciate the support. Hey, we'll take it when we can get it. But it doesn't diminish the randomness factor...

The other obvious difference of course is the weather. Now you'll notice people in their coats and such, but truth be told it wasn't even THAT cold today -- not by east coast standards. It was probably in the 40's. But let me tell you something. When you're standing still, holding a sign, gloveless, it gets chilly after a while. Look at us writers braving the elements all trans-continental and sh*t. You can't beat the heat in LA, nor apparently, the cold in NY.

One final thing. The biggest and most important different in picketing out here in New York vs. Los Angeles? It's the signs. The signs look a little different yes:

But the most important difference here is that the signs are fastened onto lightweight cardboard tubes instead of wooden sticks. Not only does this make for a light sign but it is MUCH, MUCH easier on the hands. Goodbye cruel electrical tape and blisters. Hello sweet smooth cardboard....

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I had heard tell of this little song sheet making the rounds at picket locations, but it wasn't until Friday night when I was at the guild for my van loading shift (which basically entailed me emptying a supply van for a picket location and reloading it) that I was able to procure one of these first hand.

Here are the inspirational lyrics that some 'scribe' 'penned' to the tune of YMCA by The Village People. (Am I going to get in trouble for using Variety slang since they supposedly side with the studios?)

WRITER, there's no need to feel down.
I said, WRITER, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, WRITER, 'cause you're not going down.

WRITER, there's a place you can go.
I said, WRITER, when they're talkin' your dough.
You can join us, and be sure you will find
Fair pay, health care, pension, and welfare.

It's great to be in the W-G-A
It's great to be in the W-G-A

We write everything
from the news to the soaps
We write all the late night jokes!

It's great to be in the W-G-A
It's great to be in the W-G-A

We script "unscripted" shows
We write clever comebacks
We won't take no stinkin' rollbacks

AMP-TEEP, are you listening to me?
I said, AMP-TEEP, what do you want to be?
I said, AMP-TEEP, we can make real your dreams
But you've got to know this one thing!

NO ONE does it all by himself.
If you want OSCARS on your office shelf,
Then just GIVE US our fair share of the pice
Or let NICK COUNTER do your rewrites!

It's great to be in the W-G-A
It's great to be in the W-G-A

and so on and so forth it continues on from here. I appreciate the sentiment of doing this, but could we perhaps make it to something a little more modern? Perhaps a former staffer on Welcome Back Kotter is responsible for these. I mean when was the last time you heard YMCA in public, or even on the radio? Not that I'm certain you could successfully do one of these with Justin Timerlake's SexyBack. I'm bringing residuals back. (Yeah!) These AMPTP peeps just don't know how to act...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Writers Get Creative Part II

As the days since the WGA has declared a strike have started to pile up (it was fourteen days ago that a strike was called), the signs that the writers have been marching the picket lines have become more and more inventive. The Guild has started to put out more and more of these "do it yourself" signs with blank white spaces in the middle, where people can write their own messages. The write ins range from simple "Honk for Support" to not so simple "Tom Freston got a $60,000,000 severance package." Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight Shrute on The Office) was marching in my picket line yesterday with a sign that said "Jesus was a writer."

But I think my favorites of all the ones I've seen are these series of signs titled "Without Writers" Check them out...

I think I want to create one of these posters for one of the big science fiction franchises out there. Either a Star Wars edition (Without Writers: You should be with the force and stuff.) or Star Trek (Without Writers: Have a long and happy life.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Week Two, Day Seven

Captain's log, star date zero one one, thirteen. As of yesterday before sunrise I found myself in a strange new place. Initial readings indicate that similar lifeforms to that found at previous locations are--

OK, I'll stop with the Star Trek referencing. I'm well aware of it's dorky-ness, but you have to understand that boredom has largely taken over my brain these days, and not for lack of change of venue.

This week the picketing schedules and locations changed. Due to Culver Studio's smaller size, the Guild decided to drop it from the picketing rotation. Myself, and my trusty crew (the people I work and write with) were diverted to Paramount studios. The picketing shifts also changed from 9 AM to 1 PM, and 1 PM to 5 PM, to 6 AM (!) to 10 AM, and 10 AM to 2 PM. I am under the impression that the major reason for this time change was so that the picketers could be present when the Teamsters who drive the production trucks onto the lot arrived -- the hope being that the Teamsters would honor the picket line, turn around, and disrupt production at the studios.

All these changes sent my team a flutter. First off many of them live on the evil (west) side of town, and so Paramount, which is located round the Hollywood parts was not particularly convenient for them. Secondly many of them balked at the draconian call time of 6 AM. The result of this shifting? My team has now fragmented. Some are doing Sony, some are doing Paramount, some are doing the very early shift, others the not so early shift.

Since I live close to Paramount (about ten minutes away, hallelujah!) I've been going there -- and the past two days I've done the 6 AM to 10 AM. First let me say that having your alarm go off at 4:53 AM is downright disconcerting. It's been dark outside when I leave the house, and never before has the desert climate of Hades (Los Angeles) been more apparent to me. When I pull up to the studio my car thermometer reads 55 F or so. When I pull away, we're up to 80 F.

Yesterday I started my shift outside of the Van Ness lot -- the one where the Teamsters generally pull up to. Ain't it downright picturesque?

We picketers were armed with flyers to hand out to the Teamsters to inform them more about the issues at hand, as we encouraged them not to cross the line. Unfortunately this endeavor was not very successful, not that I can blame them. These guys know that production may be shutting down for a while in the near future and they have families to feed. Though I don't think anyone else in my picketing group was angry at the Teamsters for crossing -- I do think the fact that our scheme wasn't working bred some frustration. Picketers started to walk obnoxiously in front of other cars trying to come in at times failing to let them pull into the driveway. Though many of the writers on the line may have fancied the drivers to be the big bad suits -- in reality they looked like a mixed bunch, whose scowls grew as picketers refused to stop their stomping to let they by. Though Emily Post may have fallen out of fashion -- common sense says to me you don't ingratiate someone to your cause by making them late to work. I left this gate of ornery picketers, to find another.

And find another I did. Voila -- the Bronson Gate.

There were about seven or eight writers at this gate -- where mostly suits and other administrative employee types drove in. The picketers were subdued and very polite, patiently giving right of way to every vehicle that wanted to turn in, even when we had the "walk sign" (there is a built in stoplight and crosswalk at the gate -- which allowed for nice albeit brief breaks to the constant trudging back and forth).

Thing is -- while the first bunch I was with were too cantankerous -- these guys were too docile. Too harmless, too nonthreatening, -- walking around without a sign pump to be seen, like animatronics Paramount had put out for passersby to stare at. "Oh honey, look at what the studios make the writers do in Hollywood! Those writers go around in circles for what seems like eternity only to realize they haven't gotten any further than when they first started." (Seriously one of the Hollywood Bus Tours stopped in front of us so the tourists could take pictures -- it was one of the lower points for me in all this) All this good behavior from my compatriots made me encourage honking -- from cars, buses, vans, anyone who I could get good eye contact with and then waving my sign around maniacally when they would. The thing is, when I'm the most vigilant in a crowd? Well, let's just say this does not bode well for the crowd...

I did the morning shift again today -- and stuck strictly to the Bronson Gate -- with a heavy heart that once again I would need to play the role of the rabble rouser. Little did I know I was about to be surrounded by a bunch of badasses. Uhuh, that's right.

(Let the record state that they were all actually extremely nice guys.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Rally at the Fox

Well today marked the last day of the first week of the Writer's Guild of America strike. In both New York and Los Angeles, guild members rallied around buildings owned by the Fox Corporation, in an effort to make their voices heard as they continue to demand a fair contract.

The LA gang of writers met in front of the Fox Plaza -- right by the Fox Studio lot in Century City. It was a sight to be seen -- over three thousand folks were there I'd say. In about the first five minutes I was there, I caught glimpses of Judd Apatow, the actress who played Andrea in Beverly Hills 90210, Kelsey Grammer, a couple of the guys from It's Sunny in Philadelphia, and others. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not a paparazzi -- so I don't have any photos of these famous folks. The only people I did feel comfortable photographing were a couple of the Reno 911 guys, because they were in costume. The Screen Actors Guild has stood in solidarity with the WGA, and all sorts of stars have come to march the picket lines with their writer colleagues.

During the first hour of the rally there were speakers for about an hour (by the president of both the WGA and SAG) and then for the second hour people moved down to the main Fox entrance to picket/protest. The cops even closed off the street for us and everything. Here's a look at the writers taking to the streets...

There were some other unusual aspects to the rally -- such as the fact that major agencies located just down the street sent their assistants out, all dressed up, to serve up churros (and other sweets) on platters to the protesters. I guess this is their way of trying to convince the writers they support their cause. That or they're just trying to ingratiate themselves with big names present in the hopes of luring them to their agency after this war is over.

Behold the churros...

There was also a young thin blonde woman in a scandalously short dress walking around with a large sign that simply read "Day 5." Not sure if this was at the behest of an agency, or if she was merely an entrepreneurial young actress trying to get her face, and ahem, other particulars seen.

Here are some photos as the crowds moved down to Pico (which is a major street in LA, for those of you not familiar) where the front of the studio is located.

You can get a peek inside the Fox Lot in this shot.

And that wraps up this week's reporting on the strike. Stay tuned for next week as (barring further negotiations -- which as of now there are none scheduled) I continue to man the picket line, and drive around, snapping photos of other picket locales.

Also, for those of you who wish to get a better idea of the issues at hand, here's a neat little video that some writers made to explain what is what.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day 4; Reality, Surreality, and yes, more Etiquette

So it's been another two days on the front lines since my last post. Didn't post yesterday because well -- I didn't have the energy. Little known fact -- picketing is a lot harder than it looks. Oh I'm not crying for sympathy here or anything, but frankly it's sort of tiring. My friend and esteemed colleague Nick, brought a pedometer to picketing the other day and we calculated that we walked about eight miles in our four hour shift! Which means we've walked 32 miles this week. Not too shabby if I don't say so myself. If one good thing is to come out of all this it'll be that my calves will be toned like never before.

As the week went on, my group spread out to other areas of the Culver Studios property. The front of the Studio Property is on a major street, so this was one of the areas we targeted the most, increasing our exposure to the public. Interestingly enough, the front of the Culver Studios is AKA Tara, from Gone with the Wind.

That's right -- I picketed in front of the residence where Scarlett O'Hara took her gentleman callers and Ashley and Rhett quarreled on the war of northern aggression. Oh Jesus...

We paced up and down the street, waving signs at passing cars and trying to get them to honk. The idea being that the more honking there was, the more the executives inside will be annoyed -- thereby hopefully inciting them to put pressure on their big studio bosses to end this strike ASAP.

I've always wanted to annoy someone to death. I've pitched the idea to a friend that we should just start bringing in boom boxes -- and continuously play two or three 80's tunes on loop. Maybe a little Rick Springfield -- and perhaps some Duran Duran. Let's see how well the suits can focus after eight hours straight of No No -- Notorious!

Today there were also some rabble rousers in the bunch -- which was actually good for our typically soft spoken group. We did some chants like "When I say Union, you say Power, Union: POWER, Union: POWER." Also I tried to start my own round of a little chant I came up with "The pen is mightier than the CEO." But mostly we focused on the car honking objective.

It's not everyday you see a sign like this...

Pretty surreal huh? I think so. I keep expecting Rod Serling to jump out of the bushes, saying something like: "Kalinda. You've travelled to another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A place. That is known. As the TWILIGHT ZONE." I'm still having trouble getting over the fact that last week I was in an office trying to figure out a story point for the next episode I'd be writing on, and now I'm pounding the pavement -- marching and chanting.

As for my picketing technique -- I think it still needs a little work. Lots of folk out on the line have a nice stroll. They sort of leisurely, languidly move forward. Me? I march. I'm a New Yorker, so I suppose it's in my DNA to push ahead, darting in between other pedestrians, staring at the ground and avoiding eye contact. However, this is apparently not proper picket etiquette (or picketiquette as a friend cleverly suggested earlier this week). All these damn friendly Californians and fellow picketers keep coming up to me -- "You can't walk alone!" they say. Or "Hey, you've got quite a stride there!" I know they are only trying to be affable and pleasant, being that we are all on the same team here -- but I still have to fight the New Yorker in me who just wants to smile slightly and keep moving --instead of slowing down and engaging in conversation. When you're on the subway, or walking down the street in New York you're sort of lost in your own world. Other people aren't really people, they're just another obstacle to walk around, like a lamp post or a fire hydrant. Your mind is usually occupied with other things. What you're going to do when you arrive at your destination. Why they put up such an ugly billboard in Times Square. Why the person across the street has on an afro clown wig. Maybe you've got your headphones on and you're letting your imagination run away a little. (I actually received several dirty looks when I brought out my Ipod today) It's not that you wish ill on these people -- or that you're this cold heartless egotist (that many people perceive New Yorkers to be). It's just that you're doing your own thing -- trying to get where you're going -- like anybody else. And for the most part people get that -- that's why there's no need to engage in small talk. I definitely need to work on my cocktail conversation muscles -- more so than my calves.

Tomorrow there's going to be a huge rally at FOX with all the picketers, so stay tuned for what are sure to be some great photos.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Over the Hill

After picketing again at Culver Studios today I drove over the hill to get a glimpse of the picket lines in front of some of the big studios like Universal, Warner Brothers and Disney.

The crowd at Disney was pretty mellow -- they had a group of about fifteen people on parallel gates down Riverside in front of the ABC building. I felt a bit bad for them because it doesn't seem like they see much car traffic, and without the supportive bits of honking and cars passing by things start to seem a little futile.

At Universal the crowds were better. I was in my car, so unless I hit a stoplight, it was hard for me to get a good picture. Here's a shot with a smattering of the crowd by the main entrance to Universal Studios Theme Park and Citywalk (If you're not familiar with LA, Citywalk is a sort of Downtown Disney, but even more crowded and tacky, where they constantly blare pop music through loud speakers. If you're picturing the seventh ring of Hell at this moment, you've pretty much got it right)

At the next Universal gate, I got lucky with a red light and rolled down my window to talk to some fellow guild members. They were pretty upbeat, and asked me how many other people were at studios that I had driven by. One writer asked me if I'd been to Fox yet and I said I hadn't yet, though I was curious. His response to that was, "I'd like to picket them. Personally." And then he got this far away look on his face, and I could have sworn I saw cartoon machine guns in the glint of his eyes. Off the record, I do think it would be funny if writers just started picketing as a method to resolving other issues they had with individual studios. You don't like the notes you got your second draft? Picket away! Not sure how effective it would actually be -- but it'd still be amusing if it became a common practice.

Of all the studios that I went to, Warner Brothers had the strangest sort of picket strategy. There were main gates that were completely EMPTY. Seriously, check this out, I was shocked.

I'm not sure why there was no picketing here. My one guess is that they gathered all the writers together and positioned them at another gate around the corner, which was pretty packed. The picketers here took advantage of a large crosswalk in between the studio lot and its parking structure, and crossed en mass whenever they got the walk sign, chanting as they went. There were a good number of people -- maybe 30 on each side -- and they filled the entire street as they passed each other.

It was actually a pretty neat sight to see. Below are some pictures showing their procession.

Writers Get Creative

Here's a picture of my friend Karyn, who decided that picketing a la sandwich board was the only way to go. This way she could have her hands free to raise her fists with determination and revolutionary fervor.

I need to make me one of these, as my arms are getting tired of sign pumping already and it's only been two days. Fist pumping seems like a much better way to go.

More pictures coming soon...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Picket Etiquette

Having never walked in a picket line before I wasn't sure what to expect. Do you shuffle back and forth just holding your sign? The answer is -- yes! The techniques for walking in a picket line are actually as self explanatory as you might imagine. One foot in front of the other, until you reach the point where you turn 'round, and there you have it. As we were picketing in front of a "Gate" also known in the rest of the world as a "driveway" cars would periodically pass through. There was a congenial security guard present, who patiently signaled for us to stop when there was a car. I found a strange satisfaction in making eye direct contact at the driver who was crossing the picket line -- and watched as they casually adjusted their radio or played with their cell phone. Anything to avoid looking at me and the other picketers. Other folks in the picket line employed this method too, and I was amused to find that the fancier the car that was being driven, the greater degree of the stink eye it would receive. So if you were in a Saab you got a mildly cold look, but if you were stylin' in a Benz, you'd get a reproachful glare.

The two most important duties you have as a picketer are to move your sign and chant. I found the "pumping" method to yield the most satisfactory result -- by which I raised my arm up and down in quick bursts, making my sign bounce jauntily. It was also decidedly better than waving it, which could get cumbersome particularly when a gale of any force cames blowing through. As for chanting -- well, that didn't really happen, at least not in a group sense. Though amiable enough, many of the picketers were more reserved and withdrawn (there's a shocker, it's a God damned writer's strike) and any discussion of chanting only provoked silence and/or nervous laughter. The staff members of the Writer's Guild distributed handouts with chants on them, in the hopes that it would spark some -- well -- chanting. Most of them were pretty standard -- just typical union/labor stuff.

This one was my favorite though...

Network bosses, rich and rude
We don't like your attitude

Call me a cynic, but there was just something a little bit silly about this one -- maybe because it was just a statement of facts rather than a cry for action. It's like "Yes, and...?"

Also, I was a fan of:

Hey, hey, ho, ho
Union busting has to go!
Hey, hey, ho ho
Where did all the money go?

Particularly it's the last phrase on that one that gets me. Maybe because it gets my mind going on how to finish out those thoughts...

Hey, hey, ho ho
To a bunch of coke on their expense accounts, yo!


Though there was no group chanting -- there was one picketer who became quite outspoken. In an effort to dissuade people from crossing the picket line, she would yell out pointedly to drivers and pedestrians that they should not cross the line, because according to her: "God loves writers." and "Daddy was a union man." There was something awesome about this old school labor attitude, though after awhile it did become a little grating.

Tomorrow I'm going to work on my sign pumping technique some more....

Another Blog

And if you're interested in more updates of the strike, Deadline Hollywood Daily is a great blog with frequent updates.

On the first day of striking...

What brings me back to the world of blogging? Too much time on my hands? In a manner of speaking. As of 12:01 AM today on Monday, November 5th (Remember, Remember the 5th of November) my union --The Writer's Guild of America-- has gone on strike.

The reasons for the strike are as complicated as you might imagine a legal contract between a union and several major media conglomerates to be -- filled with formulas for profit sharing and allowances for special circumstances under special conditions, etc..

But this blog isn't really about rallying around a cause. Don't get me wrong -- it's my union and I'm going to stand behind it, because it's the right thing to do. But this blog is more about me as an observer -- an on looker of this insanity. I've only been a member of the guild for four months, but I've been thrown into the front lines the past couple weeks -- and today I found myself, for the first time in my life -- walking a picket line.

Here are some more photos:

A better look at the sound stages of the Culver Studios -- the locale at which I was picketing. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were shot here. It's predominantly studio space rented out by the Major Studios.

Some members of the Screen Actors Guild came out to support, which was nice of them.

After my picketing shift I drove by Paramount and there weren't as many people out there as I had imagined there would be -- tomorrow I intend to hit some of the studios in the valley -- Warner Brothers, Universal and Disney -- and get some pictures over there. There's a part of me that can barely believe this is happening -- it's like I've slipped into some bizarro X-Men like alternate reality. But it is -- and for as long as it goes on, I will try to document it here...