Friday, December 14, 2007

Picketing in Snowy/Rainy Times Square

I had a better headline all picked out for this -- not the most original mind you, just the first one that would most likely come to mind -- but then Nikki Finke had to go and use it herself. Oh well.

Irregardless, yesterday was by the far the most precipitation laden day of WGA picketing that I've seen since my recent time on the eastern seaboard. When i got out of the subway it was snowing pretty hard.

Yesterday's picketing action was in front of the 1515 Broadway building in Times Square -- where Viacom's headquarters are located. Offices for the channels MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon among others are housed therein. Ironically enough the first job I had in this "business" was working as an intern in MTV's series development division. On arriving at the picketing spot, I felt like I was coming full circle in a way. If someone were to have told me nine years ago that one day I'd be picketing in front of the Viacom building as a member of the Writer's Guild of America, I would have told them to stop smoking so much crack/cocaine and urged them to seek professional help.

My MTV history aside, there was something really surreal about the whole set up yesterday. As aforementioned, picketing in and of itself is bizarre -- but add into the equation Times Square and a wintry mix of snow and sleet? Let's just say I felt like I'd stepped into a music video directed by Michel Gondry. The snow piled on my shoulders as I hoisted my picket sign, and when I threw a gander up towards Gotham's gray heavens my gaze was met with the disapproving eyes of fabulous looking youth on a Juicy Couture billboard. It was a bit like Vanilla Sky meets America's Next Top Model.

Yesterday's action was a Future Members picket -- so several students from local film schools came out on the line. I chatted with a couple of writer's who were at the master's program in Columbia and they were great -- upbeat with refreshing perspectives, yet to be embittered old cynics. There were also members of other unions present -- including a representative from the Teacher's Union and an Aviation Engineers Union, which was extremely generous considering the circumstances of the weather.

First came the snow--

--which then turned to more of a freezing rain. This was more uncomfortable then the snow -- because all of one's winter wares got wet -- and fool that I am the one day I don't bring my umbrella with me is the one day I truly need it. Isn't that always the way?

Luckily, it being Times Square and all -- there were enough things going on to keep my mind off the fact I was freezing.

And by 'things' I mean half naked urban cowboys, of course!

Friday, December 7, 2007

New York City Picket Round Up

I've had an interesting week or so of picketing in New York City.

Last week proved to be strangely inactive for the WGA EAST (there was only the Rally on Tuesday and a single four hour picketing shift at the Time Warner Center). But things picked back up in full swing this week -- with three major picket "actions" at News Corp (FOX), 30 Rock (NBC), and HBO.

First, some highlights from last week's session at the Time Warner Center. At long last I got to get up close and personal with the giant inflatable greedy "boss pig" that I had only heard tell of via other blogs. The thing is pretty neat in person -- about fifteen feet high, and seven feet wide. It's quite the imposing figure.

Here's a shot I took from the center of Columbus Circle:

Then another one, closer up:

I arrived to the picketing spot right at ten, (the shifts in NYC are generally from 10 AM to 2 PM) and things were actually pretty quiet for the first twenty minutes or so.

Then writers began trickling in and before you knew it there was a decent crowd of at least a hundred folks or so.

Unlike Los Angeles, in New York, they only do one picketing location per day -- in the hopes that all the guild members at one spot will make a significant impression.

At first, when there were less people around, the crowd moved swiftly in a circle. The picketing pace was the clipped march you'd expect from New Yorkers -- none of this stroll B.S. We were cordoned off to the edge of the sidewalk by these metal gates used by police for crowd control at general events. The problem is the picketing space or "pen" as I've come to call it, isn't terribly large -- so as soon as more picketers show up, things become really crowded and the pace slows to a painful crawl. And when I say painful, I mean literally painful. It's so cold out (It's been in the low 30's the past couple weeks in NYC) that if you're not moving things get uncomfortable pretty quickly. Once the crowd hits it's critical mass -- about half way through the picketing shift -- I'd say there are over a hundred people present. Problem is it will take like thirty minutes to do one single loop.

Standing there, holding your sign (there's very little sign pumping in NYC) makes you a bit of a spectacle to the passerby on the street. In LA the majority of the contact you have with people is via the cars that pass you by. People either honk their horns in support or try to avoid eye contact in apathy. You might even receive a scowl of disapproval. In New York, every now and again you'll get a honk from a garbage truck or a bus, but those are pretty rare to come by -- maybe you'll get four or five within the whole four hours of picketing.

I'd say the biggest difference about picketing on the east coast is how much of a direct spectacle you become. Pedestrians making their way to and from work, tourists shopping, school children on field trips, people on lunch breaks, the whole lot -- hundreds of them, probably thousands are passing within feet of you. It's harder to avoid acknowledgement when you don't have a bubble made of metal and glass around you. People will literally point and stare, take pictures, and talk about you as if you can't hear them. I heard a girl in her 20's say to her boyfriend the other day in passing "they're not very good looking are they." Well I never!

Occasionally you'll get a supporter on foot. Somebody who leans in and tells you they agree with our demands, that they hope we get a fair contract soon, and they are behind us. That's nice to hear. Of course, there are the hardened few who will walk by as if there wasn't a herd of a hundred and fifty writers corralled behind metal gates holding signs right next to them.

I think my biggest fear is that I am going to end up in some tourist's photo album though. Some couple is going to travel back home and show their family and friends pictures of New York. There will be pictures of the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Tree at Rockefeller Center -- and then there will be the WGA Picketers.

They'll say: Aren't they just the darndest things? Standing out there like maniacs in the cold?

Picketers have become the new street musician -- fodder for a new kind of bizarre spectator sport in the city.

As for 'picketiquette' it is largely the same. The first day I was intimidated because I didn't know a soul there, and there were all these witty, sharp writers from the comedy/variety shows like Letterman, Daily Show, Colbert Report, etc. But as the days went on I got to meet more and more folks on the line. Demographically speaking, I'd say the WGA-East does not appear (at least based off what I've seen on the lines) as diverse as the WGA-West is. I actually had a woman come up to me when we were in front of NBC and say "Can you believe how few women there are here?" Out of a hundred or so, there were maybe only twenty women tops. Also almost everyone is in a black coat. There is very little color on the line. Ahem. Well it's true! This week I wore a green coat, with a purple scarf and pink mittens. I was given the unofficial "most colorful" picketer award. Oh joy.

Though a little gruff at first, the NY picketers prove to be a generally amiable bunch. The other nice thing is that since there is only one place to go on any given day and only one shift, you begin to see the same people over and over which lends itself to building further comraderie. The WGA East staff has also been extremely kind and enthusiastic about having West members on their picketing lines, quickly putting to bed any paranoia I had had of any West/East rivalries.

But now, for more pictures...

Our large writer herd outside of News Corp at 48th st. on 6th Ave.

It was really very cold that day...

Boss Hog follows us to News Corp:

Aw look -- News Corp is all dressed up for the holidays:

The next day was 30 Rock aka Rockefeller Center aka NBC headquarters aka where the big tree is. It snowed pretty steadily for the last hour of our shift!

This was also "comedy" day -- and so Andy Samberg, Amy Pohler and Seth Myers all came out in support -- though I've actually seen Seth Myers on the line every single day I've been out there which is cool.

Among other celebrities that I've seen are Rachel Dratch, Dean Winters, Jerry Stiller, Rob Morrow and Zeljko Ivanek. But there've also been some big gun writers out too -- among them Tony Kushner and Walter Bernstein (he wrote the Magnificent Seven and was actually a blacklisted member of Hollywood during the 1950's HUAC hearings!).

Here's a couple photos' from Thursday's HBO picketing:

and wherever we go -- so does Boss Piggy!

Stay tuned for more next week. But hopefully not much longer. I think my toes are developing permanent frost bite...