After a week spent nursing the sourdough starter of cautious optimism that a deal was forthcoming, we instead spend this dreary, wet Friday feeling like the puppy in Of Mice And Men. But instead of being loved too hard by a giant half-wit migrant farmworker, we've been math-raped with a new contract offer full of misdirect and spin, bow-tied with a PR-crafted LieName that would make President Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" and "Healthy Forests Act" proud.
"New Economic Partnership."
Pretty evilgenius, huh?
So when you take a break from collecting lizard skin, Viagra, and the tears of children to Santeria-fy that Nick Counter voodoo doll you've had at the ready, watch the first installment of a new video series called Strike Life that an ensemble of far more talented WGA-member/actors (and I) recently shot. They're funny and very professionally done, and will be posted at UnitedHollywood.com over the coming week.
This first one features Cynthia Carle and someone I totally geeked out getting to work with, Rick “Eight Legged Freaks” Overton.
ETA: This page is getting clogged and slow to load, so I've put photos from the march on my Flickr page. Go to the shifty little box below and to the right. That's what she said.
I'm sitting in Berkeley at a tiny cafe which is blasting reggae music, surrounded by Cal students staring at complex mathematical equations in front of them or books about Eastern philosophy, while drinking chai and thoughtfully stroking their beards. This town does not change. There are just more condos and less hackysacks. Half of which at least is a good thing. This day after Thanksgiving gluttony was spent at a park with a bunch of friends who all have decided to procreate, thus we were surrounded by little tiny people. We made up a very dangerous multitasking sports game called Frisbee/Football/Soccer and I got drooled on, nearly took out a kid with a Whiffle Bat, and was threatened by one sulking kid that they would throw me in the garbage can. (Yeah, whatever. Empty threat: I'm totally like 160 pounds heavier than her.)
On Tuesday before Thanksgiving the writers descended on Hollywood Blvd. and marched, alongside Teamsters and other labor union members, down the street in a giant show of solidarity, despite the upcoming renewed talks. We are cautiously optimistic but certainly afraid of being bitched-slapped yet again when talks begin Monday. The march was packed and fun and ended when you could walk no further and had to just stop and listen to the tiny tops of the heads of people like Sandra Oh and Patrick Verrone address the crowd – while standing alongside nutjobs in dirty, ill-fitting, ill-conceived Superman, Pinhead, and Chucky costumes.
But before the march, we were treated to a two-song mini-concert by Alicia Keys, who told the crowd, "There are no songs without any words!" – which is in fact not true at all (maybe she's never heard of classical music? Or Jazz? Or "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter")? But whatever. We knew what she meant.
Below is a short bit of random footage from the collision of one still camera's mediocre video feature, thousands of striking writers, actors, confused German tourists looking for David Hasselhoff's star on the Walk of Fame, hobos, bad-ass Teamsters and other union members, gawking Scientologists, the Hulk, a meth-y Jack Sparrow, Justine Bateman (as always), CAA agents baring trays of scones, Alicia Keys, and another chapter in the fight between writers looking to secure a tiny piece of the future and six corporations failing miserably in their miscalculated and super-douchey attempt to send the labor movement backwards 60 years.
Day 10 and 11 saw the insanity of Tuesday's Lower Lankershim Pizza Party And Celebrity Clusterfuck give way to the more mundane routine of striking. On Wednesday I did the 10 to 2 shift at the Radford parking gate where Pamie rules in the morning as gate captain with the pep of a cheer squad leader and the steadfast determination of a mountaineer. I walked in front of Brian Posehn for a long time and got to overhear his stories about all the usual alt comic suspects, tried to stay cool with water and shade-rest, and played Trivial Pursuit until I no longer cared who won the most Grand Slam events in tennis or what liquors make up a Fuzzy Navel.
Thursday I returned to my 6 to 10 shift at Disney with the Eli Stone and Lost writers. The awesome Carmen from the Guild bought us coffee and Lost fans brought by care packages of jerky and Capri Suns and candy bars. And some dude brought a lime green tub of ice and drinks, but because of the creepy nature of the handwriting on the note he left us, I have to admit many were scared to sample his wares. Chet came by for a spell and joined us, and at one point we got in trouble with the cops for working the Walk button too hard, which is a pretty silly offense; no matter how much Michael Tabb wanted to go for the guy's gun and tell him to get back in his car and drive away, Michael complied and laid off the button. (Hey, that last sentence fragment could have been a stage direction from an episode of Lost! They're rubbing off on me.) We got one drive-by "Get back to work you lazy fucks!" by a dude in a white Beemer who did not possess the balls to let us provide a retort, and we gleefully met the arrival of our favorite Disney employee with an ecstatic chant of "Gold Porsche Guy! GOLD PORSCHE GUY!" The man who drives the drop-top Porsche painted gold was not amused. I'm pretty sure tomorrow he's going to drive his wife's Astrovan in to work. But he won't fool us. It matters not what vehicle he's driving, he'll always be Gold Porsche Guy to us.
An interview I did with Web Pro News the other day is up. I didn't know my voice was being recorded to be broadcast. So of course in this very professional piece, I'm the only one dropping F-bombs. And I don't know why I have to be so hyper, but I was in the middle of striking and Scott Caan was right next to me and he's just so dreamy! Sigh.
Today was the big SAG Loves WGA event at Universal Studios. We showed up at 10am for picketing duty and headed straight to the Southern-most gate (1? -- Universal has like four thousand gates, which is hell when you have a meeting there and are invariably sent to the wrong gate) where the giant NBC/Universal building is. I had been waiting all week to strike this gate as that building, on the 14th floor, is where I have pilot deals with both USA and Sci-Fi networks in various stages now of limbo. It feels good to strike where you do business. This is a thing most staff writers -- writers currently on shows -- have been able to experience thus far, the bittersweet, weird circumstance of picketing the very place you work. (Pamie strikes about 50 ft away from the parking space with her name on it -- which she currently cannot use as it's on the other side of the picket line.) But as a guy in development, I've been deprived of that immediacy. That tactile connection to my place of protest. And while there is much that can be seen as positive about this strike thus far. The friendships made. The exercise. The general positivity that can come from shaking up your routine. The amazing solidarity we solitary, grumpy writers have gotten to feel lately because we know we're so fucking right it's scary. All the positive spin has done nothing to quell my fury. I'm so goddamn angry I could spit fire. When I arrived on the line this morning and walked across that looooong Gate 1 street, I did a phone interview for something called Web Pro News. And during the interview I found myself just ranting, answering each simple question with extended diatribes on corporate avarice and the insanity of ruining lives to get out of deals you made yourself! (Fire those who made the deals you've soured on, not the beneficiaries of those deals. Idiots.) The fact that old-tymey robber barons -- that Mr. Burns still lives -- just blows my mind. And in the end, we will have a deal. We will some day be back at work having made some gains in new media blah blah blah, and we will be asked to come in and listen to notes on our scripts. And you know what? Right now I can't imagine being anything but mean and angry and dickish. I mean, I won't. I'm professional and I don't have the juice to throw any weight around whatsoever, but I think they're making a giant mistake banding together a group of already bitter, grouchy people like writers against so clear and visceral and heartless and so totally fucking hate-able an enemy as the AMPTP. I mean, labor strife is always ugly, but it really feels as if the people we're supposed to work with, to entrust our inner-most thoughts and our life work to hold us in about as high a regard as the dog shit on the bottom of the shoe their illegal nanny removed from their child's foot on the way back from an afternoon playdate with Reese's kids at Harvard/Westlake. And I can't imagine just BOOM forgetting this feeling once we're asked to work together again.
It's silly to ask if this is what they want. Because "they" don't, after all, want anything. Because there is no "they." It's a faceless force. There is no wizard behind the curtain. There is just greed and numbers and history and tradition, all fronted by a bunch of rich white men who read far too much Ayn Rand in college. But right now it feels personal. It feels like raw contempt. Contempt for what we do. Contempt that we would dare suggest we should get paid for our creative work. Contempt for our organizing and for the community rallying together and showing support. Contempt for our intelligence and that we would see through the gauzy little lie that is their claim that the Internet isn't a place to make money from content. How do we go back to work for people who hold us in very naked, and very personal contempt?
(Here's a thought I had. After this thing is settled, how many shows and movies will have villains named "Nick Counter?")
Anyway. After about two hours of striking, everything suddenly changed. SAG arrived. I have no idea how many, but suddenly the long stretch of Lankershim was jammed with actors, famous and not, showing support, being interviewed, and inducing cars to honk. It was chaos. Suddenly, striking turned into star-gazing and everywhere you turned someone had cameras and mics in their faces. There was even a group of professional autograph collectors. You could tell them from their dirty clothes, their packets of celeb headshots and movie stills, their Sharpie-stained fingers, and their meth teeth. And at that point there was no more picketing, there was just a mass of people standing around gawking in the hot sun. We found a shady place to sit, found Laura House and Sian Heder and other friends, and watched until we absolutely OD'd on recognizable faces and had to get out of there immediately. But it was amazing and wonderful for them to come out to support us and lend a visibility to the cause -- a face that the average American recognizes and might care about what they have to say. Because writers: not so in demand for face time on Extra.
Just walking around, here is a list of the recognizable actors we saw, in no particular order:
Scott Caan, Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin, Valerie Harper, Edie McClurg, Donal Logue, Megyn Price, Nicole Sullivan, Marg Helgenberger, Cynthia Watros, David Spade, Jim Belushi, Seth Green, Andy Richter, Dana Delany, Kim Delaney, Todd Bridges, John Amos, Jon Cryer, Camryn Manheim, Laura Linney, Ben Stiller, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Elliott Gould, Dana Gould, Anne Dudek, Alyson Hannigan, NPH, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, David Krumholtz, Robert Patrick, Frances Fisher, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Daly, Kathy Griffin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bill Paxton, Kevin Dunn, Chris Parnell, James Denton, Doug Savant, Brenda Strong, Kevin Nealon, Matthew Modine, T.R. Knight, Sarah Silverman, Jack Black, Mary Kay Place, Matthew Perry, Jason Alexander, and probably scores of others I'm too tired to remember.
There were also much of the casts of shows like My Boys, The Closer, Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, CSI, Women's Murder Club, Army Wives, Mad Men, It's Always Sunny..., Chuck, Tell Me You Love Me, and The Office (at least Stanley, Oscar, and Meredith). Oddly, though she's been at every other event, no Justine Bateman. I hope she's okay.
Photos and video below...
Starting quietly enough.
The giant building where good things have happened to me.
Frank has his strike face on. And the Cubs hat which seems to draw fellow Chicagoian to him like John Goodman to free onion rings.
A few actors arrived early. Like Chris Parnell. And Scott Caan (with his back to us)...
And Bill Nye The muthafuckin' Science Guy! (Who seems to be wearing make-up?)
It's not a real party until Crazy Yelling Southern Guy arrives. He tricked us all by not being about Jesus at all. Just about yelling and the collective conscience, or some shit. Then it got really confusing when he name-checked Morgan Freeman during a rant. Big Love's Eileen Myers is considering asking him out here, because hey, at least he has strong opinions.
Crazy Yelling Southern Guy couldn't be calmed down by King Of The Hill's Kit Boss, but he eventually found a soulmate in Army Guy.
We ran into Laura House, who seems to know everybody.
And Sian Heder, who is awesome, and pretty enough to get away with wearing a trucker hat at this dangerously late date.
CSI fans rented a plane.
This guy made a funny sign.
And suddenly it was noon and the actors arrived in giant actor-y droves.
Don't call her "Marge." Whatever you do.
Anne Dudek from House talking to Michael Colton from Best Week Ever.
Around here I switched to taking video. Here's few minutes of what it was like.
Afterwards, as Frank and I drove to find something healthy to eat -- because a week of pizza, lollipops and donuts can only lead to scurvy and cankles -- we rolled past the insanely-amazing Fionnula Flanagan (of Showtime's Brotherhood and thousands of other things). We told her how much we liked her and chatted about the strike and about her show a bit, as I realized with horror that her face was inches away from a massive bird crap on my passenger-side door frame. But she's an old Dublin gal and no shrinking violet so she didn't say a word. Then as we wished her well and started to drive off, she asked if we could drive her to her car, citing her high heels. So I drove Fionnula Flanagan to the 99 Cent Store on Lankershim where she'd left her car. She referred to us both as "handsome men" and left, making our day. A few blocks later I realized she stole my Jurassic 5 CD from the back seat.*
(*That part is not true. But it would have been awesome if it was.)
Day 8, Or, Can I Kick It To You One Time, Jann Carl?
Today was Bring Your Children To Their First Of Probably Many Strikes As Corporate Greed And Union-Busting Will No Doubt Follow Them For The Rest Of Their Eighty-Plus Years On This Earth, Or Mars, Wherever We're Living In Eighty Years. It was also the first day of the second week, and the first day of starting the first strike shift at 6am (it has something to do with Teamsters being early birds). I gotta tell you, one of the reasons I became a writer was so that I didn't have to ever have anything to do with something called "6am." I have lived blissfully for years with only the vaguest notion that "6am" exists, taking it on faith that it's indeed there but never verifying its existence with my own eyes, like Mount Rushmore, or Country Music Television. Well, I can now tell you with certainty, it does exist. It's absolutely horrible, but it's there.
About 30 of us arrived bundled, our breath pooling visibly in the brisk Burbank smog, and walked the Riverside gate. The best thing aside from the children (who are cute because they're kind of like tiny little drunk people; they slur their words, they fall down a lot, they have little control over their emotions, and they're constantly whining for something to drink), was seeing the horrified looks on the faces of the commuters who thought for damn sure they'd miss out on having to deal with annoying the strikers by coming in early. So sad and defeated, they were. The crosswalk at the Disney gate is ludicrously pedestrian friendly (for no reason; it's on a made-up street with nothing to walk to) and so by hitting the WALK button over and over, the light kind of never changes. We once got in six full rotations during one WALK cycle. This is with a growing line of cars waiting to turn left into the lot. One guy on a yellow motorcycle got so angry he zipped over and complained to the cop, who I imagine said some cop version of "Tough titty." I for one don't particularly relish keeping people from going to their jobs, but we have so little control in this strike, abandoned out on our sometimes-sad little out-of-the-way gates, cut off from friends, family, work, bathrooms, Nikki Finke, that every left turn missed or supportive honk really makes our day. Striking writer "Blaze" and his headbanded goofball buddies got their hands on drums and a megaphone and had the line rocking.
Some of us eventually headed back up to fill in the ranks at our Alameda gate, where we were besieged by a bizarre number of photographers and reporters trying to capture the cuteness of those dern striking babies. The constant photograph-snapping got really annoying after a while, but I suppose any coverage is good coverage. (Unless it's being done by Variety's Dave McNary, who, with his biased, silly reporting during the strike, has somehow managed to turn himself into a figure of writer wrath near equal to that of Nick Counter. It didn't have to be this way, Dave! Turn away from the dark side!) More and more children came, and where there are children, you know who is soon to follow: That's right. Entertainment Tonight's Jann Carl!!!
While Jann Carl interviewed Michael Tabb's children and others for a surprisingly long time (since children generally don't have all that much intelligent or useful to say about the labor movement) Eli Stone's Courtney Kemp and I fake-smooth-talked Jann Carl. "Excuse me, Jann Carl. Mmm, you're looking pretty fly tonight, girl. Let me be your Entertainment Tonight, and I'll give you Access to my Hollywood." (You get punchy on the line, I'm telling you.) The hours wore on and more and more children came and Jann Carl packed up her mole and left and eventually the second shift came on and it was time to go home and try to have a life separate from the strike. Sadly, not so easy.
I took lots of shots of shoes, since I find they're the most important thing on the line. And children, because of all the cute they wield over us like scythes.
The new tools of our trade.
Where Walt's head floats in a super-cooled vat of childrens' tears.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
The lovely Wendy Mericle and Courtney Kemp.
Babies being all cute and manipulative.
Once you have the Finns on your side, you're set.
The connection is made. Aw, yeah. It's on now, Jann Carl.
Jann Carl doing what Jann Carl does best. Being Jann Carl.
Wherein we take a brief break from totally hating on money-slurping corporate meanies to do a movie review vlog.
The Film Pigs cannot, I repeat, cannot get enough of moralizing torture porn! And in this dull, silly, and overly-confusing installment of the Walbergian franchise, you get a window into the origins of everybody's favorite tiny-John Cusack-mouthed serial killer, Jigsaw.
I'll be brief here because the news and other organizations have already detailed the numbers (4000 give or take) and the speakers (Jesse Jackson, the WGA leadership, Seth MacFarlane, Tom Morello, Norman Lear) and captured the overall exuberance of the event. And besides, it's Friday night and I need a little time to detox, let my blisters heal, and let the donuts and bad William Morris decaf finish having their own private protest march in my belly. (Ooh. Do you think Justine Bateman will show up at that one too?)
In the meantime, below is some random footage from the collision of one still camera's mediocre video feature, thousands of striking writers, curious/scared Fox employees, nice fake cops, nice real cops, Jeff Garlin, 50 dogs, a giant blonde in a tiny dress holding a ring card, CAA agents baring trays of churros, Zach de la Rocha, a bad sound system, and an awe-inspiring show of indivisibility in the face of cold, disgustingly petty corporate avarice.
I know everyone likes to talk about how the big companies somehow want this strike, to use it to clean house of expensive deals and bad shows., etc., etc. But I can't believe they're not pretty fucking astounded by this week. By the energy and exuberance and near-universal solidarity. I can't believe they didn't think the entire country would yawn and say, "Whatever. Overpaid writers." I can't believe they didn't think the showrunners would all rush back to work.
I can't believe they didn't think their claim of having months of shows ready to go would work. I can't believe they didn't think the PR campaign would silence us, or that they'd ever have dreamt that some of the media so clearly in their pocket would by week's end be called out and be embarrassed into showing at least a bit of journalistic neutrality. I know what's being said and written and reported and whispered, but I just can't believe they expected it to go down like this.
Seeing the line stretch all the way up and down Ave of the Stars you can hear my shocked, (and so eloquent), "Oh my god, dude!" in the video. I like to think they were up in those buildings looking out, and having the same reaction; just one with more fearful clenching of buttcheeks.
I like to think they overplayed their hand, underestimated us, and are beginning to fracture. I hope recriminations are flying over satellite phones and ISDN lines and across giant tables lined with Fiji water and fancy squid-shaped speakerphones. And I like to think I'll be allowed to soon get back to what I've worked my fool ass of to be able to do for a living: to write. To tell stories.
I don't know if any of this is true as we go into our first weekend locked out of the jobs we need and love, but I like to think so. I kind of have to think so.
Day 4 was actually really fun. We didn't have the craziness of the Showrunners Confab of yesterday at the Disney lot, but because of that, we were able to interact a bit more. I also think our poor out-of-shape writers bodies are actually acclimating a bit to the walking. Our friends Andy and Julie came down to support us, neither of them guild members, as did cast members from Scrubs -- which then drew a reporter from Entertainment Tonight like a tall bald black hummingbird to sugar water. CAA brought food, as did others, including a man trying to publicize his singer-daughter. I spent the day walking with the awesome writers from the upcoming Eli Stone, Lost, and Scrubs. The kitchen and bathroom furnishing store across the street opened their bathrooms to the strikers, and people honked almost non-stop the entire day. The weather was cool and the coffee was flowing. We even had a Jay Leno drive-by, though the un-smogged jalopy from the past he was driving caused us all to cough horribly as we cheered his super-chinned-gregariousness.
Later I had drinks with my agent, who sort of both depressed me with the major agencies' confusion and impotence over the whole thing, and also teased me with the notion that maybe something is afoot... Or maybe I just wanted to hear that.
Tomorrow we're all being diverted to the Fox lot for a big all-WGA rally at 10am. Wish us luck.
Eli Stone's Moira Walley-Beckett, who, despite what one of the blogs wrote, is in fact not Felicity Huffman. She is displaying a cool faux Disney shirt someone had printed up.
The bad-ass Marc Guggenheim, also of Eli Stone. He began the day very reticent to hand out flyers to passing motorists, but within an hour was climbing on passing semis and forcing them to take the damn paper. Flash! Ah-aah!
Wendy Mericle of Eli Stone's little boy learned he was able to make trucks actually make noise by waving the giant sign. Best thing ever!
The tireless Michael Tabb, broken leg and everything. He's a pitbull on the megaphone.
Bill. Damon. Sacrificing big time.
AK and Julie showing up, dealing with us assholes.
Julie with a CAA agent. Don't know why CAA makes them do the tie tuck...
We all signed a placard for the Talk Show With Spike Feresten head writer who was hit by a car on the front lines.
Is Cavemen on the other side?
Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke talking to ET.
Leno. Visiting from the past. (photo credit: the fetching Frank Stokes)
Okay. So granted, writers are pretty lazy and out-of-shape folks, but I really don't think walking in a fucking circle for 4 hours is supposed to hurt this much. I'm sore as hell. I feel like I just got jumped into a gang.
So today was the big United Showrunners demonstration. All the showrunners met at 9am at the Disney Alameda gate and held signs with their show's name on it and marched. And I'm telling you, every show was represented. It was amazing (thanks in no small part to Shawn Ryan's awesome/guilt-mongering letter of a few days ago). From Network to pay cable to basic cable, the shows were all there. Midseason replacements. Animation. Nickelodeon and Lifetime and The N and many others. We were trying to think of a show not represented by its showrunner or at least a high-level executive (in cases where the show shoots in New York and, like, Tina Fey couldn't fly out).
The press was out in droves as the showrunners walked back and forth across the street leading into the lot. Actors like Eddie Izzard and Marc Curry drove past honking. The ubiquitous Jay Leno came by in some British-y steering-wheel-on-the-wrong-side car. Sally Field came out and talked to the press. The most vocal and highest profile showrunners spent a lot of time talking to the media, like Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff from LOST, Shawn Ryan of The Shield, Marc Cherry of Desperate Housewives, and Bill Lawrence from Scrubs. (Some in the press were hysterical, completely unaware who Marc Cherry or Shawn Ryan were and could we point them out.) Patrick Verrone spent a lot of time there, as did former WGA Prez John Wells.
After a while we felt a little bit like losers not having a showrunners' placard or hat. We eventually came up with fake shows and were going to steal signs and write the name of those shows on them. Mine was to be Morning Wood, a sitcom that takes place in a small environmental lobbying office run by rougish young former oil money sire named Sam Wood, who woke up one day with a hangover and a conscience about the environment (but not about sleeping around or cracking wise!) Frank's was a teen soap called Monrovia. But in the end we thought better of it. We did make fun of the showrunners who drew on their signs, though. The Family Guy dude drew Stewie. The October Road guy drew a road. (But not "October".) A woman from Women's Murder Club had handwriting like she'd had a stroke it was so messy, and the According to Jim guy wrote on the other side, "No, it hasn't been cancelled." Carlton Cuse wittily wrote, "Don't you want to know what the island is?" And Greg Berlanti's sign looked super show-offy with all 3 of his shows written on it. (Suck on that Josh Schwartz with only 2!) Matthew Weiner from Mad Men was rather militant, rallying us to illegally block traffic, while the dude from Criminal Minds was tireless and awesome, but seemed a bit grouchy -- though he was almost hit by a car, so he has reason.
It was an amazing atmosphere. The 200 strikers and showrunners crawled across the street in a giant happy pile as cars on Alameda honked non-stop and cops watched from across the street. People brought donuts and coffee. A taco stand rolled up and served free Mexican food. Someone brought sandwiches. A girl walked up with oranges and granola bars just because she was "a fan." The generous crazies from Joss Whedon's universe brought grub and stalked around in Firefly shirts. Pam's showrunner Don Todd told me in detail how much damage we were doing to our bodies walking on unforgiving cement all day. Anna Beth came out from her PA Writers' Assistant job on Eli Stone to say hi. The amazingly supportive Justine Bateman banged a tambourine. I got to tell the showrunner of My Boys how much I liked her show. And I almost beheaded Carlton Cuse with my sign.
It was a superb day and I'm going to take a giant nap now.
Photos and video below...
Weeds. SVU. Ellen. Aliens in America.
The excellent Bill Lawrence.
The generous Joss Whedon fans posted up a sign full of creepy Latin or something.
This showrunner was giving this LA Times reporter a piece of her mind for innaccurate reporting. It was kind of tough to watch. And awesome.
"Seriously, Josh, when Oliver went psycho, I was sooo watching through my fingers." "The O.C. was cancelled, Carlton. I have two new shows on the air." "Right right. But O.M.G., when Marissa all flipped out and threw the chaise lounge into the swimming pool...!"
Army Wives. Leno. Dexter. The Big Bang Theory. Family Guy. According To Jim.
For once, the numbers he's discussing aren't 4, 8, 15, 16...
For five points: which Criminal Minds actor biked up to the strike wearing a Criminal Minds spandex biking outfit?
Luckily the Disney lot isn't in a Crips neighborhood.
Back from the second day of the strike. Yo, walking in a circle for 4 hours is tiring. My feet and legs want nothing more than to lie on the couch and watch House (which soon I won't be able to do because they will have run out of scripts to shoot!) A bunch of friends showed up to support us and walked with us today, which was a great morale boost. There were a few angry stares from annoyed lot employees as they drove past us, but I witnessed nothing too hostile today. I met a whole new crew of really great people and dogs and babies, and constantly tried to stop from eating the stream of cookies and drinks and chips delivered to us by sympathetic souls (and a group of UTA agents). Walking in a circle requires you to pass snacks like every 45 seconds. It's maddening.
The developments today have been fantastic. The best thing is that showrunners -- the people who do just that, who RUN each show and are in many cases the creator of the show as well -- are walking off set and refusing to do their producorial duties in numbers completely beyond what the other side, or the WGA themselves, anticipated. It shows giant balls for these people to tackle this tough moral issue in this way. You're walking away from your baby. The show you spent your whole career in many cases waiting for. Your show that may be on the bubble and which walking away from might cause the network to just go ahead and cancel the show. And it's exactly what the strike needs. And it's happening. And many shows are having to halt production because of it. Including, from what I've heard, The Office, because similarly-giant-balls-having Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson refuse to cross the picket line and haven't shown up for work at all yet this week.
I also got into an email battle with the super-douchey reporter Dave McNary whose coverage of the strike in the trade rag Variety has been as slanted as a San Francisco hill. I haven't been compelled to write a stern letter in a long time, but he pissed me off like no one since some stupid TV Guide critic thought Silver Spoons was unrealistic. And now it's REALLY easy to send a stern letter over email. Especially when the reporter has a button you can just click that opens up a mail document already addressed to him.
Anyway. I couldn't want this to end sooner. But we continue. Day 3 begins in a few hours...
Here are some photos from Day 2:
Pamie is doing a phenomenal job as strike captain AND gate captain, accosting passing motorists, keeping the line moving, and pissing off Texas A&M fans everywhere.
Frank, Steph, and TV's Todd Robert Anderson. Steph and Todd are not WGA but supportive SAG members, along with Chet who came yesterday and today. Tim Wattez showed as well. He works in the grip department, which means he's strong and does important shit with lights and cables.
Protesting against cats and unfair prohibitions against leg-humping.
Killing Wonder while striking.
Hour four. Fading but still going strong.
And finally. Please watch the below YouTube video. Lest anyone still be swayed by the spin that Hollywood writers are privileged overpaid hacks (which, well, okay, a few of us may be) this explains perfectly what this strike is about very simple terms. Suck it, Variety. I guess the guild has the ability to clearly outline their position after all.
And if anyone wants to come down and walk with us for a couple hours some day, go to WGA.org for times and locations, or email me. Thanks.
Day One And Why Showrunners Should Not Show Up For Work
I just returned from my first day on the picket line outside of CBS Radford, where I do not have a show in the works, but I did have my first Hollywood job ever there, so it seems fitting. I spent the morning having a check-up with the opthomologist so I spent the first 2 hours on the picket line with my eyes dialated. It wasn't pleasant. But the line was. It was huge and raucus with lots of interesting people to talk to. We met the old head writer of The Tonight Show and a writer who used to write his spec scripts while creamating people at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, typing while waiting for the bodies to incinerate, and the director of a 'tween mermaid flick. SAG members like my friend Chet and Justine Bateman showed up in support. There were babies in strollers and men in wheelchairs and dogs wearing signs. The awesome comedian Greg Fitzsimmons was there, as were Tim Stack and Phil Rosenthal.
Teamsters and passers-by honked as we walked across Ventura Blvd., broadening the picket line, and only a surly girl tried to run some of us down in her yellow car as she left the Radford lot. She received a hit on the car from a picket sign, but that was the only minor ugliness I witnessed. Otherwise it was mundane, hot, tiring, and very necessary.
I've spent a lot of time talking about difficult decisions many in the guild are facing right now, especially the plight of showrunners. Well, Shawn Ryan of The Shield wrote a great piece about why he's not showing up for work, and urging his fellow showrunners to do the same. It's here.
My father was a high school teacher in downtown Oakland, California. One of my earliest memories is of my mom putting me in the car every day and driving us down through the in-those-days scary streets to bring my father lunch. He was on strike. I'm not sure how long it lasted or how many visits we made down there that year, but my father would eat his sandwich on the trunk of the dirty little two-door gunmetal green Toyota as his fellow teachers held signs, smoked cigarettes, and walked in circles outside of the school they loved. Because they were offered a contract they could not accept. It was one of the bleaker scenes I witnessed in a childhood not unfamiliar with bleakness, but there was also something about it that stirred me and filled me with pride. Because I sensed they were doing the right thing. And that the right thing sometimes sucks.
Last night I went to the Convention Center downtown for the Writers Guild of America’s general meeting about the strike possibility. (The meeting can be read about today online almost everywhere. Nikki Finke's spin is pro-writer. Most others are pro-The Six Giant Corporations Trying To Stop Paying Writers Residuals, which is only surprising to the most Polyannish out there since the media outlets are mostly all owned by said Giant Six.)
The meeting was standing room only and was quite inspiring. They lead us through negotiations to this point in a very sane and clear manner and the guild members cheered and applauded and groaned and displayed a good deal of solidarity—solidarity I’ve never gotten to feel with fellow writers since I write alone. The meeting gave me confidence in the leadership of the guild in a way I hadn't had before. Sure, seeing such well-known figures as showrunners from Lost, Desperate Housewives, The Shield, and CSI up on the dais helped, but I also walked away impressed by the heads of the legal and negotiating committees, as well as Patrick Verrone himself (who does not draw a salary for his tireless work, by the way).
Look, unions are on the way out, and I believe that’s bad for America. Corporations have been picking them off like snipers, and now they’re trying to do it to us as well. And it’s hard to arouse much sympathy. We’re a white collar union. The guy who created Two and a Half Men will never arouse the sympathy of plucky "Norma Rae" standing on a manufacturing table holding a union sign. We're not coal miners. But the bottom line is that a vast majority of union writers are just middle class folk trying to get by in a crazy-making industry where finding yourself out of work for years at a time is the norm. And it is during those times where the residual system allows many of those writers to be able to make the mortgage payments.
Well, the studios are engaged right now in a plan to do away with that system. It's very simple: we made an extremely shitty deal years ago on VHS tapes because they said, "Well, it's a new technology. Let us pay you 4 cents per tape because manufacturing costs are so high and we don't know if it'll even catch on. And then we'll renegotiate after studying the issue." So we took the deal. And do you think they ever renegotiated? Even when manufacturing costs came way down? Even after the price point dropped from 75 bucks per tape to 10? Even when far-cheaper-still-to-make DVDs were invented and then exploded as a business? Even when television shows became wildly popular on DVD, thus eroding the syndication market? Hell no. After fucking you once, Big Business certainly isn't going to suddenly grow a conscience and un-fuck you years later out of the goodness of their heart. And that's exactly what they're trying to do right now. Fuck us hard. Not only are they refusing to renegotiate DVDs (claiming giving us 8 cents per DVD instead of 4 would make them too sad), they're trying to jam all "new media" like streaming and digital downloads under that same equation; they have actually refused "for overriding business reasons" to negotiate at all over new media. (Streaming video would be completely unpaid, even if it's ad-supported because they claim all streaming video EVEN IF THEY SHOW THE EPISODE OR FEATURE FILM IN ITS ENTIRETY is "promotional”. Seriously.)
Here's why this is a blatant attempt to get rid of the residual system: once we accept the digital download rate of "DVD shitty" and the streaming rate as "fuck you you get nothing," that's it. That’s never going to change. But what will change? Over the next however many years, we will all be watching television as digital downloads or streaming video. Thus, as Broadcast and Cable distribution goes away, so do the hated "residual" rates they have to pay writers (and actors, and directors) for first run and repeat shows over the television airwaves and cable waves! We’re back to the days before we got residuals at all. Defacto 100% rollbacks! Union busted! Rupert Murdoch gets to buy another island! Huzzah!
The studios claim we should accept shit and let them "study" new media for the next three years and THEN we can negotiate a fair residual rate. In other words, they think we're idiots. And why shouldn't they? We took it 20 years ago on VHS. They claim they have no idea how to monetize new media, yet at the same time they turn around and sell ads on their video streams, sell their shows on iTunes and Amazon Unbox, and tell investors how they have this awesome new revenue model that's going to keep them healthy for decades to come! (Especially if they can stop paying the content creators a fair wage. Boy oh boy.)
So basically, it's genuinely now or never. We make sure we get paid for when our product is delivered via the new delivery systems NOW, or we give it up forever. Professionally, I'm happy to and ready to strike; I will spend my fall walking back and forth with a sign in front of the studio lots, waving to the executives and producers I know as they drive past. But personally, I'm crushed and depressed and scared. This happens to be a weird watershed insane moment in my career where I have 4 television pilots going at the same time, including one very high profile pilot I'm doing at ABC with a couple of sitcom heavyweights already attached. And I'm dead scared the projects will all go away. And that in three months I won't be able to make my mortgage or my car payment. Pam is on the only real breakout hit of the new season and sort of this weird oasis of hope for television comedies, and its momentum could be stopped dead in its tracks if the strike lasts. It's terrible. I only wish we were the fatcat dickheads some of the media is trying to present us as. I wish it were true. But it's not. We don’t want to strike. It could bankrupt us. But at this point we have no choice. Basically: If not now. Then never.
Edited to add: someone posted this in the comments on one of Nikki's Finke's updates and it cracked me up:
Last night at the CC was a trip. Kinda like the big opening scene in the 'Warriors,' ‘cept with a bunch of nerdy TV staffs. "Look! The guys from Two and a Half Men are here! And Samantha Who. Crazy, man!"