Pre-dawn pickets help writers disrupt studio productions

Pre-dawn pickets help writers disrupt studio productions

At 5am on a recent weekday, a lone figure paced outside the main entrance to the Fox Studios parking lot in Los Angeles. Peter Chiarelli, a screenwriter, was picketing.

He held up a sign reading “Thank You 399,” a message to the local branch of the Teamsters union, whose members he hoped would turn their trucks around instead of crossing his personal picket into the parking lot, where Hulu was filming the series “Interior.” from Chinatown.

“It’s passive-aggressive,” said Chiarelli, who wrote the films “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Proposal,” of his sentiment — heartfelt if the Teamsters came back, snarky if they joined.

Since the Hollywood writers’ strike began on May 2, Chiarelli and others like him have been waking up before dawn to try to halt productions whose scripts have already been completed.

“We need to close the pipeline,” he said of the shows in production.

The practice, which was used to no real effect when writers last went on strike in 2007, initially caught some studio executives off guard. And many of them — as well as many people in the Writers Guild of America, the union that represents writers — were stunned by the success.

Showtime has halted production on season six of “The Chi” after writers convened two days straight outside the gates of the Chicago studio where it was being filmed. The Apple TV show “Loot” was shut down after writers picketed a Los Angeles mansion where filming was taking place. The star of the show, Maya Rudolph, retired to her trailer and didn’t want to return to the set.

More than 20 writers traveled from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita, Calif., to participate in the FX drama “The Old Man,” starring Jeff Bridges. The overnight action kept the truckers’ trucks inside the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, Chiarelli said, and crews struggled to work. The show soon suspended production.

A Lionsgate comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Seth Rogen, with Aziz Ansari making his film directorial debut, was wrapped last week after just two and a half days of filming on location in Los Angeles after loud, screaming writers made pickets in all three sets. .

“While we won’t discuss the details of our strategy, we are putting pressure on companies by stopping production wherever it occurs,” a spokesperson for the Writers Guild of America said in a statement.

Eric Haywood, a veteran writer on the union’s bargaining committee, was clearer. “If your movie or TV show is still filming and we haven’t wrapped it yet, please wait,” he says. wrote on social networks last weekend. “We will come to you.”

A representative for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, declined to comment.

Both sides said privately that a much greater sense of solidarity between unions than during the last union strike made it more difficult for workers from other unions to cross picket lines. Productions are also more geographically spread out than they were 15 years ago. In addition to the fortified Los Angeles studios, the writers chose locations in suburban New Jersey, Westchester County, New York, and Chicago. And social media provided a way to alert writers to quickly get to specific pickets.

Every day, screenwriters send out calls to “quick response teams” when they discover a production time and location.

“Last minute: they’re shooting on Sunday… we’re picketing on Sunday,” one writer posted on twitter, urging people to immediately gather in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood to stop a production. “Please amplify.”

“I think everybody is behind us because they see that if we all stick together we can make some real achievements,” said Mike Royce (“One Day at a Time”), who joined Chiarelli on some of his picketing runs ahead of the dawn.

Writers stopped other events as well. Netflix has canceled a large in-person presentation for advertisers in New York amid concerns about demonstrations. The streaming company also canceled an appearance by Ted Sarandos, one of its co-executive directors, who was due to be honored at the prestigious PEN America Literary Gala. A Boston University commencement address by David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, was interrupted by boos and chants of “Pay your writers!” of protesters and students.

Although the impromptu pickets disrupted individual productions, it is unclear whether they had much of an effect on the strike itself. Talks have not resumed since they broke down on May 1, and the industry is bracing for the possibility that the strike could last for months.

Writers claim their salaries have stagnated, even though major Hollywood studios have invested billions of dollars in recent years to build their streaming services. The guild described the dispute in stark terms, saying “the survival of writing as a profession is at stake”.

But the production shutdowns aren’t just affecting studios. Crews and other workers – such as drivers, set designers, caterers – lose paychecks. And if the shutdowns pile up and more people are unable to work, some wonder if writers will begin to erode the current goodwill of other workers.

Lindsay Dougherty is the lead organizer for Local 399, the Los Angeles chapter of the Teamsters, which represents more than 6,000 movie theater workers, from truck drivers the writers are trying to fend off to casting directors, location managers and animal trainers. A second-generation truck driver, Ms. Dougherty is one of the union’s few female leaders. Her copious tattoos, including one by former Teamster frontman Jimmy Hoffa, and her often profane rant made her something of a celebrity for writers during the strike.

And she said solidarity with the writers remains strong.

“I think collectively we are all on the same page that streaming has drastically changed the industry,” Dougherty said in an interview. “And these tech companies that we’re in talks with, during the last writers’ strike — Amazon, Apple, Netflix — they weren’t even part of the conversation.”

Asked whether the Teamsters were advising the writers of the productions’ schedule and location, she demurred.

“The Writers Guild is getting tips from all kinds of different places – whether it’s members who are working on the team or from film licenses, they obviously have social media groups and emails set up to send tips and information,” she said.

In the meantime, Chiarelli continues to walk outside Fox Studios every day, hoping he can retrieve some trucks. Some days he gets results. On a recent morning, several other writers joined him and five trucks swerved, he said. During an overnight Fox picket, a trailer carrying fake police cars intended for filming turned around at 2:00 am.

On other days, the picket is much more sparse, especially if a tip leads a group to a different location.

He and Mr. Royce talked fondly about their second day in the dark. It was pouring rain as two large trucks pulled into the turn lane, blinkers on, ready to pull into the parking lot. Then they saw the writers. The trucks stopped on the side of the road, waited about 10 minutes and then turned around.

They “flew through the entrance, honked and waved at us,” Royce said. “It was exciting.”

Added Mr. Chiarelli, “I’ve been chasing this high ever since.”


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