Strike organizers driving home message
Leave it to showbiz types to turn picket lines into street theater — and quite the social scene.
After nearly a month of being idled by the Writers Guild of America’s strike, scribes have unsurprisingly extended their natural creativity and conviviality to what is normally a most somber illustration of a labor-management crisis.
By any measure, strike organizers have excelled in producing strong visuals and emotional appeals on the picket lines to drive home the message that the scribes are fighting not just to protect their livelihoods but for the universal concerns of fairness and morality.
Tuesday’s main event on the picket detail drove the good-vs.-evil theme home in a big way as a clutch of top horror pic scribes hauled out some of their trademark props and costumes to conduct an “exorcism” outside of the Warner Bros. (The studio released the original “Exorcist” pic, after all.)
“We the horror writers do not necessarily believe the members of the (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) are evil,” intoned scribe-turned-exorcist Scott Kosar, whose credits include the recent renditions of “The Amityville Horror” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “But we believe that they’ve been invaded by evil spirits, whose goal is the destruction of this union. … We do believe that good does eventually triumph over evil.”
Kosar — with bullhorn in hand and tongue in cheek — then read from a (modified) Catholic exorcism, asking God to “repel the greed that bewitches these studios,” and to prevent demons from “further deceiving this guild and these members.”
Holy water was splashed toward the studio (hitting some reporters and news photogs in the process — hey, demons are everywhere). Kosar then led the gathered striking scribes in chanting, “Out, demons, out!” and “We eat scabs!”
One striker clutched a Chucky doll, while another had a “Halloween”/Michael Myers mask and yet another sported a large, fake spider on her back.
“The Lost Boys 2” writer Hans Rodionoff, also in priest attire, said he hoped Tuesday’s exorcism would “drive some evil spirits out of the studios, so hopefully our negotiations will go smoother (from) this point on.”
Kosar said his contribution to the WGA’s media attention-grabbing cause was inspired by late activist Abbie Hoffman’s famous 1967 “Exorcism of the Pentagon,” in which thousands of people gathered outside the corridors of military power in Arlington, Va., in the hopes of levitating the pentagon-shaped building and bringing about peace.
As the strike has worn on, the various picket sites targeted by the WGA have taken on their own characteristics, influenced in part by the regulars who have developed a kind of camaraderie while walking the beat. There’s been an inevitable sense of networking among writers who may know of one another’s work and now find themselves toiling in close quarters for several hours a day.
For A.L. Katz, a scribe who has helped organize the pickets around the Paramount lot since the work stoppage began Nov. 5, picketing has reinforced a sense of collective experience among WGA members. For him and many others, the key moment in the strike came the week before the work stoppage commenced when about 3,000 WGA members met at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
“A lot of writers are pretty solitary people,” he said. “I think a lot of us suddenly felt that going on strike was something that we had to do. And with the ongoing attack on collective bargaining, we need to stand up.”
The Warner Bros. and NBC picket sites have been among the most well-attended. Paramount earned the title of the “party gate,” in part because of a widely distributed YouTube vid showing strikers dancing with their picket signs.
Twentieth Century Fox is considered something of a top-tier spot, in part because of its highly visible Pico Boulevard location and because of the top-tier talent (and Westsiders) who have been picketing there. Another perk of picketing at 20th is the close proximity to groups of “Simpsons” scribes, whose rapid-fire banter offers outsiders a glimpse of what life is like in the writers’ room of one of TV’s longest-running comedies.
And while an egalitarian spirit pervades the strike lines, there’s no doubt that picket detail offers career networking opportunities to younger and less experienced scribes. Even seasoned showrunners admitted to being awed in the presence of fellow pickets and biz legends like Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner and “Mary Tyler Moore” co-creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, who have been regulars at 20th.
With the onset of the holiday season, the picket lines have facilitated some philanthropy even among those who have reason to worry about the health of their own bank accounts during the next few months.
“Big Fat Greek Wedding” hyphenate Nia Vardalos held a toy drive outside Raleigh Studios on Monday that yielded more than a dozen boxes of toys and food in its first 10 minutes. Vardalos said she spread the word about her effort for the L.A. Fire Dept. and SOVA food bank among strikers by passing out fliers at the WGA’s Nov. 20 rally on Hollywood Boulevard.
“Every day that I’m on the picket line, I’m so impressed with the solidarity that we’re experiencing, so this seemed like a good way to give something back,” she said.
Vardalos gave a hug to actor Patton Oswalt, who voiced the lead character Remy in the Disney/Pixar hit “Ratatouille,” after he showed up with a box of 30 unopened “Ratatouille” DVDs.
Vardalos has her own observations of the strike subculture after picketing mostly around Paramount for the past three weeks. “Each (Paramount) gate has its own personality; the Windsor gate is the noisiest and the Lemon Grove gate is a lot quieter — kind of the lounge,” she said.
(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)