Today, to show my support for my screenwriting brethren, I headed on over to Paramount Studios here in Hollywood – located a brisk ten-minute walk from my apartment – picked up a sign, and joined the Writers Guild picket line. This, I have to admit, was my first strike. Though I think, coming from Detroit, the spirit of the act is permanently imprinted on my DNA.
My de facto strike captain (I’m not a member of the WGA, just a supporter) directed me to what is called the "Gower Gate." Instead of picketing with screenwriters in front of the famed Paramount gates, he wanted me to walk in circles in front of a tiny gate most used by Teamsters. Enh, whatever. I just wanted to help out. Plus, I heard celebrities like Drew Carey deliver pizza and, well, I’m broke. I could’ve use the free meal, though none ever materialized.
No celebrities did either, despite what I had seen on television. Steve Carell didn’t stop by to show his support; Tina Fey didn't picket with us; Eva Longoria didn’t yap into a news camera. For how this strike had been depicted on the news, I really expected something sexier. Something with a bit more flair. The most excitement I saw while at the Gower Gate was drivers honking at us, to show their support for the cause. Some Hollywood bigwigs sent over Popsicles, but, geez, it’s like 90 degrees. Those things melt.
There was plenty of water, though, to keep some 10 picketers hydrated as we walked in what I guess was an oval of sorts. We took our time, too, especially as cars and trucks entered and left, you know, to give them the evil eye and let them know, "You sonuvabitch, this is a picket line and, by God, crossing it means you’re in league with the Devil and all he represents." Strikes have a habit of doing this, dividing folks into an "us" versus "them" attitude, sort of the trick George Dubya used to promote his failed war on terror.
The truth is, there aren’t going to be many winners in this battle of attrition between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The real losers are those caught in the crossfire, the assistants and production company employees being fired or, in nice-talk, "laid off." In the end, the screenwriters I spoke to today know that whatever they gain in terms of residuals (their demands, that is), will be negated by what the strike costs them. Instead, it’s a strike for posterity, "for my kids if they become writers," as one spy-thriller screenwriter put it.
The scary thing is how many of the striking writers remain wholly unoptimistic about it all. One in particular, a television writer, said he predicted it wouldn’t end until either "March or August." March because it’s a month after he expected the Directors Guild’s upcoming renegotiations with the AMPTP to be resolved, which would hopefully lead to the Writers Guild’s strike being resolved, too. If not March, then August because the Screen Actors Guild will be striking next summer and that would mean the AMPTP would have that much more incentive to settle with all parties.
Consider the ramifications of this: nothing but reality television until late, late next year. And the 2008-2009 movie seasons will be completely torpedoed. Now that’s scary, my friends. So scary that I intend to return to the picket line next week to help make sure the artists behind my favorite TV shows and movies get what they deserve – and, more importantly, to get my favorite shows back on the air as soon as possible!