Strike, day 38

The main gate at Paramount was more packed than I’ve seen it all strike, and featured some familiar names and faces, both at the podium and in the crowd. Speakers included Howard Rodman, Robin Swicord, Bill Condon, and Harlan Ellison, who filled in for a muted Josh Olson. I wasn’t brave enough to introduce myself to Sarah Silverman, but did get to talk with Iris Yamashita (Letters from Iwo Jima) and Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain).

As with most gates, there were a number of blog readers and film students. Thanks for continuing to come out to the lines.

On Monday, I’ll be back at my usual post: 5:30 a.m. at Paramount’s Van Ness gate. That’s the last day of normal studio picketing before the holidays.


At the gates of Paramount

paramountYesterday, I braved Actual Sunlight to speak at the Indie Gate gathering at Paramount. It was a great turnout, with a collection of writers expressing a range of opinions, from moderate (me) to far less than moderate (Harlan Ellison).

I’ll have a full recap of the day up later, but I wanted to post what I (more or less) said while I could still reconstruct it.


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A few weeks ago, I got involved in a pretty heated discussion online, talking about one issue that screenwriters think about a lot. Namely, where would you go if Los Angeles were suddenly overrun by zombies?

There are many good options. If you can get to Angeles National Forest, great. The desert is another possibility. But if you’re stuck in the city itself, I’d propose a good choice would be one of the movie studios. They have big walls and defensible gates.

They’re really the castles of Los Angeles.

And to an outsider, seeing us here today, it might look like we’re villagers trying to storm these castles. Like this is a siege. But that’s not really accurate. We’re not trying to get in — we’ve been inside, and really, it’s not that nice. Rather, we’re here because we want those guys to come out. We’re not here to bring war. We’re here to make peace. And we can’t do it alone.

The theme behind today’s gate is “Independent Film.” But I think we all know that’s a misnomer. We might write our scripts independently, but shooting them requires the cooperation and hard work of a crew, producers, and financiers.

And over the last few years, companies like Paramount Vantage have taken a big interest in our movies. Yes, some of them make money, but more importantly, they make the studios look classy. It’s no accident that most of the movies “For Your Consideration” were first considered in our heads. First written with our hands.

If anything, we should be calling it “co-dependent film.” We’re good at making movies. They’re good at releasing movies. Yes, we have a fucked-up relationship — but it’s a relationship. And we’re here every day because we want to make it work.

I have a blog, and every day I’ve been writing up what happens on the picket lines. One of the things I never anticipated is how many non-WGA writers would be joining us. I like when they sign-in as “Future WGA.” Because they’re recognizing that what gets decided through this strike will be the contract they’re working under for the next 20 years. So I want to give a shout-out to them now. [cheers]

What they see — what we all need to remember — is that however long this strike goes, it’s nothing compared to the 20 years ahead. These studios, these castles, they’ll probably be here. We want to make sure writers are too.


The Nines, as planned

pdf

Digging through the files this afternoon, I came across this document I’d written for The Nines three years ago, which outlines a lot of my production philosophies at the time. To complete my process-geekery, I thought I’d annotate it to show what we did versus what we planned.

You can download it here (.pdf). Note: Attentive readers will notice some mild spoilers, particularly in the visual effects breakdown.


Strike, days 33-36

On Friday night, I went in to WGA headquarters to help load up vans for the coming week.

Part of my motivation was banking hours; loading vans is a four-hour shift, and actually counts as two normal shifts. But my larger goal was to learn more about the infrastructure behind the strike.

Ever since picketing began last month, I’ve been curious where everything comes from, and how all the systems operate.1 After all, the WGA doesn’t normally function as a field organization. It’s mostly people at desks, registering scripts, checking residuals, and dealing with the bureaucracy of running a guild. But suddenly, there are thousands of picket signs, and phone banks, and white vans full of supplies.

Clearly, someone had to set up these logistics. I assumed it was some outside contractor, but no. It’s basically just writers and re-deployed staff. Case in point: Jerome, a blog-reader I met during the first week. On day 13, he oversaw the sign-making session in which I got to demonstrate my facility in duct-taping. He was also in charge of Friday night’s van-loading.

Basically, there’s one van per studio being picketed. There’s a list of what each location needs: X number of signs, X number of insulated orange water coolers, X boxes of snacks, etc. It’s very straightforward. Most nights, you’re really just re-filling supplies, since the same basic stuff should have been returned to the van after picketing.

Last Friday was the big rally at Freemantle, after which stuff got thrown into vans pretty haphazardly. So everything had to be emptied out, then restocked from scratch. No biggie. Honestly, it was nice to have a job that had clearly defined objectives. Unlike picketing, you could see what you’d accomplished. You knew when you were done.

We were midway through the job when word came down that negotiations had broken off. Disappointing? Certainly. But it was strange to be getting this news while readying the vans. No one wants this strike to drag on for months. But I can tell you firsthand: on a systems/process level, it’s surprisingly well-run, with really good morale. No one was ducking out early.

This morning I went back to picket with my usual crew at Paramount. It was the fastest shift so far. I didn’t check the time until 8:20 a.m., at which point I was nearly done. A lot of the conversation centered on preschools, since half of us have kids in that zone.

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking the day off (the second of my two banked days from Friday). Thursday, I’ll be picketing (and speaking) at the Indie Gate at Paramount from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. After that, there are only two more days of picketing until the winter holidays.

  1. I’m a process nerd at heart. At dinner parties, I’ve been known to interrogate strangers working in interesting fields, as if trying to construct the database for an expert system to replace them.