Thursday, January 31, 2008

Strike Day 89 (14 A.D.)

It was positively gorgeous out today. Crystal clear blue sky and crisp but not really cold temperatures. You could see all the way to the snow-covered mountaintops in the distance, at the Northeastern edge of Burbank.

On the line things were sparse, as they have been all week. Sparse but not bare. In fact, over at the Warner Bros. Main Gate #2, there was a virtual HORDE of picketers, which kind of shocked me in a happy way -- until I realized today was the weekly writing "Teach-In" -- the second one so far. Last Thursday was "Medical Drama" day and today was "Half-Hour Comedy" day. When and if they get around to scheduling a "Terrorism procedural" day, I will make a point to show up with my best lecture notes in hand.

Meanwhile, at Gate #5, things were not all that bad. First it was me and my strike buddy. But we were joined by several other regulars. After a while he had to head home for child-care reasons and it turned out the three of us who were left picketing were all Executive Producer/Showrunner types -- which was kind of funny.

A tourist in a cab stopped to ask us where she should go in order to take the Warner Bros. Tour.

It was a great set-up for a funny punch-line -- we could've told her anything but all we did was tell her and her cab-driver to make a U-turn and point out the proper spot for him to drop her off at.

Then something kind of odd happened. Close to a hundred people filed out of the Warner Bros. office building across the street from the studio, headed over and walked past us onto the lot. Each and every single one of them was carrying a copy of the same book. It was called something like: "THE POWER PHRASE - How to Mean What You Say and Get What You Want."

They filed past us while we watched quizzically. None of us had ever seen such a large group of people heading into the studio. We asked one of them what kind of event they were attending. The guy answered with one word, delivered in absolute deadpan: "Party."

I think it turned out they were all Warner Bros. employees who I guess were attending some kind of seminar.

They didn't look like Business Affairs executives, being coached on how to drive harder bargains with agents and entertainment lawyers.

It was kind of a perfect visual joke -- a hundred corporate employees entering a studio lot, marching past three screenwriters, each and every single one of those hundred employees clutching a copy of a book about how to use words to get what you want.

Today a lot of people -- regular studio people, not the seminar horde -- stopped to ask us how negotiations were proceeding. We told them all the same thing: no one knows but everyone is hoping for the best.

As the three of us kept picketing the conversation inevitably turned to our experiences running various writing staffs, for better and for worse. We traded some funny horror stories of really bad behavior by writers who had been our employees, as well as surprisingly outstanding behavior.

The truth is writers come in all shapes and sizes -- not just physically but in terms of capability, responsibility and simple decency. Some of us just plain suck. Others are incredibly talented but awful human beings. Still others are absolute social cripples. But even the God-awful worst of us is entitled to a decent share of profit-participation when stuff we write is delivered for a profit to an audience over the internet.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Probably take tomorrow off -- but I said that last week and then wound up picketing at NBC from 2:30 to 5:30pm, so you never can be sure.

If you sat at home most or all of this week, try hard to show up at NBC tomorrow -- those folks are out there five days a week and they could use all the help you can give them.

If you picketed this week, then enjoy your day off -- and enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. I have to help my son build his very last Pinewood Derby car, since he will be graduating to become a Boy Scout in March.

I remember the first thing he said to me about the strike, when it just about to begin, he said something along the lines of: "Why don't you just make your own deal with Warner Brothers so you can keep working?"

He's a very rational boy and, like most kids, he usually cuts to the heart of the matter pretty quick.

I told him that was impossible for many reasons, foremost among them being that it would be wrong to the point of moral and ethical bankruptcy.

Then, after the strike had gone on for a few weeks and after he'd seen and heard about lots of actors coming out to join us on the picket lines, including some he knew who I had worked with in the past, he said to me: "The actors should just go on strike right now, so the studios can't make any movies or TV at all."

I told him they couldn't do that because it would be illegal -- but that it was in fact a great idea which would end the strike faster than anything else could. Then I explained the term "WILDCAT strike" to him. For the next couple of weeks he would occasionally ask me: "When are actors gonna' call a Wildcat?" To which I woulld just chuckle and shake my head and say something like: 'It's not gonna' happen, son."

To be honest, thinking back on them, my 10 year-old son's questions and comments on the strike seem a lot more cogent than most of what I heard this week on the picket line regarding the current negotiations. He was using his mind to formulate what I would deem very appropriate questions or comments. Pretty much all the rumor-mongering and postulating I heard this week was driven by a seemingly desperate need to fill in the blanks.

Then there's the thought process on the journalism side, where they've been explaining how this strike is really about writers searching for more positive father-figures and how our leaders are in danger of lining up with Yasser Arafat, historically speaking (see my post for Strike Day 80).

This past week started out very strong for the WGA with the big SAG-WGA rally over at Fox, then ground to something of a slog, with what I would bet was low attendance on picket lines across town. People seem to be desperate for some good news. Maybe just desperate for ANY REAL NEWS AT ALL.

If you ask me the only news that will matter will be the news that we have a deal good enough for the Negotiating Committee to present it to us. Until that happens -- whether it takes until next week or until the end of February or until the middle of March or until July 1st, when 100,000 SAG members join us on the picket lines all around Los Angeles -- the strike-related news is not going to be all that important.

Of course, the one exception to that would be news that mass numbers of our fellow guild members have suddenly chosen to opt out of full membership in order to go back to work as members of the "Financial Corps."

Who knows, maybe there are in fact legions of such persons out there, balancing their psyches on the razor's edge, ready to take the irreversible leap into the land of scab-traitor-collaborationism.

I think that's pure nonsense but I don't know everyone in the Guild, so I can't promise you it's not true.

All I can promise is that I will be back out on the picket line, with a smile on my face -- mostly for the tourists -- and a sign in my hand, walking back and forth until until our Negotiators say we have a fair deal for the future.

Hope you'll be there too -- and not just in spirit, if you know what I mean.

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