Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Strike report: Day Three

For a delightful change of pace I decided to picket at CBS Radford on Wednesday. This tradition-rich San Fernando Valley institution has produced thousands of TV series and Sonja Henie ice skating movies.

The streets inside the lot are named for various shows that filmed there. “Gunsmoke Street”, “Mary Tyler Moore Ave.”, etc. In the spirit of accuracy they should now rename those streets “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Drive”, “Shaft Ave.”, “Other People’s Money Street”.

There were more bakery goods here than at 20th Century Fox. A number of writers were eating doughnuts while on line. Doesn’t that defeat the “exercise and cardiovascular” benefit of marching? Actor Gary Sinese made homemade cookies. They were delicious!

I walked behind a dog for about an hour. His last job was writing HERE’S BOOMER but God love him he was there supporting the new generation.

At least it was 75 degrees and sunny. Protesting writers in New York are freezing their asses off. How important are our east coast brothers and sisters? Look how much smarter Fred Thompson was when the LAW & ORDER writers were putting words in his mouth.

A woman was actually marching in stilettos. That's something you don't see at a Teamster's strike.

Every picture of the strikers I see in any publication includes at least one actor. It’s always a shot of Maura Tierney and John Stamos and a bunch of signs (us) behind them. But here’s the picture they should be using: A little boy of about six or seven was holding a placard that read, “KIDS FOR WRITERS”.

The BIG BROTHER house is also on the CBS Radford lot. I used to walk by their backyard fence, knowing they were cut off from the world and news and say “Oh shit! Did you hear? We just attacked Korea!!"

Lots of folks from SAG were on the line. They were the ones not eating doughnuts.

I overheard a couple of writers working on their screenplay story. I couldn’t really hear what it was but the dog did and gave me a look like, “Yeah, great. A buddy comedy/road picture -- DEAD”.

In a strike tactic I don’t quite understand, we marched clockwise for awhile then were told to start marching counterclockwise. Hey, anything to bring the producers to their knees.

A lot of motorists rolled down their windows and shouted out support… as they drove onto the lot.

Ellen DeGeneres told her television audience that she’s contractually obligated to continue doing her show. But she loves her writers and in support will discontinue her monologue. That’s great except…she CAN’T do her monologue without writers!! A few weeks ago she probably read a script that said, “Ellen cries”.

The big question early in the week was why would our negotiating committee give up DVDs? It made no sense. And then we learned the truth: the producers pulled the old Charlie Brown and the football, leading the WGA to believe if they gave up DVDs they'd offer some internet formula for residuals. And then did no such thing. AAGGGGHHH!!!

I didn’t see anyone with a megaphone trying to whip us into a frenzy. I guess they got wise. The only way to get this bunch to shout out protest chants is to hire the Laker Girls to lead them.

Of course, there's really no need for the rah-rah people. The producers themselves have managed to galvanize the union into such a state that to a man writers will fight this contract till the end of time.

Which starts tomorrow with Day Four.


Julie O'Hora said...

Thanks for the reports from the front lines, Ken. Next best thing to being there -- which I am, in spirit, though the rest of me's here in Orlando.

Sending foot-massagey vibes to all my union brethren...

Anonymous said...

Ellen can write her own monologue, but should she? I'm not getting that one.

The stilettos on line are too painful to think about!

None said...

So, Ken, are you going to be at Radford at 5 am tomorrow?

Anonymous said...

I figured DVD was taken from the table as it will be a corpse in less than 10 years when digital is the format of the day. Shows what I know.
Curse you Gary Sinise! I was going to bring cookies on Friday! Somewhere.......dunno where. I've done a lot of work at Disney this year, mebbe I should bring em there.

Anonymous said...

Funny observation from the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Dan Skowron, a Romeoville reader, wants to know why the striking TV and movie writers aren't carrying blank signs."

Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

NPR did a story on the show runners not caving this time. They also interviewed a movie producer who wants everyone to know that it's not the individual producers who are against the writer's getting a fair contract, but the corporations running the studios who are greedy bastards.

For those of use wanting to do more than honk, call your congressman and senator in DC to complain about the attempt to bust the unions on this issue, and send postcards to the studios telling them that, we the tv watching public, stand by the writers. Addresses can be found at the wga website.


Anonymous said...

"Actor Gary Sinese made homemade cookies. They were delicious!"

Just be careful if Woody Harrelson or Bill Maher shows up with brownies.

Anonymous said...

Kimmel has a "I support the WGA Strike" t-shirt. I want one too!

Anonymous said...

Ellen... yup, she's a scab!

Anonymous said...

How come writers always without writers the actors would have nothing to say. Writers strike and who is on TV speaking for them? Actors!

Bitter Animator said...

Why even make such a distinction between DVDs and internet downloads? It's all home distribution and it's all revenue that writers should be getting a piece of. As 'anonymous' said, DVD will be gone but there will always be newer distribution with all-new names.

It amounts to the same thing. Do you guys not have 'including formats yet to be invented' clauses in your contracts? That little gem has become standard over here. A nice cover-all.

Rob said...

The old Charlie Brown trick. Will those writers never learn?

You've got the writer dog, why not pull a Snoopy on them and go have the dog lick each producer's face?

All I can say is that it is a good thing you guys aren't working for Wal-Mart or the studios would have closed up three days ago and we'd be watching Viva Bejing, CSI: Peking, and my favorite, Deal or You Go To Prison Now.

Anonymous said...

If the writers on strike are the same ones who are responsible for writing what is on TV and in the movie theatres these days, how about we get them all together in one place and drop a bomb? Strike? These guys ought to be kissing the producer's asses for allowing them to work at all. Seriously, they could fire the entire bunch and bring in a whole new bunch and we couldn't have worse drivel than what is currently coming out of Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

Can we expect a Strikecom Room in the future?

Anonymous said...

The march "clockwise an then counterclockwise" thing is in fact for health purposes.
It keeps your legs balanced.

Good luck on the strike.

Nat G said...

I'm sorry, but if you've been screwed, you can only unscrew yourself by going in a consistent direction.

Anonymous said...

I was at a Ralph's last night, a Ralph's that had very recently removed several check stands with the self-checkout machinery.

Two of the guys behind me in the express line had just come from one of the picket lines in Burbank. When the line got held up for a price check they started backing out to go to the self-checkouts.

I regaled them with tales of growing up in the mid-west and experiencing all of Kroger's ongoing dirty tricks to bust the workers unions. Many of the same tricks I've seen enacted in Ralph's since Kroger swallowed them whole a couple years ago.

Both guys actually took offense and suggested I had a personal agenda. That turned into a rare moment of nonplus for me. I thought, perhaps I haven't made my point clear.

Using those self-checkout is just a way for Ralph's too lay off more checkers and eliminate union jobs throughout the chain. I encouraged them to look around and notice that the registers where almost entirely being run by management and supervisors, a dramatic change in just six months.

Apparently, I've lost my ability to present a compelling argument, they jumped into the self-checkout anyway.

I hope, amongst the more juicy bits of dialog, that some part of this experience makes it to the picket line.

Using those self-checkout stations is helping management eliminate jobs and the busting of unions throughout the country. Don't use them!

BTW, I was through my line before the two guys in self-checkout.

Battle on!!


Doug Walsh said...

Ah, but David, it was your conversing with them that drives people to use the self-checkout. I have no doubt what you say is true, however I always use the self-checkout when given an opportunity.

Some of us just plain don't like dealing with other people more than necessary...

Anyway, about the writing, it's kind of funny because I'm a writer and my payments are all "lump sum per assignment" without royalties. Because of the nature of the material, this works to my benefit. However, I know darn well that if I was working purely for royalties I would want a cut of every e-book, audio-book, and yet-to-be-invented book sold that contained my words.

Damn straight!

I can't help but wonder if the reason the producers are so against the WGA on this isn't so much just about paying them royalties on new distribution models, but because they don't want to hire more accountants and other beancounters to keep track of it all.

How does it work for the actors? Say, if I download a $1.99 episode of Crap TV on iTunes or if I pay the $5 to have DirecTV access on my flight?

Anonymous said...

PlĂ­nio Moreira said...
The march "clockwise an[d] then counterclockwise" thing is in fact for health purposes. It keeps your legs balanced.

At the other WGA (Writers Guild of Australia) they march counterclockwise then clockwise.

Mary Stella said...

I saw in the paper today that Steve Carrell refused to cross the picket lines.

If more stars did the same and production shut down on the shows, wouldn't that pressure the studios to negotiate? It's not like management can come in and play all of the actors' roles.

MrCarlson said...

Yes, but it probably would give the studios cause of actions against the actors, who, after all have a separate contract. I'm all for showing my support for the writers, but anarchy is not the answer IMO

Anonymous said...

Doug Walsh:

If you don't care about ensuring that jobs that pay a living wage with access to a health plan, who will? You choose whether you want to live in a community where nobody gives a shit about anyone else.

BTW, they were leaving the line when I stopped them, momentarily, with my totally ineffective tale.

Tim W. said...

I loved the line about passing by the Big Brothers house. Hilarious.

And David, I simply don't believe that every job should pay at least $20/hour. A checkout clerk should not be making enough to buy a house. I'm sorry, but if you want to buy a house, then I feel you should get a job requiring more skills, thus demanding more pay. And I worked as a video clerk (as well as several other minimum wage paying jobs) many, many years ago, so I know what it feels like to make little money. I didn't mind because I knew I wouldn't be doing it for very long. If every job paid as much as unions demanded, then small business owners would be run out of business.

Anonymous said...

Keep picketing! DVDs and any form of electronic delivery of media is a critical issue for management. Mgmt is fully aware that the inevitable future of media (both features and episodics, both first run and rerun) will be that it is delivered electronically on-demand sans networks, schedules and the like. The future is not as distant as it seems...

Anonymous said...

I had to post this link of "The Office" writers/actors on the picket line. Pretty good encapsulation of why they are striking.

(and now I hope the link works)

Anonymous said...

Oh, well, just use the URL.

HouseFrau said...

Dear Incredulous,
If a Hollywood writer ever used a line of argument or dialogue as tired as "let's drop a bomb on all the Hollywood writers," he or she would be fired immediately.

I'm sorry that the glory days of "Charles In Charge" and "Cannonball Run II" are gone. The fact is, there have always been good movies and TV shows and bad ones.

Something tells me you are not lining up at the theater to watch "Eastern Promises" or tuning into AMC for "Mad Men." But I recommend you do before you declare all of TV/Movie writing to be worthless.

Anonymous said...

I am so heartened to see actors in the strike line. They realize deep down that the story is king. Without writers, you have nothing.

Anonymous said...

Or you can march Nick Counter Clocwise -- i.e.) backwards in time.

P.S. - Speaking of time, To David, from a writer with too much of it on his hands: "Ralphs," believe it or not, doesn't have an apostrophe!

Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant "Nick Counter ClocKwise."

Anonymous said...

"If every job paid as much as unions demanded, then small business owners would be run out of business."

If every job paid as much as unions demanded, small business owners would have customers with more money to spend and would do better business, unless their small business was selling yachts. It's called demand side economics.

Most people atually want to see other people doing well, but after 25+ years of Reaganomic greed, those who want to keep others poor are sometimes refreshingly candid about it.

Good luck with the strike! For my students in a media class today, finding out how little writers get in DVD residuals was a revelation.

Juancho said...

Ken, wouldn't a joke about attacking Iran have been more timely?

Remember your Dr. Scholl's!

Anonymous said...

Any chance the WGA would support some residual payments for the IATSE since they currently get jack squat? I know it's easy to say you can't have a show without a script but I could argue that you couldn't have a show if you didn't have a set.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

Here’s a fun thing to do on the picket lines.

1. Take a stopwatch with you and begin timing when you hit the line,

2. Then, see how long it takes before you hear a writer:
a. Utter “Can we punch up this sign/slogan/contract?”
b. Pretend to get a cellphone call and say, “What’s that?! The strike’s over?! Guess I’d better go home!”
c. Pretend to get a cellphone call and say, “What’s that, Mom? You fell down and are hurt?! Guess I’d better go home!”
d. Make a prank phone call to a nearby writer, pretending to be a strike captain and asking why he’s not there picketing.
e. Attempt a joke lamenting how the strike is going to get in the way of his/her buying a new pool/car/house for his/her nanny.

3. Then, stand back and enjoy the irony that the writer is wearing one of the “Comedy Writer” shirts.

Yes, it didn’t take long for bits to become “hack” on the sidewalks outside studios. As if plodding around in a loop wasn’t grim enough, the tired, oft-recycled japes of the comedy writers’ rooms have descended like a sodden woolen blanket over the proceedings. I say this as a comedy writer, myself, with 15 years of experience in rooms, who is far from innocent of these infractions, but who is suddenly aware of just how easy it is for us to be lame.

Standing with the (non-sitcom) writers, I suddenly became aware yesterday how much we look like the kid brother at the family Thanksgiving dinner who imagines himself the clown of the family but who is really just an annoyance. I still believe that a large reason sitcoms are often so awful is the meddling of the studios and networks, but man, after a couple of days on the picket line with “comedy writers,” I am ready to make a few adjustments in my criticism.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it - aren't writers just hired to write a script? I am a software engineer and companies hire me to come in and write code for their product. I don't own the code - I write it for them. I sure don't expect to get paid for every copy of the software they sell after that. They hire me to do a job, just like production companies hire writers to do a job, I do it and that is the end of it. Why on earth should writers get paid over and over again for one piece of work? Did they share in the risk of setting up the production company?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Any chance the WGA would support some residual payments for the IATSE since they currently get jack squat? I know it's easy to say you can't have a show without a script but I could argue that you couldn't have a show if you didn't have a set.

Anonymous Dude,

Most IATSE jobs are grunt work (well paid grunt work with nice benefits)- not a lot of creativity involved. Not much responsibility to actually sell tickets, DVDs or generate ratings. Are we beginning to discern a bit of a difference?

On the other hand - Just Wondering has a VALID POINT.

Jack Ruttan said...

"You're going the wrong way 'round the wheel!"

- Midnight Express. Just to cheer you up.

Seriously, keep fighting, hope this gets settled soon.

VP81955 said...

Ken, glad you're showing solidarity with your fellow writers. I would expect no less fron you.

It may interest you (and your readers) to know the CBS Radford lot has a long and fairly interesting history. It was founded 80 years ago by silent-era comedy producers Al Christie and Mack Sennett; the lady in my avatar was part of Sennett's troupe at the time and took part in some of the first films shot there. And as fate would have it, I did an entry on the studio at my blog last week. Check it out at

(Put the "http://" in front, of course.)

BTW, my avatar would carry a picket sign in support if she could...but hey, she's merely an avatar.

P.S. On your Sonja Henie comment, Ken...since the studio was owned by Republic for a time, perhaps you meant Vera Hruba Ralston -- the poor man's Sonja Henie -- who was married to the studio boss and starred in a series of low-budget musicals.

Anonymous said...


From an MSNBC news story, Peter Chernin explains Fox's brilliant business model:

“As for how it will impact us, my guess is that during fiscal 2008, a strike is probably a positive for the company,” News Corp. president Peter Chernin said Wednesday during an earnings call. “We save more money in term deals and, you know, story costs and probably the lack of making pilots than we lose in potential advertising.”

Anonymous said...

incredulous said: "Seriously, they could fire the entire bunch and bring in a whole new bunch and we couldn't have worse drivel than what is currently coming out of Hollywood."

Well, you're right insofar as the "whole new bunch" would have to work within the same restrictions as the old bunch. While I'm not saying there are no bad writers, I think it's safe to say that many bad shows are the result of being developed to death by execs giving "creative" notes. Left to their own devices, writers couldn't do any worse.

But like housefrau said upthread, there's always been good and bad. The good will always be rare, but it's there.

Anonymous said...

Writer Josh Cagan, for whom I've had the pleasure of saying his funny lines a couple of times, has just heard from Hollywood.
Here's their take on this whole strike thing.

Rob said...

I just heard that 24 has been put on indefinite hiatus. Which pisses me off, because Jack Bauer's the one guy who could have ended this long national nightmare.

"Dammit Chloe, just reposition the satellites to get a fix on the producers and upload their coordinates to my new Sprint/Nextel PDA with the battery that lasts an entire day of hard use. Just make sure that Tony has 300 feet of barbed wire and a working hotplate, and I'll get the DVD residuals out of them."

Honestly, since 24 appeared to have no writers last year, I don't know why they're worried about them this one.

Bee doo. Bee doo. Bee doo. (My imitation of 24 going to commercial).

Rob said...

Ken. I have the solution for dealing with those long days of picketing and not working. Drop by Toys R Us and pick yourself up some Aqua Dots. Do it now before Michael Jackson decides to do his Christmas shopping.

Tim W. said...

david said:

"If every job paid as much as unions demanded, small business owners would have customers with more money to spend and would do better business, unless their small business was selling yachts. It's called demand side economics."

Demand side economics works about as well, in reality, as supply side economics. You raise the wages of everyone, and it raises the cost of everything, which means you may be making more, but your money goes only as far as it did before. Want proof? Simply look at history. Cost of living has gone up pretty much in relation to wages.


Yes, you write code, just as writers writes scenes and dialogue. Your writing, while obviously necessary and difficult, is not a creative endeavour. Yes, there is some creativity in it, as there is in just about everything, but one not be able to tell that you wrote the code, as opposed to someone else, simply by playing the video game, or using the software. As a code writer, you are not making the creative decisions, just the technical ones. Screenwriters make creative decisions that someone watching would notice. Yes, often times they are following directions of producers, executives or directors, but there is almost always some creative decisions writers make that are obvious to the viewer.

In the software industry, the producer is the creative one who makes the creative decisions. The code writers try and execute what the producer wants. In your industry, the code writers are more akin to the crew on a film set. There is some creativity, but they don't affect the story.

VP81955 said...

To David, from a writer with too much of it on his hands: "Ralphs," believe it or not, doesn't have an apostrophe!

And neither does Vons. Just ask Michelle Pfeiffer (she used to work at one before becoming a goddess).

Anonymous said...

Tim W.:

Do you ever NOT say anything and everything that comes to your limited mind? Are you able to see anything from someone else's perspective?

Any design and execution process is a creative process.

A cashier at the Ralph's is not making $20 an hour.

Go to school, learn something...

David B.

Alto2 said...

Would you please tell me why a comedian who used to write her own stand-up material can't write her own monologue, or even conduct her own show for that matter? Come on, Ellen.

Anonymous said...

just_wondering said... I don't get it - aren't writers just hired to write a script? I am a software engineer and companies hire me to come in and write code for their product. I don't own the code - I write it for them. I sure don't expect to get paid for every copy of the software they sell after that.

Suppose the companies you worked for operated entirely by marketing your code (or its compiled and packaged version) as their sole product.

Suppose that they did so in the accurate expectation of making tens of millions of dollars--entirely on the code that you yourself had written.

Would you still be content with only your upfront money? Or would you insist that your next contract include a slice of the action for yourself?

Tim W. said...


Not sure where the hostility came from. I certainly didn't mean to start it.

To answer our questions...

No, I don't say everything that comes to mind. I generally keep the pointless insults to myself.

I've worked in the video game industry. I know what goes on. I even conceded that writing code does have it's creative aspect. Generally, however, programmers don't make major creative decisions that a screenwriter would make. It doesn't minimize what a programmer does. It's just a simple fact.

And I've never been to Ralphs. I do know that some cashiers at my local unionized grocery store make $20 per hour, which is a ridiculous wage considering what it is they do and how little training is involved.

And by the way, I went to school for a long time. None of those facts I learned in school. I did learn politeness, though. Something you seem to have missed.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't just Maura Tierney and John Stamos there from ER: in the center in the black shirt holding the black sign is Parminder Nagra ("Dr. Neela Rasgotra"); behind her in the light blue shirt is Mekhi Phifer ("Dr. Gregory Pratt").