INT. LOS FELIZ BAR – NIGHT
The girl leaning all over me claims to be a striking comedy writer. I don’t mean she’s leaning all over me in the good way; it’s all elbows and annoyance. I’m at a local place chatting with a lovely lady friend, and this drunken twit is unable to stand up at all. She’s there with this guy who looks like the gayest man not currently engaged in bathhouse anal sex, with a powder blue argyle sweater and a blonde fauxhawk and a face so clear and well-kept that a whisker wouldn’t dream of growing there. He’s not that gay, though, since they’ll later be making out like drowning divers sharing their last blasts of oxygen.
‘Can you go back to drinking in the dorms?’ I finally say. Fauxmo starts to get all up in my face, and I realize that he probably works out regularly between sessions of manscaping, and how embarrassing would it be to get a broken nose from this dude? He’s all hot air, though, and walks off, but not before the girl’s other friend comes over all apologetic and buys me a shot of tequila.
I swear this is going to be about the strike.
So I’m at the bar with this lady friend, and next to me is this single guy, at the bar alone on a Saturday night. Let’s call him Hank. This girl buys me a tequila shot, and Hank somehow squeezes his way into the conversation; good on him, I’m trying to have a conversation with my friend anyway. Hank finds out that the shot buyer works at Dreamworks, and she wants to know what he does. He doesn’t want to tell her, but eventually he does – he’s a PA on Las Vegas. Almost as soon as she hears that he’s a PA, she’s gone. Zoom. Out.
Poor Hank. That’s the way it is in LA, he tells me. The girls hear that you’re a PA and they just escape immediately. Hank’s only been in town for a year or so, and he’s working his way up the ladder (he’s a writer or an actor, or both. Everybody here is), but you have to start somewhere, right? It wasn’t like this for him back in Atlanta. He was working at a coffee joint, and he tells me that he’d be serving the stockbrokers by day and fucking them by night. I don’t believe a word of that, but I get the point.
Poorer Hank. He might be done with this bullshit anyway. He’s a dude in LA for a year, working as a PA – he says his job is to essentially deliver scripts – but the strike is scaring him. There’s two more weeks of production on Las Vegas and then he’s out of a job. He’s blown his whole savings to pay his rent through the end of the year, just in case, but that means he’s stuck in LA. He kind of wants to go back East, but without his savings, how can he do it?
Then he starts pitching a TV show to me, and I make an excuse to go back to my friend. I don’t say goodbye to Hank when we leave.
INT. SUNSET BOULEVARD EATERY – DAY
I’m having lunch with an Important Hollywood Producer. He uses first names when talking about studio heads.
We’re talking movie business gossip – did you hear that Movie X cost this much money? How’s your new project coming along? Did so and so sign on to that film? – when the conversation turns to the strike. Every conversation in Los Angeles turns to the strike, by the way. I’ve heard bus drivers pontificating on it. This is a company town, after all, and that company is Hollywood.
Anyway, we get on the topic of the strike. I ask him for his over/under on the strike ending. He says that he thinks if it goes past the new year, it goes until the summer. Which is when the actors and directors strike, which means it becomes the apocalypse. He wants it to end tomorrow, of course. He has a couple of projects in development right now – a comic adaptation looking for a director, a science fiction movie with three quarters of a great script – and everything is dead in the water until the writers get back to work.
He’s stuck in the middle. He likes writers, and he knows what it’s like to be fucked by the studio guys. That’s what they get up in the morning to do, fuck people, and not just financially. But he’s frustrated and annoyed by what this is doing to him, how this is going to potentially kill some very good projects that he had lined up on the runway. In the middle of the meal he gets a phone call from Europe, and he talks about another project he’s interested in. I think that he believes this strike is going to last, but he’s got to act like it could just end tomorrow.
EXT. FOX LOT GALAXY PARKING STRUCTURE – DAY
Getting on to the Fox lot was easy. I was worried about crossing a picket line in a general ethical sense – way back when I was a foot messenger I refused to deliver a package to a building that was being picketed by a janitorial union. I believe in labor unions, and I believe in the solidarity of working people. Still, Fox never invites me to anything, so how can I turn down a press event on the lot? In the end it feels like no big deal – this is LA, so a guy getting off a bus is invisible to the throngs of red shirted strikers.
After the event I get a ride to a screening in Beverly Hills. Time is tight, though, so we pile into the car and intend to zoom over. Except that getting out of the parking garage proves to be an unforeseen hassle. There’s a group of strikers at the entrance to the garage, and studio security is allowing them thirty seconds to march in front of each car trying to leave. By the time we get to the exit line, there are ten cars ahead of us.
We sit in that garage for ten minutes before we finally crawl to the tollbooth. There I can finally see the gaggle of strikers who listlessly walk back and forth in front of each car. This is day two of the strike and they already seem bored to tears. I’m just annoyed. My labor sympathies have dried up in the worst possible way, and I keep telling the driver ‘Just gun it. Hit them. Let’s find out which one writes for Two and A Half Men and run him the fuck down.’
As we finally clear the protest scene, a red shirted WGAr hands us a fact sheet explaining their side of the strike. I consider asking her if she knows what a red shirt signifies in the Star Trek universe, but we have a movie to see.
EXT. RALEIGH STUDIOS VAN NESS GATE – THE MAGIC HOUR
The crowd of picketers is being lit up by flash bulbs. It’s dusk on Melrose Avenue, and I’m on my way to see a screening on the Raleigh Studios lot. It’s where they film Ugly Betty and a bunch of other TV shows, right across the street from the grand Paramount lot. I like Raleigh; it’s small and weird, and I’ve seen Bob Odenkirk there. I think he has an office on the lot.
Curious, I walk over to the picketers to see what the fuss is about. I immediately pick the famous person out of the crowd; I don’t know who she is, but unlike the striking writers, she’s pretty. And slathered in make up. This shit is caked on. I don’t know if she just walked off of set or something, but she looks like she could melt. She’s marching in a circle with the other protesters, pretending like she’s not famous (or semi famous. Again, I can’t figure out who she is. She must be a TV person).
It’s cool that stars are coming out to march. The same people who own the studios own most of the major media in this country, which means you’re not going to see much coverage of the strike, even here in town. And what coverage you do see probably won’t be all that balanced, as the media loves painting all screenwriters with the same millionaire brush. I have a friend who is a WGA member who isn’t picketing because he’s been ‘on de facto strike for the last five years.’ He’s out there writing spec scripts and taking meetings, but it’s been a while since anything turned up for him. He still gets checks from the baseball movie he wrote, a film that he isn’t particularly happy with – the star came on and changed everything – but those residuals are helpful. He’s the guy that the WGA is fighting for, and it’s nice to see celebrities – even dubious ones – lending the attention of the camera to him.
INT. DINO’S PIZZA BURBANK – NIGHT
It isn’t just that it’s hard to find good pizza in LA, it’s hard to find pizza at all. In New York there were pizzerias on every block. Despite the romanticism that New York City pizza elicits in people, especially expats, the truth is that there are a lot of very terrible pizzas to be found. It’s just that there are so many of them that you’re bound to find a good one eventually. In LA you find lots of chain pizza, but just pizza parlors? Not so much.
So I am digging Dino’s Pizza in Burbank. This is great pizza, with a zesty sauce and a crust to die for. I’m there with my friend who had been picketing Warner Bros earlier that day, and he’s gushing. Just gushing. He’s excited about who he has seen, the famous people and the semi-famous people. He saw Drew McWeeny from Ain’t It Cool out there picketing last week. The other day he was at the mega rally at the Fox lot, where all of the WGA strikers descended at once and shut down Pico Boulevard. He’s telling me who he saw there, and about how he saw Joss Whedon the other day, and how his friend was marching right next to Judd Apatow at Sony and on and on.
‘I’m having a blast,’ he says. ‘This is really a great opportunity.’
It’s weird, but I guess he’s right. He’s new to town, too, although he’s been here longer than I have been. He’s not done anything you’ve heard of, but he met a couple of the right people and he’s managed enough work to be a member of the WGA. For him this is a blast, a networking opportunity that he never could have seen coming. He’s meeting people, and he’s making his face known as a loyal member of the WGA, one of the good guys, a guy who will step up to the plate and make late night confirmation calls for his strike captain. When this whole thing is over, he could really go places.
Or will he? Everybody’s friends in Hollywood, but make no mistake, the competition is fierce and unforgiving. When the strike finally ends (and who knows when that will be or what the industry will look like when it does), will anybody remember this kid who worked so hard on the line? Or will it be business as usual, with a bunch of people competing for the same limited jobs? Sure he’s standing next to Joss Whedon today, but would he take his calls tomorrow? I sort of hope not, if only to stifle all this fucking name dropping.
That’s the weirdest thing about the strike for me. I really don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that there’s an evil in this town. It’s like Wall Street, but members of the drama club as opposed to the frat boys. Everybody here is out for themselves, and every relationship you make is tinged with an element of ‘How can this person help me?’ I have a number of filmmakers in my phone book, but I know that I’m a bad review away from getting my calls answered or my emails returned. Hollywood likes to present the image of unity – everybody is buddies in this town, and if you meet someone twice, they’re your ‘friend,’ but under it all is the competition, the fear that this guy will get what should be yours – that job, that check, that girl, that parking spot. Yet the strike has weirdly transcended that. People are out there talking like Norma Rae about solidarity and fighting together and… they seem to believe it. Maybe it’s that the ‘How can this person help me?’ thing has taken on epic proportions – instead of applying to a couple of people, it now applies to a cast of thousands. Maybe it’s that the competition is no longer among each other but specifically against Nick Counter.
I have no doubt that when this is all over the knives will be back out (but tastefully hidden behind backs. Never let someone see you coming at them with a weapon), but in the meantime the friendliness is real. Then again, we’re 8 days in. Let’s see where it all stands in two weeks.
For up to the minute news on the strike and for lots of strong analysis of what this all means, check out Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily and Variety’s Strike Blog. Just pretend it isn’t called Scribe Vibe.