Production workers call for end to strike
Hair and makeup artists, set decorators, grips, prop specialists and hundreds of others who work in television and film production marched through the heart of Hollywood on Sunday morning urging an end to the 5-week-old writers strike.
Their mission: Draw attention to the predicament of the thousands of people who work in television and film as well as the businesses that serve them. They are not on strike but fear their livelihoods are at risk.
“We are here today to remind the leadership of those locked in this struggle that real people, real men and women and their families, are being damaged,” rally organizer Chris Griffin said to the crowd assembled at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. “Each day this strike is prolonged, our futures become more precarious.”
Although these so-called below-the-line workers are not part of the negotiations, most are out of work until the strike is over and productions begin again. Many are starting to compete for work in film and reality television, which are still in production unlike most scripted television.
The strike’s toll on thousands of production workers who aren’t members of the Writers Guild of America has deepened friction with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents below-the-line workers.
The breakdown Friday of talks between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers prompted a scathing denunciation of the guild’s leadership from stage employees union President Thomas C. Short.
“I don’t believe the WGA ever intended to bargain in good faith,” said Short, who has repeatedly clashed with guild leaders in the last year. “And they are destroying a lot of lives in the process.”
Writers Guild leaders blamed studios for the impasse Friday and continued to say the strike was necessary to ensure writers received a fair cut of future revenue from new media.
“The Writers Guild is deeply concerned about the consequences for below-the-line workers,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. “Despite the studios’ unwarranted action on Friday to break off talks and walk away from the table, we remain ready and willing to return to negotiations.”
Talks broke down Friday after studios complained that writers made unrealistic demands that would make further talks fruitless.
On Sunday, several hundred marchers walked along Hollywood Boulevard from Grauman’s Chinese Theater to the famed corner at Hollywood and Vine, closing a portion of the road for the morning.
Police officers on bicycles escorted the demonstrators past a farmers market, men hawking bottled water and tourists snapping photos of the places Hollywood has made famous.
The marchers, many of whom had children in tow, chanted “Strike a deal” and carried signs reading “Kiss and Make Up,” “I Am Collateral Damage to the Labor Dispute,” and “Settle I Can’t Afford This.”
Some, such as Laura Richarz, a set decorator for the CW sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” have already started to cut back expenses. She no longer goes to Starbucks, thinks twice before going to the movies and says that when she goes to the grocery store, she buys things only on sale.
“Five months will kill me and a lot of other people,” she said. “Nobody has that much money saved.”
Richarz, who has been working in the industry for 30 years and was around for the last writers strike, said all she got from the strikes was debt.
Most participating in Sunday’s march make significantly less money than writers and producers.
Writers and producers “have the resources to weather this thing, be it another month or another five months,” said Will Alovis, a script supervisor for the CBS crime drama “CSI: Miami.” “We’re below-the-line crew; we don’t have those resources.”
Although many crew members supported the writers at the beginning of the strike, some said they were changing their minds. Alovis grumbled about writers’ high salaries and about the various fundraisers to help the writers during the strike.
Sheri Wilson-Edwards, a payroll accountant on the CBS hit “CSI,” said that she didn’t think the writers’ grievances were “strike-worthy.”
As the strike continues, it affects more than just the thousands who are losing their jobs as productions shut down.
Many small businesses across town report they are starting to see fewer clients, and those that serve productions say their phones have stopped ringing.
Corrie Levelle, one of the many vendors at the rally Sunday, said she had laid off seven full-time staff members. Her company, Sandy Rose Floral, provides floral arrangements to television shows, and she still has to make payments on her office space and delivery vans even though the money has stopped coming in.
Now she has started counting down into the future, figuring out when she’ll no longer be able to make the mortgage payments on her house. She says she faces bankruptcy if the strike lasts until summer.
“April would really be the end point for me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to recover.”
Staff writer Richard Verrier contributed to this report.