3,500 protest near Fox studios

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Century City’s famed Avenue of the Stars was transformed into a boulevard of determined demonstrators Friday as more than 3,500 writers, actors and supporters swarmed nearby 20th Century Fox studios to bolster their resolve for a potentially drawn-out strike by the Writers Guild of America.

The 45-minute rally produced a revivalist-like atmosphere outside the studio’s executive offices at Fox Plaza tower as television’s top writing talent and blue-collar industry workers mingled with Hollywood stars including Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oscar winners James L. Brooks and Paul Haggis of “Crash” during Day Five of the strike.

Spilling into the streets and landscaping around the building, the crowd cheered various speakers that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, producer Norman Lear and “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarland as they stood on the back of a flatbed truck exhorting the workers to stay strong.

Talks between writers and major studios broke off Sunday, primarily over reimbursement for content that is broadcast over the Internet and other new media outlets.

Jackson drew whoops of approval from the crowd when he said, “We deserve our share of the American Dream,” and later when referring to civil rights leaders the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in his brief address. He led protesters in several chants, including: “Forward forever, backward never” and “Save the workers, save the family, share the wealth.”

Writers’ negotiating committee leader John F. Bowman, chief negotiator David Young and Alan Rosenberg, president of the Screen Actors Guild, also spoke, eliciting widespread applause.

“You’re going to get everything you need and [they] are going to get everything they deserve,” Zack de la Rocha, front man for hard rock band Rage Against the Machine, told the crowd as he pointed up to the offices behind him. Backed by the band’s guitarist Tom Morello, he belted out the militant anthem “Bulls on Parade” while a demonstrator behind him waved a sign that featured a picture of Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp., the parent company of Fox. The sign said “Write This!” and “Chernin made $34 million last year.”

Friday’s demonstration was the first mass rally since the strike began, although several studios, including Fox and Paramount, were the targets of smaller protests earlier this week.

Despite the size of the crowd, the gathering was orderly with no reported major incidents. About an hour before the mid-morning rally, police shut down part of Avenue of the Stars. Heavily traveled Pico Boulevard near Fox Studios and Rancho Park Golf Course also were closed briefly after the demonstration to allow marchers to picket in the street.

Reports that studios were laying off support staff and issuing “breach of contract” letters to TV show runners did little to dull the spirit of the marchers, who were energized by voluminous supplies of water, juice and bagels handed out by guild staff and volunteers.

Shawn Ryan, show runner of FX’s “The Shield,” said his contract was suspended without pay as of Wednesday.

“I will lose money with this strike. But it’s not about me,” he said. “I benefited from the guild in the past. Now it’s my turn to sacrifice for the people who come after me.”

Veteran producer and director Jon Avnet said the strike was more inspiring than the one 20 years ago. “This is very different, a very real unity,” he said.

McFarland said he was impressed by the enthusiasm. “We are going to win this thing,” he said.

Steven E. de Souza, who wrote “Die Hard,” stood in front of the building on Avenue of the Stars where that blockbuster movie was shot and where Bruce Willis’ famous jumping scene unfolded. De Souza said he wanted to send a message to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in another movie that de Souza wrote, 1985’s “Commando.”

Pretending that he was knocking on the governor’s trailer, De Souza said: “Fifteen minutes, Mr. Schwarzenegger. We need you on the set.”

Times staff writer Lorenza Muñoz contributed to this report.

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