No one is serving us grilled salmon, steak, or even pasta., It's mostly everybody's kids' extra Halloween candy, cookies and fruit (Though a very generous writer brought pizza for everyone yesterday). There's no music playing softly in the background, just blaring horns from supportive motorists and teamsters. No clinking of glasses filled with pinot noir, just water hastily guzzled from plastic bottles that I fear are not being recycled (Could someone in the WGA please look into that?). And there are no place cards telling us where to sit, just placards on sticks, reminding everyone who we are, as we circle around and around and around in front of the studio, demanding to get paid fairly for the work that we do.
What there is plenty of, however, is good conversation. No, I take that back -- great conversation-- interesting dinner party type conversation with funny, engaging, smart, friendly people. My people. Writer people.
As a screenwriter, I've spent the majority of my career working in a room, all alone (though I work with a partner now). Some refer to it romantically as a writer's garret. Others see it as a bleak purgatory. I just call it plain lonely. Unlike TV writers who have lots of friends/colleagues from the show they're currently working on, shows from seasons past, or just through that incestuous TV writers network, we film writers lead a much more monastic, isolated, anti-social existence. TV writers share an endless supply of inside jokes, they stay up late to make that deadline together, and eat more meals with one another than they do with their spouses. I know they work hard, really hard, but it seems that being on the staff of a TV show is sort of like being in a frat or at summer camp. And we all know that fellow campers and frat buddies are the friends you hold on to for life because of that shared experience. Okay, I admit it, I'm jealous. Because the only experience most film writers share with one another is isolation. But not any longer.
The mechanics of the picket line -- moving endlessly in a one-directional oval -- allows for plenty of conversation with strangers, aka fellow writers. You see the same person over and over again, during your four-hour shift, as they pass you over and over again on the other side of the line. You don't know who they are, but you catch their eye, you nod, or maybe even smile. And then, when you slip back into the line after getting a drink, there's that person again, but walking alone this time. So you introduce yourself, you juggle your sign in order to shake hands, and all of a sudden you're not a lonely screenwriter anymore, but a member of a community.
On Monday, I briefly talked presidential politics with a screenwriter/director who has always been my idol. Later, I had a long conversation with a wonderful actor (thanks for the support SAG), about an interesting script he's written. Yesterday, it turned out the menschy guy I was doing a few laps with was the creator of my favorite TV show. And later, I met a young woman who isn't even in the guild yet, but who was developing her first project and already felt like one of us.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow there will be no shortage of smart, interesting fellow writers to walk and talk with. After all, these are the people who create compelling characters we love, or love to hate. People who weave words into wondrous worlds that become movies and TV shows that move, touch and inspire. That make us laugh. That force us to look at ourselves in a new way. Creative, compelling, neurotic people. My people. Writer people.
So if the studios want to continue denying us compensation for that which we create, so be it. I will continue walking around and around and around with this amazing group of people until I know every one of their names, until I know each of their life stories, until we get what we deserve. And even though my calves are sore and my back aches, I'm looking forward to my next day of picketing because for the first time in years I feel like I'm part of the writers' community. So thanks for that AMPTP! I do not know if I will forge any new, long term friendships while on strike -- I hope so, but regardless, I know I've finally shared an experience with my fellow writers. We'll always have the picket line at Fox.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.