The stars come out on the picket lines
A day ago, the WGA picket lines weren't crowded, the media attention almost nonexistent. On Tuesday, more than 2,000 strikers turned out at Universal Studios, and television news crews were literally tripping over themselves to cover their protest. The difference? Scores of familiar faces delivered by the Screen Actors Guild.
SAG members representing prominent televisions shows and feature films -- Ben Stiller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Minnie Driver and Zach Braff among them -- transformed the picket lines into a high-profile media circus, bringing both visibility and solidarity to the labor dispute.
"It's a very basic thing that's happening: bringing attention to what's happening," said Stiller, who hit the picket lines during the lunch break for "Tropic Thunder," a movie he's directing and starring in on the Universal lot.
"Private Practice" star Amy Brenneman said she turned out for the pickets not only to bring visibility to the WGA cause but also to call attention to the below-the-line workers who had been forced into unemployment by the dispute. She said a dolly grip on her show was very likely going to start cleaning Wal-Marts to make ends meet. "Us pretty faces get camera time -- and that's the deal -- but we are up against the same thing with our contract," Brenneman said of the SAG pact, which expires in June.
Braff said that the very issues at the center of the WGA dispute -- supplemental payments for entertainment downloaded to computers and portable devices -- will also be central to the members of SAG.
"Everyone in the world knows that all of entertainment is moving to the Internet, and the argument that people are not going to make money on the Internet is preposterous," Braff said on sidewalks so crowded with actors and writers that marchers spilled onto Lankershim Boulevard. "You have to zoom out a little and look at what's going to happen to entertainment in the next 20 years. And then you have got to be fair" about how studios and networks should share in those profits.
Josh Schwartz, a writer and executive producer on "Chuck" and "Gossip Girl," was picketing with several of his shows' stars. "End the strike. I'm sick of pizza," Schwartz's picket sign read. Walking alongside him was "Chuck" star Sarah Lancaster, whose sign read, "Writers are hot." "Look," Schwartz said, "having actors out picketing will make people care. Writers will not. And we need to get the message out that this is about our future, not just dollars and cents."
Minnie Driver, the star of "The Riches," was surrounded by television and radio crews. She said she wanted to show that all artists stand together as "Davids" against the studio and network "Goliaths."
"One would hope that solidarity among artists means that you all support one another," Driver said. She dismissed the studio and network claims of poverty, especially as it relates to Internet content, as a negotiating ploy. "It's so hideously glib and revolting," she said. "All you have to do is read the paper to know that it's untrue."
Lori Loughlin, a star on the medical drama "In Case of Emergency," said her three children -- ages 16, 9 and 8 -- watch much of their entertainment on computers and video iPods. "So this is our fight too. I think that the writers are not out of line in what they are asking for."
-- John Horn