At 5 a.m. on a recent weekday, a lone figure paced outside the main entrance to the Fox Studios lot in Los Angeles. Peter Chiarelli, a screenwriter, walked the picket line.
“It’s passive-aggressive,” Mr. Chiarelli, who wrote the movies “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Proposal,” said of his sentiment — sincere if the Teamsters backtrack and sarcastic if they walk in.
Since the Hollywood screenwriters’ strike began on May 2, Mr. Chiarelli and others like him have woken up before dawn to try to disrupt productions whose scripts had already been completed.
“We have to close the pipeline,” he said of the shows in production.
The practice, which was not used to any real effect when screenwriters last went on strike in 2007, initially caught some studio executives off guard. And many of them — as well as many people from the Writers Guild of America, the union that represents writers — were surprised that it had some success.
Showtime halted production on the sixth season of “The Chi” after writers met for two straight days outside the doors of the Chicago studio where it was filming. Apple TV’s “Loot” was shut down after writers picketed a Los Angeles mansion where filming was taking place. The show’s star, Maya Rudolph, retired to her trailer and was unwilling to return to the set.
More than 20 writers marched from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita, Calif., to picket the FX drama “The Old Man,” starring Jeff Bridges. Nighttime action kept Teamsters trucks inside the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, Mr. Chiarelli said, and crews struggled to work. The show quickly suspended production.
A Lionsgate comedy starring Keanu Reeves and Seth Rogen, with Aziz Ansari making his directorial debut, closed last week after just two and a half days of filming in locations around Los Angeles after loud and shouting writers picketed his three sets.
“While we do not discuss the details of our strategy, we are putting pressure on companies by disrupting production wherever it is taking place,” a Writers Guild of America spokesperson said in a statement.
Eric Haywood, a seasoned writer who sits on the union’s bargaining committee, put it more clearly. “If your movie or TV show is still filming and we haven’t shut it down yet, hold on tight,” he said. writing on social media Last weekend. “We will join you. »
A representative for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, declined to comment.
Both sides have said privately that a much greater sense of solidarity between unions than during the last writers’ strike has made it harder for workers from other unions to cross picket lines. Productions are also more geographically dispersed than they were 15 years ago. In addition to the fortified Los Angeles sound stages, writers picketed suburban New Jersey, New York’s Westchester County, and Chicago. And social media provided a way to alert writers to get to specific picket lines quickly.
Every day, screenwriters send out calls to “rapid response teams” when they learn of a production’s call-in time and location.
“Breaking: They’re shooting Sunday…we’re picketing Sunday”, a writer posted on Twitter, asking people to immediately gather in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn to disrupt a production. “Please amplify.”
“I think everyone is supporting us because they see that if we all stick together, we can achieve real things,” said Mike Royce (“One Day at a Time”), who joined Mr. Chiarelli in some of his pickets before dawn.
The writers also disrupted other events. Netflix has canceled a major in-person presentation for advertisers in New York amid concerns over the protests. The streaming company also canceled an appearance by Ted Sarandos, one of its co-CEOs, who was to be honored at the prestigious PEN America Literary Gala. A Boston University commencement address by David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, was interrupted by boos and chants of “Pay your writers!” protesters and students.
Although the makeshift picket lines disrupted individual productions, it is not clear that they had much effect on the strike itself. Negotiations have not resumed since breaking off on May 1, and the industry is preparing for the possibility that the strike could last for months.
Screenwriters say their salaries have stagnated even as major Hollywood studios have invested billions of dollars in recent years to expand their streaming services. The guild described the dispute in stark terms, saying “the survival of writing as a profession is at stake”.
But the production shutdowns don’t just affect studios. Crews and other workers — like drivers, decorators, caterers — are losing their paychecks. And if closures pile up and more people are unable to work, some wonder if writers will begin to erode the current goodwill of other workers.
Lindsay Dougherty is the lead organizer for Local 399, the Los Angeles division of the Teamsters, which represents more than 6,000 movie workers, from truck drivers that screenwriters try to hijack, to casting directors, managers and trainers. animals. A second-generation Teamster, Ms. Dougherty is one of the union’s few female leaders. Her many tattoos, including that of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, and her often profane speech made her a celebrity with screenwriters during the strike.
And she said solidarity with writers remains strong.
“I think collectively we’re all on the same page in that streaming has dramatically changed the industry,” Ms. Dougherty said in an interview. “And these tech companies that we’re negotiating with, in the last writers’ strike – Amazon, Apple, Netflix – they weren’t even part of the conversation.”
When asked if the Teamsters informs the writers of the time and place of productions, she hesitated.
“The Writers Guild gets advice from all sorts of different places – whether it’s members working on the crew or filming permits, they obviously have social media groups and emails set up to send advice. and information,” she said.
In the meantime, Mr. Chiarelli continues to pace outside Fox Studios every day, hoping he can run trucks around. Some days he gets results. On a recent morning, he was joined by several other writers, and five trucks turned away, he said. During an overnight picket at Fox, a trailer carrying fake police cars intended for filming turned around at 2 a.m.
Other days the picket line is much more sparse, especially if a tip takes a group to another location.
He and Mr. Royce spoke fondly of their second day in the dark. It was pouring rain when two large trucks pulled into the turning lane, turn signals on, ready to pull into the parking lot. Then they saw the writers. The trucks stopped on the side of the road, waited about 10 minutes, then turned around.
They “went past the entrance, honked their horns and waved at us,” Mr Royce said. “It was passionate.”
Mr Chiarelli added: “I’ve been chasing that summit ever since.”