Community on the Lines
On any given day, you’re bound to find plenty of community on the picket lines…between actors and writers, between workers across entertainment disciplines, between union siblings. Heck, even between actors, writers and crew of the comedy titled Community that ran for six seasons on NBC and Yahoo! Screen.
Among those who joined the Community reunion picket Friday at Paramount was SAG-AFTRA and WGAW member Jim Rash who played Dean Pelton for 96 episodes and also wrote an episode of the series.
Although primarily a feature writer, Rash – an Oscar and Writers Guild Award winner for co-writing the 2011 film The Descendants – expressed his concern over issues that affect TV writers.
“We’re losing the preciousness of writers’ rooms and of new writers being able to experience what it feels like to be on a set, to ultimately create their own shows,” said Rash. “You’re cutting yourself off at the bottom. I’m not a showrunner myself, but I know the value of having that room, having that family who is behind everything. You can’t go to set unless the writers have given you something.”
Rash’s comment drew strong agreement from his former Community castmate and SAG-AFTRA National Board member Yvette Nicole Brown.
“It’s very short-sighted to get rid of the bigger rooms,” said Brown. “As Jim said, it’s an apprenticeship when you start writing. Every year when you come back to do a show, you move up a rung, and you don’t get to see what that’s like if you don’t go to set. Ten or 15 years from now, we won’t have anybody that knows how to run a show. So if we don’t get people back in the room who are able to go to set and learn to edit and do all those things, we will be done.”
Brown, who has multiple friends in the WGA, joined striking writers in solidarity on the picket lines before SAG-AFTRA started its strike. The unity between the two Guilds picketing together has invigorated the picket lines, she said.
“We’re stronger together,” she said. “I’m not happy that SAG-AFTRA is striking, but I love that we get to come and be reinforcements like in The Avengers. We sort of come through these portals and now we’re here to hold everybody up and keep all the energy going.”
“It shows that the creative process is not just about one of these Guilds. It’s all of them, and you can’t have one without the others,” agreed Rash. “Obviously no one wants to be here, but I think there’s a resolve that we’re in it for the long haul.”
Micah Cyrus: Showrunner in Training
In pursuing his dream to become a writer, WGAW member Micah Cyrus followed a path that previous generations of Guild members helped pave. That legacy is part of what brings Cyrus to the picket lines every day, not just as a dedicated Guild member, but also as a strike captain.
“I wasn’t a part of the '07-'08 strike, but I felt the residual effect from that strike, when I became staffed, and how important it was,” said Cyrus during an interview at Amazon, where he is a captain, “and for that reason, I want to fight for this next generation as well, to understand that they’re going to feel the same way I felt when I was staffing, to get the same things they deserve.”
A Los Angeles native, Cyrus grew up watching shows like Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In choosing to become a writer himself, Cyrus wanted to create stories that would allow audiences to experience television in the same way.
“AI is not a generative art form,” said Cyrus, a co-producer on All American. “We have to tell these stories from our own experience, and I want to protect the future of storytelling that comes from native places so that people can see themselves reflected and be able to identify, not from a computer.”
Within the WGA, Cyrus has found co-workers who share his desire to usher in the next generation of writers and enable them to tell their stories. He cites All American showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll as someone who embodies this goal.
“She comes with the mentality that we need to cultivate that talent and bring them up,” said Cyrus. “It’s so important that I can see in my boss someone who helps shepherd people knowing that their voices are important and need to be shared with the world. That’s what I love about the Guild, because the Guild fosters that mentality, and it’s so important to keep that going.”
Of course, it also helps to have talent. As a writers’ assistant on The Resident, Cyrus distinguished himself to the point that Carroll hired him to work on her subsequent show, All American.
“And of course, with everything Micah does, he excelled very quickly and overachieved,” said Carroll. “He wrote an amazing freelance episode, and so we were blessed enough to be able to staff him the next year.”
“I always say Micah especially is a showrunner in training,” she continued. “He thinks like a showrunner, which is what I love about him. It’s rare thing when you have a good writer who also has that showrunner-producer-problem-solving quality, and that is Micah.”
Time is On His Side
When he learned that NBCUniversal would be holding a Back to the Future Day picket, WGAW member Josh Brandon – who regularly pickets at NBCU – offered to bring his DeLorean for the occasion.
Although they already knew Brandon as a picket line regular and for his generous weekly donations of the Like a Boss coffee truck, the NBCU lot coordinators figured that the 11-year Guild member was messing with them with his DeLorean claim.
“I said, ‘No, I do have one,’" he said with a laugh. “So they said, ‘Please bring it along.’”
He did, and – not surprisingly – the car was a hit at B2TF day. Brandon bought his DeLorean in 2013 and has spent the last 10 years having the folks at SoCal DeLorean in Huntington Beach modify it to resemble the time-traveling centerpiece driven by Michael J. Fox in the three Back to the Future films.
Of the approximately 6,000 road-worthy DeLoreans in the United States, Brandon estimates that there are “a couple hundred” that have been made to resemble the movie car. Brandon added the replica Mr. Fusion, energy supplier, flux capacitor, and all the other decorative lights and wires. More practically, he also added power steering.
“As a kid, I was obsessed with this movie and movies in general. That’s why I wanted to be a writer. I always remembered as a child thinking, ‘One day, I could own a DeLorean, that would be the best toy that a young boy could ever buy for himself.’”
Parked in the park-and-ride lot next to the registration table, Brandon’s DeLorean attracted plenty of fans who wanted to sit in it and take selfies.
“It’s been 101 days. We have to keep revitalizing it every day, sharing experiences with people and giving them reason not to give up hope,” he said. “If we can put a smile on their face, then we did our job.”
During his work on the series Houdini and Doyle, Brandon had the type of experience that, he maintains, all writers should have, but that is at risk of being obliterated. A co-production between the United States, Canada and Great Britain, the series filmed in Northern England and did post-production in Toronto. Brandon went to England where he produced his episode and then to Toronto, all under the mentorship of showrunner David Hoselton, who gave the story editor a hands-on course in multiple aspects of production and post-production.
“He took me under his wing and said, ‘I’m going to show you how this works,” Brandon said. “He was basically showing me how to be a showrunner, and that pipeline is being shut down.”
“The rooms have gotten smaller, the timelines have gotten shorter, and writers don’t get to go to post,” Brandon continued. “That really resonates with me because if we don’t train the showrunners of tomorrow, we’re not going to have anything to produce anyway.”