Writers on the Line

On the Line
Oh, the Horror!
The Scream Queens picket celebrates women and LGBTQ+ people who work in horror, a return and reconnection on the NBCU line, and Gato the robot strike dog opens conversations about technology
Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Frightening the Picket Lines

The Scream Queens picket at Netflix. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

The gore, the menace, the knives and “Final Girl” T-shirts, the writers, actors, and fans of the genre trying to out-fright each other — Netflix was literally a horror scene Monday for a Scream Queens picket, which celebrated women and LGBTQ+ people who work in horror.

Joining the masses of Scream Queens who packed Sunset Boulevard was WGAW member and Strike Captain Akela Cooper who usually works the lot at TV City.

“It’s horror, I write horror, and I wanted to come out and support this picket and all of the people who love, appreciate and create horror,” said Cooper whose credits include the screenplays for M3GANHell Fest, and Malignant. “People like to be scared and the world sometimes sucks. Horror gives you a means of controlling that fear, and you have a catharsis in the end, so it’s a great way for people to release anxiety and express themselves safely."

Cooper has been a captain on and off since joining WGAW in 2009. In the weeks before the strike, she stepped up and offered her services as a strike captain as a way of “giving back to my union.”

“I appreciate the health care and the solidarity,” she said. “I also appreciate that there are people who will have my back when certain employers will try to take advantage of us and get us to do free work, which – on the screenwriters’ part – is a battle I certainly hope we will win.”

WGAW member-screenwriter Akela Cooper

Return and Face the Strain

WGAW members Jim Strain and lot coordinator Mike Moore.

Fifteen years ago, when he was barely out of his teens and facing the start of his career as a writer, Mike Moore had no professional connections, no “ins” to the industry, but his parents had a neighbor who knew a writer who was willing to take Moore to breakfast and talk shop.

So Moore and feature writer Jim Strain (whose credits include the original Jumanji, Bingo and A Waltons Thanksgiving) had breakfast at Nat’s Early Bite in Sherman Oaks. That meal – and the conversation that came with it – made an impression on Moore.

“He gave me the lay of the land, told me how to make a living as a writer, how to approach the art, the craft, the business, all of that stuff,” said Moore, who joined WGAW in 2016. “It’s one of those examples of how writer communities are based on mentorships and lifting each other up. He exemplified that, and it was to my benefit because I took his advice and it steered me in the right direction, and here I am now.”

“Here” is the check-in tent at NBCUniversal where Moore, who worked on The Magicians and Aquarius, is a Lot Coordinator. On the second day of the strike, Moore started chatting with a writer who became a regular on lines at NBCU. The man introduced himself as “Jim” and, 15 years after that breakfast, the two writers reconnected.

“I told him, ‘You took me out to breakfast 15 years ago. You told me how to make a living as a writer, how to do the life,’” said Moore. “I’m still here.”

NBCU is every bit Strain’s territory. He has been part of four strikes, and was a regular picketer at the studio during the 2007-‘08 strike. Every day since the 2023 strike began, he has returned to take up his familiar post at the studio’s Telemundo gate, a location that is far away from the big gatherings or theme pickets at Citywalk.

“That’s the most distant gate and a small group of our most dedicated picketers go to Telemundo,” Moore said. “It’s a difficult gate, but there are some days when they have the highest attendance just because of that little crew, and I’m sure Jim is at the heart of it.”

Strain confesses he likes Telemundo’s identity. It’s a prime place to connect not only with Telemundo regulars, but also with other writers who pass through. He recalls a conversation with an avid scuba diver who said that, when exploring a reef, one could choose to move all over the reef or find a place and let the fish come to you.

“That’s kind of how Telemundo has been,” Strain said. “I meet a lot of different people coming through and hear the stories about the other gates, but this one has kind of got its own nice personality.”

Strain has noted the large amounts of solidarity among the WGA and other unions, as well as unity within the Guild itself. He has been impressed as much by the lead-up to the strike as by the strike itself.

“I attribute this in part to our leadership,” said Strain. “I went to the meetings, and Chris Keyser’s remarks made me proud to be part of this organization. This Guild has been good to me, and I certainly want to pass on a stronger Guild to the writers coming up.”

As for his willingness to impart some wisdom to younger, up-and-coming writers, a gracious Strain says that when he speaks to younger writers – whether informally or through his many years of teaching at UCLA – he gets as much out of the encounters as he hopes they do.

“I see some of my former students out on the lines, and I see them breaking in and starting their careers,” Strain said. “I feel like it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Gato on the Lot-o

(L-R) WGAW member David James Kelly, Madeline McInnis, David Karlak and Gato.

With his whiskers, googly-eyes and gangly gait, Gato the robot dog routinely drawing double-takes along the picket lines may seem harmless. But as his strike sign indicates, this dog who thinks he’s a cat has a unique appetite.

“He loves eating executives. That’s his favorite meal,” said David Karlak, who helms Gato’s controls and also speaks for him. “In the morning, I’ll have my Cheerios and he’ll have his CEOs.”

Gato is on loan to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket line from the upcoming short film Azul written by Karlak and WGAW member David James Kelly. Kelly, Karlak and actor Madeline McInnis recently started picketing with Gato both to boost morale and to have some fun with the conversation around AI.

“I loved the irony of using futuristic technology to walk with us instead of it being used to make us extinct or to replace us,” said Kelly. “Now that we’re more than 100 days into the strike, just seeing Gato here and seeing people’s faces light up when they see him walking with us, it’s been a gift.”

“We’re out here showing that we’re creative, and we’re not anti-technology,” added Karlak. “We’re just against technology being used to exploit people. So Gato is trying to bring nuance to that discussion. It’s kind of showing people, ‘Hey the future is already here.’”

Gato walks, sits, crouches, and dances. His sign contains a QR code which leads to the WGA strike website.

“We’re hoping to use Gato as a platform to have these discussions about that intersection between cinema and technology,” said Karlak. “A lot of artists are using technology in healthy, wholesome, holistic ways and not how these big corporations are trying to take a buzzsaw to creativity.”