Paging All Pages: To the Lines at NBCUni!
Returning to picket the studio that gave them valuable early career exposure to the entertainment industry, graduates of the NBCUniversal Page Program reunited in front of the Citywalk gate Monday.
For Universal strike captain and Page Program graduate Gabriel Feinberg, the reunion brought up mostly fond memories of his “crash course” on how the studio and network operated.
“I had worked in unscripted, so I had no idea how any of it worked,” said Feinberg. “I had to do a little bit of everything. The pay wasn’t good, but it was a nice way to get a top down view of the world, and I could take that knowledge when I went to work in a writers’ room. I could understand a little bit better how studio executives might operate.”
Picket organizer Dan Levinsohn also remembers his experience as an NBCU Page in 2013-14 with pride.
“I’ll have memories that last a lifetime,” said Levinsohn, who has worked for NBCUniversal in digital marketing and editorial. “I worked with such kind smart dedicated people who either currently are or will be the future of the entertainment industry.
“But no matter what level you’re at in this industry and no matter which coast you’re on, you need fair pay,” he continued, “and in a country with a broken health care system, you need good health care. Things have to be more equal.”
Following his time as a page, Feinberg took the assistant route working on projects at Warner Bros and NBCUniversal until he got staffed on Chicago Med. He joined the WGAW in 2019 and soon became a captain both to continue his own education and to help pass on what he learned to other early-career writers who were learning the industry.
“If we want to have great showrunners, we need know how to make great shows and compelling TV,” said Feinberg who served as executive story editor during the last season of Chicago Med. “We need to know how to produce, how to make a lot of TV year-round, and we need to be able to afford to live here.”
“I have a job that allowed me to buy a home and afford a mortgage,” he continued. “It’s sad knowing that this is the only job that I’ll ever have that will allow that, and so many people don’t even come close to ever getting that. For me, that’s kind of what this whole strike is about – making sure this career is sustainable for the next level of writers.”
Sometimes the UAW Local 2865 member will even enlist a percussion player.
“I always bring out buckets, because you need a beat,” said Lopez, a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in the History Department at UCLA. “People will walk by and say, ‘Oh this is cool,’ and I’ll just grab them and say, ‘Well, you’re going to have a new job’ and they’ll start playing buckets.”
Lopez first started trumpeting along his own picket line when more than 48,000 University of California graduate students went on strike for six weeks in the fall of 2022. Noting the huge amounts of solidarity and unity for the educational workers, Lopez decided to bring music – and the joy that comes with it - to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket lines.
“We’re trying to lift people’s spirits,” said Lopez, who was joined Monday by fellow musicians Bryan Ziadie and Jose Gutierrez at Disney. “You never know how long the strike is going to last. Music is the universal language that creates that enduring moment where people can at least feel a little better in the hot sun. So that’s why we’re here, to continue bringing joy and also letting people know that the fight is still on.”
In the early days of the strike, while UCLA was still in session, Lopez mostly played at Paramount. Later, he visited NBCUniversal and, starting last week, Disney. He has structured his musical visits to the picket lines around international trips first to Europe and, starting Tuesday, to Africa.
At Disney, Lopez positions himself alongside Buena Vista Avenue, both to provide dulcet tones of his trumpet for the enjoyment of circling picketers, and also for a very different reason.
“We’re right next to the corporate offices here,” he said. “So if you can make a loud enough noise, the trumpet is a great instrument for bringing that sound to people’s ears and trying to get the voices heard about what the cause is for.”
Watch: Picket Line Fitness Videos
As the WGA strike progressed and she started hearing of aches and pains experienced along the picket line, WGAW member Sheila Callaghan decided to put her fitness skill set to practical use. Armed with the knowledge she gained from interviews with picketers and lot captains in both L.A. and New York, Callaghan created the video “How to Not F--- Your Body Up While Picketing” which she posted on YouTube. Produced with fellow WGAW member Charles Day and featuring WGAE member Keisha Zollar, the 18-minute video takes viewers through posture check points, and a series of stretches and exercises.
From her college days teaching aerobics to earning her certification as a personal trainer to the training and coaching she continues to do between writing gigs, the WGA member of more than 12 years knows a few things about fitness.
“My initial thought was just to help people because I have this weird knowledge that’s not very relatable to other writers,” said Callaghan, a writer and executive producer on Shameless and The United States of Tara. “In order to be a fitness instructor, you need a lot of insane training. It’s the exact opposite of what writers are compelled to do. Writers stay inside their heads.”
Callaghan has heard plenty of people complain about neck, back, knee, and shoulder pain. Many people figure that switching out shoes will fix the problems. Not necessarily, she said. Posture and attention to the ways in which we walk are also critical.
“Writers tend to be hunched over their desks for great amounts of time, and they don’t often do much to reverse that hunch, so their muscles have been trained to be in a hunch even when they’re not sitting behind their desks,” she said. “Also, there are problematic walks. We don’t pay attention to our gait when we walk. The less in alignment you are when you move, the more likely you are to have joint and lower back pain.”
Different picketing sites come with different muscular challenges. If you’re picketing at, say, Paramount’s Raleigh gate, you’ll end up walking around in a bunch of tight circles, potentially taxing the muscles on the outsides of your legs. Gusts of wind that blow through Netflix can leave picketers with upper body pain as they wrestle to hold signs in place.
She followed up the “How to not F--- Up Your Body” video with a picket line warm-up and cool-down video, and a video designed to prevent picketers from getting heatstroke.
Another spur that drove Callaghan to produce her videos is the now infamous Deadline article in which an anonymous studio executive claimed the AMPTP’s endgame is to force striking writers into losing their homes.
“The idea of how important morale is when you’re being physically challenged started becoming little more imperative, Callaghan said. “That comment, to me was a huge motivator in terms of trying to continue to encourage people to be physically strong enough to stand for as long as they could against the people who want to want to watch them fail.”
“The videos were a huge investment in time, but I don’t have a problem with that,” she added. “I hope they help people.”