Mutant Enemy Picket Day

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though in the last decade or so television writers have become almost as popular with the fans as the actors on some shows.

Writer-creators, or showrunners, are the most obvious examples of this. Chris Carter and J. Michael Straczinski were the first that I can remember myself, although I suppose Roddenberry fit the bill back in the day. But particularly since the beginning of the reign of Joss Whedon and the simultaneous increase in online fandom activities, the visibility of television writers has grown more and more. Many have popular blogs; others like Whedon are comfortable popping online frequently and conversing with fans. The screenwriter as geek celebrity is flourishing. Jane Espenson, Marty Noxon, Tim Minear, J.J. Abrams, Rob Thomas, Ron Moore, David Milch, David Fury and a host of others are well known to fans.

So when the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike on November 5th, fans went into action immediately, as fans do: setting up a website called Fans4Writers.com to share information and organize, collecting donations for pizza deliveries for the writers, sending postcards in support of the strike to the networks, studios and advertisers, and generally marshaling the troops in support of all their shows and the creative minds behind them. And as the official strike websites posted picket information, one of the first and recurring questions asked was whether it was permissible for non-WGA members to march in solidarity. In a few days the answer came down from the WGA strike captains: everyone was welcome, it would be great if fans wanted to join a picket.

The next step was obvious: Why not organize a specific day on which fans could converge en masse to show their support? The first such event was an impromptu Fan Day picket on Nov 16th to take advantage of a Los Angeles Battlestar Galactica convention.

Then, in mid-November, Joss Whedon put out the word that a picket day for Whedonverse fans was to be held on December 7th in front of Fox studios. Whedon fans are incredibly active, and Browncoats in particular seem to be some of the best organized of television fandoms as evidenced by the Browncoat Backup Bash last year. Within a day the forums where full of plans for the picket, a picnic afterwards in the park across the street, and even group attendance of a midnight showing of Serenity that was coincidentally being held across town the same night. T-shirt designs went up, a food list for the post-picket picnic was made, carpools were arranged, and fans started buying plane tickets for LA and convincing their families and bosses to let them go, or just as likely to come with them.
As the day approached, a roll call on the forums showed between 150 and 200 fans expected to show, so Adam Levermore-Rich of Browncoat Beagle fame was declared strike captain for the fan contingent. He would organize us at a park across the street from the studio, so that at 10 a.m. we could go over as a group to where the WGA members were stationed.

I checked and found cheap tickets for the day in question, so I threw my hat in the ring and thus found myself on the overnight bus to Los Angeles on the eve of the day. Tadao Tomomatsu was kind enough to pick me up from the bus station and join the picket with me as well, as a SAG member and a fan. We arrived at 9:30 to find a huge group of fans already there. Coffee, donuts and picket signs were provided and QuoterGal and Cymerrin from the Goners message boards were distributing nametags so folks who had only met online could spot each other. I saw a bunch of San Francisco Browncoats including Adam, Melissa, Violet O’Hara and Johnny Absinthe. I kept an eye out for other Goners board members but figured I’d do my socializing at the picnic.

At a few minutes to ten, Adam climbed the base of a lamppost and rallied the troops, reminding us that on this day, the writers and actors in attendance were not there for us as they would be at a convention, but rather that we were there for them. A cheer went up, and the Bedlam Bards began playing as everyone marched on over to the studio entrance.

The WGA picket had some tables set up for distributing picket signs, water and food and also to collect food for the Los Angeles Food Bank. The official picket signs all read “WGA Member on Strike,” of course, so Adam and others had cleverly made stickers to paste over the writer identification portion of the placard to identify fan picketers as a distinct and very well- represented group. I grabbed one for each side of my own sign and joined the march.

As more folks trickled in, the marching circuit was expanded and then expanded again to accommodate our growing numbers. I spotted Joss Whedon on my second time around and was surprised to find he was taller than I had expected. I’d only seen him on stage at WonderCon before.. Ron Glass was also there, smiling and looking dapper. Spirits where quite high and everyone was clearly jazzed at the turnout. I spotted more folks I knew, including WGA and LASFS member Craig Miller who was apparently there in some official WGA capacity.

As the day progressed more familiar faces of the famous kind joined the picket line, including Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Morena Baccarin, J. August Richards, Eliza Dushku, Yan and Rafael Feldman, Alan Tudyk, Michael Fairman, Juliet Landau, Camden Troy and Michael Grossman. Although they were stopped pretty much constantly for interviews, most of them walked for several hours including Juliet Landau in some very snazzy heels. Nicholas Brendon was there as well, but I missed seeing him somehow. I was surprised that all of the men where as tall or taller than I expected and all of the women just as gorgeous as they appear on screen, or more so in Summer Glau’s case.

Marti Noxon, Douglas Petrie, Tim Minear, Jane Espenson, Brett Matthews and Ben Edlund were all there representing the writers. Other folks like Loni Peristere from Zoic studios also joined the line. Passing cars honked in support and folks hollered and waved back at them, which was wonderful to see given the conflicting reports I had read on various news

sites. Not a single driver said anything rude and quite a few were wildly enthusiastic, the two schoolbuses full of kids being the loudest of course. Anecdotally I did notice that the likelihood of a driver to honk or wave in support was inversely proportional to how expensive a car they were driving. In fact, pickups and other work vehicles with company names written on the side seemed the most supportive.

Leaving San Francisco, my sneakers had gotten soaked in the rain, so on Friday I was on my backup shoes which were not exactly terrible, but not the most comfortable for a picket. Four hours of walking took its toll on me. Taking a short break just made my feet hurt worse when I started walking again, and by 2 p.m. when Joss called an end to the day’s picket I was well and truly bushed (“damn near Reagan’d” as Joe Haldeman once put it). As fans gathered round he thanked us all for coming and announced that the unofficial head count was twice what had been expected, about 400 folks. We cheered and headed over to the picnic area.

My feet were killing me and sleep deprivation from the overnight bus ride was not doing anything to help. Although Tadao was gamely getting the home baked cookies he had brought for the picnic from his car, he was looking even worse than I was, so after dropping off the goodies and saying hi to some folks I decided reluctantly to call it a day. By all accounts the picnic was fun and reports of the midnight screening were good too, but I’d done what I’d come to do, so I left 10201 West Pico Boulevard exhausted but satisfied.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #57, December 26, 2007