Actor Brandon Morgan has shunned the Netflix picket after his WGA pal warned she was “too crazy” and “too energetic”. Instead, the SAG-AFTRA member has been protesting about a mile south at Paramount Studios three times a week when he can provide childcare. He described it as “friendly” and “relaxed”.
“Strikes is pretty hard man — I mean, I’m in my 40s — but when I’m out here in the sun walking I think I’ve gotten about 8,000 steps so far,” Morgan said on the way to his Automobile. “It’s hard work.”
Paramount — the last major studio in Hollywood — is far from the biggest name in streaming. Unlike Netflix, Paramount+ isn’t synonymous with turning the Hollywood business model around. And there are no corporate offices to yell at. Instead, large gates provide a scenic backdrop for pickets.
It is common for groups protesting together to take a selfie in front of Melrose Gate. “Who wouldn’t want a picture in front of those pearly gates?” joked writer, director and actress Nicol Paone, who wrote and directed the 2020 comedy Friendsgiving, as she marched at the Netflix picket line.
The studio’s original Bronson Gate, which has starred in more than a dozen films, is on private Paramount property, protected from any social media posts by the picket line. But it remains visible on a nearby billboard promoting studio tours at Paramount, showing a young couple holding hands as they walk toward the historic Spanish colonial archway. “Ready for your close-up,” the ad entices.
With little ground to cover along Melrose Gate, the pickets at Paramount walk at a leisurely pace to the strains of portable speakers playing pop hits like NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” or Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Last week guilds held a karaoke day. Mission captains orchestrate transitions in front of the goal, being careful not to obstruct the road. A man in a black SAG-AFTRA shirt served as the de facto “go” signal, beating his drum whenever the strike leaders allowed the pickets to pass.
Although there is less traffic in Melrose than in Sunset, the horns are still honked. And occasionally there are cheers when a woman claiming to be an executive producer rolls by in a broken-down limousine, yelling, fist shaking in the air, “Don’t give up!”
On a warm late July afternoon, Dan Aid, an actor and musician who lives nearby, sought some shade under the gate. Before the strike, Aid had supporting roles on Showtime comedy SMILF and NBC crime drama Good Girls, and was busy booking auditions and preparing for callbacks. The recent hiatus has allowed him to find balance in his life and devote more time to his music projects and family. The pickets have provided a sense of community and belonging to fellow creatives like no other place he’s found since moving to Los Angeles two years ago.
“I love artists, I love creative people, I love getting excited about the new things they bring to the world,” Aid said. “And I think those conversations are definitely happening here, more than any other place I’ve been.”
On the Paramount picket line, some of these creative colleagues happen to be celebrities.
A week earlier, Jack Black has picketed while he was in town visiting his father. Black – a SAG-AFTRA member “even before most of these strikers were born” (1983) – marched, posed for photos with younger actors and answered questions from reporters. Some pickets observed that attendance after Black’s performance doubled over the next few days.
This week, NYSNC and SAG-AFTRA member Lance Bass bought pizza for protesters. Last week, Hillary Duff joined the picket line and was seen dancing and singing to her song “What dreams are made offrom The Lizzie McGuire Movie. And on that special day in late July, New Girl’s Seth Rogen and Max Greenfield joined the picket line, causing an audible stir in the line and luring paparazzi into the studio. Morgan said her presence is important because it “puts people in a better mood.”
The importance of celebrity presence on the Paramount line hasn’t escaped the eyes of Isa Briones, who is marching for the first time alongside fellow actor and friend Miles Elliot. The couple marked the moment with Selfies at Melrose Gate, which Briones later published on Instagram. The daughter of musical and film actor Jon Jon Briones, she recently landed key roles in the Paramount+ series Star Trek: Picard as the android Soji and in the upcoming Disney+ remake Goosebumps.
“You see people with very different careers,” said Briones. There are big names like Rogen and Greenfield and people who “have done some things here and there.” But then there are these people who can’t make enough to get health insurance like everyone else. So we are all here for the same reason and we all agree on that.”
Since film production has largely halted due to the strike, the picket lines can also provide cast members with a place to do what they do best.
“People entering this performance industry have a need to be observed and seen in the moment that they are in their lives,” Aid said. “That’s why we’re drawn to it, because we need that reflection of ourselves to figure out where we are in the world.”
The pickets, according to Aid, are a place where creative people can still express themselves.
“You can show up with joy, wear a costume, sing and dance.”