EXCLUSIVE: On the third day of its first strike in 15 years, the Writers Guild of America closed down Wall Street drama Billions for several hours Thursday.
The shuttering of the Showtime series started on a chilly, gray Thursday morning in New York after a tow truck hauling a prop jeep to the set of Billions pulled up to a parking lot near the Brooklyn waterfront and came to a stop in the street amidst picket signs and WGA members. Elsewhere in the Big Apple, Teamsters showed solidarity with another group of picketing scribes and turned their trucks around outside where American Horror Story‘s latest season is filming.
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Over at the Billions studio, an entryway was blocked: A line of picketers — several dozen sign-waving film and television writers and their supporters — were not making way as the tow truck driver tried in vain to ease forward, with help from a New York City police officer. “Day or night/rain or shine/you don’t cross/a picket line,” the protestors chanted as more officers arrived outside Seret Studios, one of several production hangars in a warehouse district facing the East River and the Manhattan skyline.
Watch video from the scene here:
The roughly four-hour shutdown of Billions today occurred after cast and crew members decided not to cross the WGA picket lines. Representatives for Paramount could not be reached by Deadline on Thursday to comment on the temporary shut down
However, that decision by cast and crew not to cross the WGA picket line was respected by production and Showtime parent company Paramount Global, and there will be no repercussions, sources connected to Billions tell us. Filming did resume on the show later Thursday.
Even so, it is also worth noting that there were no writers today on the set of the final season of the Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin created series, even if unionized stagehands or actors working under no-strike contracts were expected to be. In that context, a WGA East rep noted: “I don’t know how you run a production without writers on set.”
With labor actions taking place at several locations across New York, the WGA East chose Seret in particular for picketing Thursday because of the production going on within. Accordingly, the demonstration spread across several blocks, with bands of protestors breaking off from the main group to picket other facilities used by Billions.
Outside the parking lot, a WGA union organizer stood next to police officers in the middle of the street and said the marchers had the right to walk the curb. “You’re blocking the driveway,” the officer replied. The local precinct commander showed up minutes later, and spoke by phone with a WGA union leader to explain that “impeding business” by blocking driveways is illegal in New York State. About 20 minutes after the tow-truck arrived, protestors opened a lane for the driver to pull in, with cries of “scabs!” trailing him into the lot.
“We want them to get their message across,” the precinct commander, NYPD Deputy Inspector Kathleen E. Fahey, said of the protestors. “But we also want to preserve the peace.”
Work on Billions was not halted by Thursday’s protest. But no writers were on the set of the final season of the Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin created series even if unionized stagehands or actors working under no-strike contracts were. In that context, a WGA East rep noted: “I don’t know how you run a production without writers on set.”
Demonstrators did succeed in turning away at least two production trucks from pulling into Seret’s main delivery bay, but it was unclear whether their drivers found other ways through in a sprawling neighborhood of side streets and inter-connected industrial docks.
No arrests occurred over three hours of sustained protests in Brooklyn that dwindled down to a smaller group in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, there was also confusion around American Horror Story, which films a few miles away from Seret at Silvercup Studios. Rumor spread out on Wednesday that production had been shut down. It was supported by tweets by WGA picketers who were at the venerable studio.
In the case of AHS, filming did not stop; sources close to the production have told Deadline. However, Teamsters did refuse to cross the picket line, we have confirmed.
Deadline also heard from an AHS crew member who said that they were waiting for their union rep to arrive before they would leave for the day. The crew member also asserted that actors on the show are entering a studio back entrance, so they didn’t have to cross the WGA picket line set up at the main entrance.
That is a common practice used by productions that are being picketed.
However, the uniformed police presence at the New York writers’ strike was a contrast to the approach of police in Los Angeles. For instance, in front the Netflix headquarters on Sunset Blvd, a plainclothes leading member of the LAPD’s Labor Relations Unit stood on the sidewalk chatting with both WGA representatives and the streamer’s security. There were no LAPD cruisers or uniformed officers in the vicinity for most of the morning with the exception of a member of the nearby Hollywood division dropping by for a short spell.
Back in New York City, there were smaller skirmishes, too, in Brooklyn, with handfuls of picketers briefly surrounding and blocking production workers as they wheeled plastic bins filled with pieces of furniture across a cobbled street. “This is the point of a picket line,” one protestor pleaded with a middle-aged woman trying to steer a bin around him with help from a private security guard. She eventually slipped through, with grudging assent from the picketers and the same “scab” refrain following her.
The WGA said that on Wednesday, stagehands and truckers represented by IATSE and the Teamsters did not cross a picket line at another production facility, Silvercup Studios, in Queens, while protesters were on site there, but that traffic in and out resumed once the protestors departed, in what union representatives called a work slowdown, not a full shutdown, at the site
One striking writer, Liz Hynes, walked a picket line on Thursday morning outside another Brooklyn waterfront office with a Billions logo flyer taped to the glass door reading, “Cast and Crew Only.”
Hynes, 26, joined the Guild in 2020 when she was hired as writer for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” She said because of the job and its union guarantees, rent became affordable, and she knew she would have health insurance once she reached the cut-off age, 26, for staying on her family’s health care plan as a dependent. “I come from a union family. My dad’s a bellman with the Hotel Trades Council,” she said, “so it was just very, very meaningful.”
Hynes said that right now it is difficult to know how to prepare for the possibility of a long work stoppage. “It does feel a bit surreal sometimes like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re on strike,’” she said. “Because we really love our jobs. And we’d much rather be doing that. I find this more difficult than just doing our work. But it has been a really, really empowering feeling these first couple of days, and I know it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
“So what I’m trying to do is kind of bottle the emotions and the solidarity and all the good things we’re feeling now to be able to access it as it gets more difficult in the months going on,” Hynes said. “Because the solidarity that we’re seeing now, it’s so crucial to maintain that for however long this takes. So if we can all remember the good feelings from these first few days, I think that’ll carry us through.”
Picketing is scheduled to continue tomorrow in LA, NYC and other cities. At present, no picketing is anticipated over the weekend, right now.
Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report
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