While the Hollywood writers’ strike has continued for the past 10 weeks, the vast majority of film and television production from New York to Los Angeles has paused. Some were almost forced to suspend work due to union picketing and the refusal of crew members to cross the pickets. On other occasions, showrunners have decided to stop their work out of solidarity.
But more than two months after the work stoppage, some outliers remain, including “American Horror Story”, the series led by Ryan Murphy, a showrunner who is one of Hollywood’s famous producers.
Last week, members of the Writers Guild of America, and their allies from other unions, trained their focus on Murphy’s show as dozens of union members picketed for hours outside Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, one of several locations across New York where production of the show goes on.
Some dressed as Vikings. One wore a cat mask. They carried signs decrying “terrible wages” and a developing “horror show,” as they marched in front of the studio’s red front marquee to the sound of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the theme song to “The Addams Family.”
If all picketing is fueled by grievances, this one also had a bit of an individualized tone in part because Murphy, in addition to being the showrunner on the acclaimed and long-running anthology series, is also a member of the Writers Guild.
“He’s a member and it just feels like keeping these things up and running is detrimental to our overall mission,” T Cooper, strike captain, said of Murphy.
“We just want a fair deal,” Cooper added. And the only way to get the studios to “do that is to stop productions.”
Union members said they hoped Murphy would follow the lead of other showrunners sympathetic to their cause, who have halted their productions, realizing that by doing so, they might be able to help bring the major studios back to the bargaining table.
Murphy did not comment on his reasoning for moving forward with production and could not be reached to answer questions about the picketers’ concerns. His listed publicists did not respond to an email request for comment.
The union didn’t do much to stir the pot specifically against Murphy and focused its concerns on the ongoing work being done on the show. He is among the high-profile showrunners who donated during the strike to the Entertainment Community Fund, which gives grants to those working in film, television and other disciplines. Murphy cannot work in his capacity as a writer during the strike, and union officials said he is within his rights to continue working as a director and producer.
In interviews, several union members said they had no heart for Murphy, who is set to move to the Walt Disney Company from Netflix, where he signed several years ago as part of a $300 million deal. Disney owns the cable channel FX, which is home to its “American Horror Story” franchise, which began airing in 2011.
“We’re not here in protest against Ryan Murphy, the guy, we’re here in protest of a production going on without writers and while writers are on strike,” said Josh Gondelman, a member of the WGA-East leadership who was outside picketing. Thursday.
The Writers Guild called its members to a so-called Horror/Fantasy Theme Day in Queens as the writers’ strike entered its third month. The eastern and western branches of the WGA, which represents about 11,500 television and film writers, have been locked in a dispute with major Hollywood studios over compensation and many other issues raised in the streaming era.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of Hollywood companies, said its contract offer included “generous increases in compensation for writers.”
Sarah Montana, a screenwriter and strike captain, estimated that union members have picketed the dwindling number of shows and movies in production at least once a week since the strike began.
“Writing doesn’t stop with the script,” she said. “It’s the little choices and big choices you make on set that can change the character, that can change the arc of the story. So a lot of showrunners from the jump, and even a few weeks after, said, “We’re going to stop production because writing is writing.”
“I would say the majority of showrunners were in tremendous solidarity,” she added. And as such, “it’s disheartening to see production continue” because “it’s not in the spirit of what we’re fighting for.”
Union members and officials said there are at least three Murphy shows still in production at different locations in the New York metro area: the original “American Horror Story” and two spinoffs. The ongoing work on “American Horror Story” has drawn particular attention in part because Kim Kardashian tweeted in June about being on set.
Actors could soon find themselves on the picket lines, too. The union representing about 160,000 TV and film actors, known as SAG-AFTRA, has extended its contract negotiations with the major Hollywood studios and streaming services until July 12. The union’s current agreement was set to expire at the end of June. And while the extension offered a brief reprieve, a scenario in which both the actors’ and writers’ unions strike at the same time would essentially shut down Hollywood.
As the writers’ strike enters its third month with no apparent end in sight, Gondelman, the lead member of WGA-East, said that broadly speaking, “there is a tremendous amount of determination to get a deal that is fair and that preserves writing for television. and film as a viable career – and that offer is simply not on the table.”
“I haven’t heard a single member,” he said, “that’s like, ‘Maybe we should go back and take their trash offer.’