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We asked Hollywood actors and writers to imagine the strikes on screen

Look closely: A billboard near the picket lines outside the Netflix headquarters in Hollywood has been altered.
Mandalit del Barco
Look closely: A billboard near the picket lines outside the Netflix headquarters in Hollywood has been altered.

The saga of this year's historic double strikes in Hollywood is not over yet. The Writers Guild of America won a new contract after striking against the major studios and streaming companies for nearly five months. Now performers in the union SAG-AFTRA are waiting for their happy ending.

How will this cliffhanger end, and how might it play out on screen?

Would it be a TV reality show? A sitcom? A horror movie? A period picture titled, Hot Labor Summer or Two Strikes You're Out?

Picket signs during the Hollywood strike pointed to possible scenarios.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR
Picket signs during the Hollywood strike pointed to possible scenarios.

A David And Goliath Story, a sci-fi flick, a romance...

"I think it's a David and Goliath story," WGA strike captain Geetika Lizardi told me. She's a real-life writer from the series Bridgerton. "The studios have all this power, especially now that they're so big. We're just a rounding error to them. You've got Apple, Amazon, these giant companies, and then it's just a bunch of us who ... are barely making a living."

TV writer Valerie Woods offered another idea: "Somebody might do a love story about the writers guild strike," she said. "Or somebody might do a sci-fi."

Woods joked about an alien abduction plot, but as far as rom-com plotlines go, some picked lines actually did include host singles meetups, so the story might center on lonely screenwriters:

"I would love to find love," writer Haley Boston told me during the "Strike up a Romance" event on the picket lineoutside Universal Studios.

"I've been single for four years," said writer Augustus Schiff, who was also there. "So I'm thinkin' this would be a nice side effect of being out here."

Or the story could follow the struggles of a writer for a hit TV show, like Brittani Nichols from Abbott Elementary.She told me about getting paltry residuals: "Sometimes you just get a stack of checks for seven cents."

Writers Geetika Lizardi, Maria Elena Rodriguez, Steve Harper, Valeria Woods, Nicholas Geisler picket outside Amazon Studios.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR
Writers Geetika Lizardi, Maria Elena Rodriguez, Steve Harper, Valeria Woods, Nicholas Geisler picket outside Amazon Studios.

... An ensemble cast is essential

That story's ensemble could include struggling actors, too:

"I've been living in my parent's garage for the time being," said Briza Covarrubias during a Latinx picket outside Warner Bros. Studios.

Taylor Orci told me, "My spouse and I are currently on food stamps. You know, sometimes it's Cheez-Its for lunch, but it's something."

Other actors and writers I met on picket lines suggested a variety of genres: a superhero movie "where unexpected sidekick SAG shows up and now they're the hero," offered writer Nicholas Geisler.

"An HBO political movie about the absurdity," chimed in writer Maria Elena Rodriguez.

"Or a musical," Woods added. "I mean, we've had all of those karaoke machines and flash mobs."

It's true, at almost every picket line, strikers sang, danced and played music.

Heroes and villains, on location

Of course, a Hollywood movie also needs its heroes and villains:

On one side, have been studio heads like Disney's Bob Iger, who in the role of the corporate boss. He enraged strikers over the summer when he told CNBC the workers' "level of expectation" was "just not realistic."

After Iger and other studio executives join the bargaining tables with the unions, TV writer Steve Harper had a suggestion for how to cast them — inspired by the show Succession:

"I think for the movie you get Brian Cox and you replicate him through A.I. You put him in different clothes," he chuckled. "You just hear from him a little bit, and then you hear from him in another voice. That's all you need."

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher held a press conference announcing the strike back in July.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR News
NPR News
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher held a press conference announcing the strike back in July.

On the other side, Fran Drescher, could play herself, perhaps with a flashback to her starring role in the '90s sitcom The Nanny. As real-life president of SAG-AFTRA, her Norma Rae moment came when she chastised the studios and streamers:

"How they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs," Drescher said while announcing the strike. "It is disgusting. Shame on them. "

Or the story could be a mystery: who's behind a parody social media account of the AMPTP president Carol Lombardini that's become required reading for those walking the picket lines.

The movie or show could include grainy long shots of the fake Carol wandering around the Sherman Oaks Galleria, where the AMPTP headquarters are located. (The shopping mall was once a location for the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.)

Another location idea for this story: the offices of SAG-AFTRA, just steps away from the still bubbling La Brea Tar Pits where paleontological research continues. So maybe our screenplay could include a dinosaur-comes-to-life scene?

How will it end?

Other writers and actors I met told me they see this as a story of community, a tale of a growing labor movement linking Hollywood workers to striking janitors, nurses, teachers, hotel workers and auto workers.

While no one has made a movie about the summer of strikes yet, Lizardi notes the Hollywood workers have so far been able to control the narrative of the strikes.

"I think people had a perception of us before, that we were all, like, comfortable, wealthy. We're not," she told me. "Now that the public knows that we have the same struggles everyone else does, like how how do I pay my bills? How do I, you know, get my kid through school? People are rooting for us. We are the protagonist of this story."

For now, though, the story remains a cliffhanger while SAG-AFTRA and the studios negotiate a deal.

"You know what it is? It's a heist flick," says actor Jason George, known for his work on TV's Grey's Anatomy and the daytime soap Sunset Beach. He's on the union's negotiating team. "You get the team together. They figure out how to get the money from the big bosses, and this is the part of the movie where it looks like they're down and out, and you're thinking, 'oh, no, how's George Clooney gonna get out of this one?'"

George Clooney, in fact, could make a cameo, along with Scarlett Johansson, Ben Affleck and other A- listers. In real life, they tried to be the heroes, offering to help end the strike by paying more union dues.

But how will this story end?

"You find out we laid seeds early on in the picture, we doubled down and we get more determined than ever," George predicts. "We come out and we win the day."

After months of strikes and deal making, who in Hollywood would actually greenlight and bankroll this picture? Stay tuned.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.

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