EXCLUSIVE: As Hollywood moves into a second week of the writers strike, texts are flying all over town confused about an A-lister event Tuesday night on a studio lot, the blowback that could come from attending it, and crossing potential picket lines.
“Would I be crossing a WGA picket (line) if I went?” one big-screen star asked an agent late last night. For many, in the heat of the strike, the answer is … I don’t know.
In what has become one of the first test cases for what is permissible during a strike, the short answer is no strike rules are being bent or broken by attending tonight’s soiree. The longer answer explains why.
Months ago, Chanel booked space on the Paramount lot for its star-studded cruise collection show starting tonight at 7 p.m. PT. Back then, the outdoor gathering for the fashion house led by Virginie Viard seemed like a savvy and timely way to reinforce links between the designer and Hollywood on a pleasant May night. Even now, Kristen Stewart, the current face of the house that Coco built, is expected to be one of the nearly 800 guests, as is Margot Robbie and Marion Cotillard.
However, as has been evident over the past 18 hours the situation has changed for potential attendees after talks between the WGA and AMPTP boke down May 1, and what once seemed a clear-cut RSVP is now a bit of a grey area. In fact, some WGA members said they were surprised by the lack of guidance they received from the guild when they contacted it about the Chanel event.
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The WGA West did not respond to request for comment on the event. Paramount, which is not a sponsor despite it taking place on the lot, also declined comment.
As striking scribes pound the sidewalks in front of all the major studios and many filming locations in Los Angeles and New York City, individual Teamsters are refusing to cross picket lines, and shows are shutting down. Despite hectoring emails from the likes of Disney, Warner Bros and CBS Studios telling showrunners to show up for work, many are standing in solidarity with writers, as are cast and other crew members. On another track, Hollywood’s awards flow is being disrupted by the strike as FYC events are being canceled or reformatted and writers are not showing up to promote projects.
While the WGA has been clear about what is permitted during a strike when it comes to the core areas, beyond that, things can get murky. That is in part why the flurry of digital and actual conversations began last night during a dinner Chanel held for top-tier talent on both sides of the camera. Although invites for tonight’s event went out awhile ago, it was during the meal that some participants began to realize they may be seen as supporting the studios in the midst of the biggest labor action to hit Hollywood in more than a decade.
Personal morality aside, however, in the case of the Chanel event, no line, picket or otherwise, has been crossed, and it perfectly all right to attend. In fact, the WGA and Chanel worked out directly what tonight’s protocol would be, sources say.
To that end, while the WGA and Paramount are keeping mum, Chanel says everything’s OK, even if you see the odd picket sign on Melrose Avenue while heading into the event.
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“The show venue was chosen many months ago and is a rental space on the Paramount Studios lot, which is not affected by the strike,” a spokesperson for the fashion company said today. “This choice in no way reflects any position by Chanel on the current situation. We sincerely hope that the parties involved will quickly reach an agreement.”
“The Writers Guild of America’s labor dispute against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers applies to unionized Film and Television productions, not the physical property of the studio,” the Chanel representative added. “Guests will enter the event though a neutral gate and are not in violation of the strike by being on property to attend this event.”
While it may be confusing to those who expect strikers to block all entrances, a neutral gate, codified in the National Labor Relations Act, allows companies and businesses that are not directly being picketed to keep functioning. In what many in the modern labor movement see as a loophole, a neutral gate creates a pathway for those who work for, or are associated with, companies, groups, or employers not related to the labor action in question, to peacefully enter and leave a location unobstructed by pickets.
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Although tonight’s Chanel event is supposedly at full capacity, several high-profile invitees have told me they have sent their regrets to organizers that they won’t be able to attend. A few have said it was because of the WGA strike, which has regularly seen picket lines outside the Paramount gates. A number of others admitted they begged off using one non-WGA excuse or another.
“I just don’t want to be on studio lot if I don’t have to, and in this case, I really don’t have to even if I’d like to,” one union-proud invitee said.