“You make billions/pay us some!” striking Writers Guild of America members chanted on the street of New York today near where filming was going on for Showtime’s Billions.
For the second day in a row, scribes showed up at a Big Apple work site for the Wall Street drama.
On Friday afternoon, they picketed a Billions location site at a commercial building in the trendy Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea. Previously, on May 4, picketers were outside sound stages in Brooklyn and shut down production for several hours on the seventh and final season of the Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Amid skirmishes with arriving drivers and work crews, Billions cast and crew members decided not to cross the WGA picket lines outside Seret Studios
Unlike Thursday, today’s high profile picketing of Billions did not interrupt filming, we are told. Production on the show continued after the picketers left mid-afternoon NYC-time. Both today and on Thursday, there were no writers on the set of Billions, sources say.
On the flip-side, a WGA East representative told Deadline that, yes, the union is indeed targeting Billions. The on-the-nose symbolism of the choice was not lost on about 200 marchers on Friday — striking WGA members and their supporters from other unions including SAG-AFTRA and IATSE – as was evident from their chants.
Picket signs bobbing above the marchers’ heads were hand-lettered with messages including “I see rich people,” and, in a nod to another hit show about billionaires, Succession, “Logan Roy is dead! Long live writers!”
Where Thursday’s protest in Brooklyn turned tense at several moments, the mood on Friday in Manhattan was more festive. A portable sound system boomed Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays.
Marchers recognizing each other exchanged hugs and hellos in a leisurely queue dotted with boldfaced names including actor, writer and Saturday Night Live alumna Aidy Bryant — who was also spotted on a picket line on Thursday — and actor-writer-director Clark Gregg, who has been out on the streets with the scribes earlier this week too.
Gregg, who belongs to the unions for all three of those trades, told Deadline, “I think we all have the same fight,” which he said was not limited to the film and television economy. “It’s the same thing people are dealing with around the country,” he said, “where the profits keep moving upward and the people who are doing the day to day work get left behind.”
Protestors marched on one side of the street, across from a line-production trucks parked in front of a mammoth commercial building that stretches the length of the block.
A handful of private security guards and production crew members, and a couple of NYPD police officers, quietly watched the protest from their side of the street. On surrounding street poles, notices for more upcoming Billions filming were plastered.
Joey Winterbotham, a sound editor and member of IATSE’s Local 700, looked on from the production side of the street while holding a black and orange picket sign reading “IATSE supports workers’ rights.” He eventually crossed the street, moving closer to the marchers.
“I don’t work on set,” Winterbotham said, “and there’s usually not picket lines in front of post-production facilities. I just happen to be off this week so I’ve been coming out every day to show my support. The WGA’s wins are our wins.”
Winterbotham said that he doesn’t personally face the stagehand union workers’ dilemma of whether to refuse to cross a WGA picket line if one materializes at their work sites — and possibly risk their jobs as a result because of no-strike clauses in their contracts. “I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from members that do,” he said.
“I believe under the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act], we are allowed to honor picket lines,” he said, “but there’s a little bit of stickiness with that.”
Also marching today outside the Billions shoot in Chelsea were two veterans of New York’s television industry: Bryan Tucker, currently a senior writer at Saturday Night Live; and Warren Leight, who stepped down in 2022 after a second stint as showrunner and executive producer of Law & Order: SVU.
Both WGA members, who lived through the 2007-2008 writers’ strike, said they were marching in support of younger writers who don’t have the opportunities they did.
Tucker said his workplace still runs on “the traditional old model of 21 episodes and network residuals, and mostly I am fighting so that other writers will have the same benefits and advantages that I have had to raise a couple of kids, to have health insurance my whole life, to get a good living wage that allowed me to buy an apartment and have security. And I would like to see that for writers now in their 20s and 30s.”
Leight sounded a similar note at a time of declining residuals, fewer episodes and shorter seasons, an increasing isolation of writers from production sets, and the threat of AI turning them into mere polishers of software-generated scripts.
“I’m here really just for the next generation of writers who are systematically being shut out of all the ways that I had to make a living when I broke in 25 years ago,” he said.
“Residuals now are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago, and going down,” Leight said, noting that a show airing on a network one day will stream on the same network’s companion app the next.
“So there’s none of that syndication,” he said. And with digital native streaming platforms, he said, “You could be the number one show on Netflix in the world and you get no extra residual. That’s unconscionable to me.”
As for writers and sets, he said, “I’ve had a lot of writers who’ve been on three or four shows and then I’d say, ‘And what’s your experience been on set?’ And they would get this blank look and they’d say, ‘I’ve actually never been on set.’ And to me that’s like someone who’s been writing recipes but has never been in the kitchen. You don’t know how to cook yet. Until an actor comes to you and says, ‘I don’t understand why I’m saying this,’ you’re not really a TV writer.”
Leight said he objected to “the way the ground has shifted out from under writers in the last two decades.”
“At the same time,” he said, “the budget of all of those shows is going up: ‘Let’s go to New Zealand!’ ‘Let’s build Times Square,’ like [The Marvelous] Mrs. Maisel did. And so they have money for that. The budgets are higher and the writer’s take-home is less and less and less. And it can’t go on.”
Tucker said the makeup of the union that is protesting today is markedly different than the one he marched with in 2007-2008. “This time the union is younger, it’s more diverse — I just noticed that right away,” he said. “There are more people and I’m noticing more enthusiasm to stand up” [to the studios] not only among our union members but among other unions, which is something I didn’t feel in 2007 as much.
“And I think the people who went through it in 2007 don’t look forward to this, and look at it as more of a duty,” Tucker said. “Something that has to happen more than something that anybody wants to happen.”
Billions is scheduled to continue production next week, with more WGA picketers expected to show up