Photo by Claire Jones

Guild & Industry

Recollections from a Rebel Outpost

South Bay WGAW members bonded on the picket lines at Manhattan Beach Studios.

Oh, the bonds that can be formed over not having to battle L.A. traffic!

When they look back at the historic 2023 WGA strike, a contingent of WGAW members remember the camaraderie, the long conversations on the picket lines, the customized T-shirts crafted by an aspiring WGA member, and the excitement of turning a truck around. 

Picketers at Manhattan Beach Studios during the 2023 WGA strike. Photo by Claire Jones

They don’t remember any elaborately-themed pickets, performances, or donated food trucks that became hallmarks of many of the studio picket lines. Outside the Manhattan Beach Studios (MBS) Media Campus, home of three Star Wars series, the Avatar sequels, and several Marvel movies, picketing was a much more low-key affair. 

“We always joked that we were the rebel outpost, the underground picket that no one knew about,” recalled WGAW member Nick Geisler, the strike captain who divided his time between Amazon and overseeing the MBS picket. “It was a really tight-knit group, which was great because people got to know each other. People didn’t hate that it wasn’t super-crowded. It was nice that a couple of days a week, you could have nice conversations with people you knew really well.”

Indeed, WGAW member Peres Owino remembered being approached by a fellow writer, WGAW member Stephanie McFarlane, on her first day on the line, and striking up a conversation. 

“We would walk and talk about the business, the industry, about life, and we’ve been talking ever since,” Owino said. “It helped us get through the whole 148 days. It was like getting out of…I don’t want to say imprisonment, but you could get out of yourself for a while.” 

In the year since the strike, the bonds have strengthened. A reunion shortly after the end of the strike has been followed by monthly meet-ups, often at some of the same bars that the South Bay picketers frequented after their strike shifts. Members who shared the MBS picket lines pass scripts around, and have even worked together on projects. 

The 25 to 30 regulars who assembled at MBS included a range of writers and supporters, from showrunners to staff writers, from actors to non-union members, several of whom were brought together by their shared geography. Situated only miles from any of the major studios, the South Bay communities of Redondo Beach, Torrance, Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach aren’t exactly Siberia. But unless you happened to be working on a project at MBS, you wouldn’t necessarily know that a South Bay-based neighbor might also be a fellow Guild member. 

There aren’t many picket lines where the entire picket line could go get lunch together.

- Nick Geisler

Albert Kim had recently joined the Guild when he picketed at MBS during the 2007-‘08 strike. By 2023, his series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, was filming at the studio.
Kim reached out to the Guild at the start of the 2023 strike, but learned that there were no plans to picket MBS. Then he hit the phones and started rounding up fellow South Bay friends and building a “critical mass.” He talked to fellow Airbender scribe and WGAW member Gabriel Llanas and to WGAW member David DiGilio, both of whom lived in Manhattan Beach and knew other writers who lived in the area. They took their request to Geisler, who spearheaded the movement to establish a regular twice-weekly picket at MBS.

“We came out and scouted the area, which was funny because it was kind of like scouting for production,” Kim said. “We looked around and saw that there were trucks going in and out, so we knew there was something going on there. Nick managed all the details in terms of coordinating with the Guild. We had a community of writers down there who all knew each other anyway. We thought this was being overlooked and thought, ‘Why not picket down here?’ That’s how it got started.” 

Writer-producer and T-shirt designer Brooke Muschott

Geisler, who lives in Marina del Rey, took matters from there, emailing members who lived in the area, and picketing began on June 7. Armed with a folding table, a bunch of strike signs, a cooler, a tent, and a couple of boxes of snacks, all of which fit into the back of his Prius, Geisler and his dog Luna arrived at MBS every Tuesday and Thursday. There he was met by his fellow rebel outpost crew, the picket line regulars who helped set up at the beginning of the day and close down at the end. People would take turns bringing donuts, coffee, or pizza. Geisler kept a paper sign-in sheet, which he would mail to the WGAW offices. Once they got their rhythm down, full set-up and breakdown could be accomplished in 15 minutes. After picket meet-ups at a local bar became regular events.

“There aren’t many picket lines where the entire picket line could go get lunch together,” Geisler said.
As word of mouth spread, more people joined the line. Brooke Muschott, a writer and producer who hopes to eventually join the WGAW, designed custom T-shirts. The MBS regulars voted on the design and wore them proudly.

“I have a lot of different craft skills, so at some point someone said, ‘We should have T-shirts,’ and I said, ‘Look out. I’m going to do it,’” recalled Muschott. “We got a cool group photo and we even put one of the shirts on Luna. I really felt like I was part of the community after that.” 

The 2023 picket line was Muschott’s first strike experience, and she learned a lot about unions and labor organizations walking the lines at MBS. Since the conclusion of the strike, different WGAW members have given her feedback on her samples, and she worked as a production assistant on a short film with Geisler and WGAW member Kor Adana, another MBS regular. 

“I’m thankful to everyone, specifically at the Manhattan Beach Studios picket, for being welcoming and mentoring and happy to have someone who’s as early [in their] career as I am,” Muschott said. “Everyone at our picket has really made me feel a part of the community.”  

With attendance usually topping out at around 30 people, and occasionally drawing as many as 60, the MBS pickets may have been lower key than some of the larger event pickets at the studios, but picketers felt no less connected to the strike. MBS regular and WGAW member Lauren Goodman recalled the thrill of turning a production truck around on their first day on the line.

Maria and André Jacquemetton

“I wasn’t in the Guild during 2007-‘08, so this was my first picket, and it was really powerful to understand that our labor had a value, that we had the support of the Teamsters even at our little spot down at MBS,” Goodman said. “That was incredibly emboldening.”

Like Kim, the husband-and-wife team of WGAW members André and Maria Jacquemetton had picketed briefly at MBS in 2007-‘08 before being shuttled to Sony “because there were so few of us.” 

“But on this strike, we found this community, and it was great to meet new people and be able to network with them,” André said. “It was a huge surprise for us.”

“We were a group that did not really know each other existed,” agreed Maria, who teaches at USC and has brought some of her students to the monthly meet-ups. “Now, post-strike, when we see each other, we are very glad to be connected. There were a lot of good things that came out of the strike, but one thing that got us through that time period is that twice a week, you could show up at the MBS picket line and see friendly faces who were going to bolster your spirits.”

The MBS regulars sang the praises of their leader Geisler who, in addition to holding the MBS line together, kept in regular contact with South Bay residents through emails. At the end of the strike, the group gave him a thank-you gift.

“We were sinking or swimming together and that spirit was something that Nick just embodied,” said Goodman, “and it was contagious.”

To get on the list for first Tuesday South Bay meetups, email Nick Geisler.

Mar 7, 2024

Ep. 368 - Albert Kim | Matt Pearce on Organizing in the Newsroom

This year has seen multiple newsroom strikes, massive lay-offs, and sudden closures. In this episode’s Union Town segment (1:01), WGAW Asian American Writers Committee Chair Kristina Woo talks with Media Guild West President and former Los Angeles Times writer Matt Pearce about how reporters are organizing the newsroom to push back against corporate greed and protect good jobs. Kristina then speaks with writer and former journalist Albert Kim, developer and showrunner of Avatar: The Last Airbender, about crafting his new hit Netflix series, how Asian representation matters, and more. (31:51)

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