It was 5 a.m., a Thursday, and it was raining in LA — a cold, discouraging rain, the kind that’s supposed to signify your protagonist is enduring emotional turmoil. And I was, because my doughnut had just slipped out of my hand and into a dirty puddle of water.
I was out at that ungodly hour, standing in front of the famous Paramount gates, because I’m a striking screenwriter joining thousands of my colleagues making our presence undeniable across LA (and New York, and Chicago, and other cities throughout the country). And that doughnut was my breakfast until it wasn’t, which seems like an apt metaphor for the labor moment we’re in. Getting fed on the picket line is a unique experience, but it’s also been an opportunity for joy, comedy, and receiving nourishment and encouragement from some expected and unexpected sources. It’s been weird and wonderful and delicious.
I’d rather not be striking, but if I have to, I’m going to eat.
My union, the Writers Guild of America, has been on strike since May 2 the day after our contract ran out with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Suddenly screenwriters like me, episodic TV writers, and late-night writers have been forced from our favorite position (in a chair, paid, writing) to our least favorite position (outside, unpaid, walking). And those pesky demands for fair wages and basic rights take serious fuel. Since the strike started I personally have gone from three meals a day to approximately seven, which I refuse to detail here except to say that one is “existential crisis/second lunch.”
Luckily, the picket line is awash with food: doughnuts, pizza, shaved ice, ice cream, those deadly tamales from Porto’s, more doughnuts. Then there’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, regular Cheetos, sugar cookies decorated like mini picket signs, coffee truck coffee, yet more doughnuts, and even mozzarella sticks.
These provisions are donated and delivered by a wide variety of labor supporters, including local restaurants, TV and film fans, famous actors, directors, and other labor union members. The mozzarella sticks, for instance, were dropped off by the Daniels, the Oscar-winning writer-director team behind Everything Everywhere All at Once. Animation Guild member and comedian Ashley Ray discovered this in a rather specific way:
the daniels gave me mozzarella sticks on the picket line and i dropped the marinara and the white one picked it up for me and i was like “aw what a nice white man” and my friends were like “uhm do you know who that was”— ashley "pay writers” ray (@theashleyray) May 3, 2023
Ray was on the Netflix picket line when the Daniels dropped off their sampler platter favorites. “I think most people are looking to drop off pizza and dip,” she says. “It takes care to be like, ‘I’m also going to hand out marinara and ketchup.’ And [the Daniels] were willing to do that. It also requires conversation.” Most importantly: “They were great mozzarella sticks.”
Thankfully, the Daniels are not the only celebs engaging. In New York, Pete Davidson, who was scheduled to host SNL on May 6 before the show went dark, brought Spumoni Gardens pizzas to picketers in Greenpoint.
“Gotta support the writers,” Davidson said from underneath the hood of a massive sweatshirt as he handed out pies. “No shows without the writers.”
Ava DuVernay sent a Ben & Jerry’s truck to Disney, which is how I found out Ava has a custom flavor. Jay Leno, for his part, brought Burbank’s best doughnuts (Randy’s; fight me), also to Disney — the closest picket to his house and his many cars. Leno drove a blue Tesla to the gates, which complimented his denim-on-denim look. Cries of, “Thank you, Jay. Thank you,” and scattered hoots and hollers met him as he personally handed out a few crullers. He even offered one to a guy drumming on a bucket, but that guy had his hands full.
Our agents, who clearly already miss reading our pages and quelling our writerly angst, have also joined the party: Agency for the Performing Arts paid for shaved ice trucks and United Talent Agency dropped off California Chicken Cafe, a writers room staple. I await my own agency’s offering. Verve: if you’re reading this, please send tacos.
But it’s not just those with Oscars, Taco Bell commercials, or agency budgets: Picket delivery fairies come in many forms. There’s the mystery animation worker who picked up the tab for a bunch of post-picket writers; the lower-level studio execs, our friends and allies, who drop off boxes of treats in stealth mode; the barbecue slingers from Orange County who drive to LA to feed us; and the beloved casting agents who are picket-hopping with batches of homemade chocolate chip cookies.
But while the sugar and carbs are appreciated, after hours and days hoofing it these weary bodies need nutrients, too. “We love your food gifts, keep ’em coming,” Judalina Neira, a writer for shows like Daisy Jones and the Six, relayed on Twitter. “We have heaps of pizza and donuts.” Instead, she requested “healthy snacks - apples, bananas, trail mix, Lara bars,” along with more substantial hand food, like burritos (please, Labor Goddess, send a burrito truck to my line!), burgers, and sandwiches.
My early rainy doughnut mishap aside, most days on the line in LA are hot, and they’re going to get hotter the longer we’re out there. Every time someone comes by with food or drinks, no matter what it is, it’s meaningful. It tells us someone’s thinking about us, supporting us, wondering if we’re okay (we’re not, but we will be!). It’s also a way for those who fear for their jobs, or who can’t show up on the line, to tell us they’re with us. Fuel for the fight is a huge part of what makes labor movements happen. You can’t have bread and roses without bread, after all. So thank you, if you’ve brought food — and if you haven’t but want to: Tacos, please.
Earlier this week, a friend in Nashville Venmoed me $50 for pizza; I plan to deploy it for the Pride picket in June. And as I write this, another friend in NYC just texted to tell me she’s headed to the line as an ally. “I was just gifted an ungodly amount of ginger,” she texted me. “Do you think if I brought ginger shots, that would be welcomed?”
My reply? “ABD: Anything but doughnuts.”
Kaitlin Fontana is a screenwriter living and eating in Los Angeles.