Armed with horns, bells, placards, and the power of their voices, a group from the Writers Guild of America gathered this afternoon in front of Angel Ramos Park on Wayne Street downtown. Their target: the filming of a new Billy Crystal series in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church across the street.

Over the noise of the picket line behind him, WGA Captain Benjamin August said that the Billy Crystal film was just one of their targets. “There’s a few productions going on in Jersey City right now. There’s a Blake Lively film that’s filming in Hoboken; The Walking Dead was supposed to shoot in Hamilton Park today; but they got wind of our picket, and they moved it to Wayne, New Jersey.”

Benefiting from a bevy of state tax incentives and subsidies aimed at attracting local media creation, Downtown Jersey City has become a hotbed of film production. Just a week ago, the protesting writers would have found themselves in the middle of a film shoot for the Netflix series “Eric” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

WGA Captain Benjamin August

The union has called the strike “existential.” In a statement explaining its decision to walk out for the first time in 15 years, it said, “From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”

Of particular concern to the writers has been lower compensation for the burgeoning streaming business and the use of “mini” writers’ rooms employing fewer of its members.

A writer named Chris, who declined to give his last name, concurred. “The streaming residuals is the most important issue … there’s no residuals from streamers. The way it’s structured is that they’re hiring you for the same work, but you’re having to negotiate for so much more money up front because you’re not going to see anything whether the film is a success or failure.”

For its part, The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents American television and film production companies, countered that it had offered “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals.”  Producers have also chafed at union proposals that would require companies to staff shows with a set number of writers whether needed or not and argue that the studios are still struggling to make streaming profitable.

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....