Striking actors latest scare tactic? Halloween pickets and clever costumes

Los Angeles, CA - October 31: Frances Fisher, a member of SAG for nearly 50 years and currently one of the negotiators for SAG-AFTRA, center, without a mask, poses with people wearing masks with Fisher's face, while walking the Halloween line during the SAG-AFTRA picket, in front of Netflix in Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee member Frances Fisher, center, poses with striking actors wearing masks with Fisher's face, while walking the line during a Halloween-themed picket in front of Netflix in Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Witches, black cats, Jack-o’-lanterns, spiders, cowboys and vampires lurked outside Netflix's offices in Los Angeles this week in the latest group effort by striking actors to spook the major Hollywood studios into agreeing to their terms and bringing an end to the work stoppage that has haunted the entertainment industry for months.

The performers union, SAG-AFTRA, hosted two Halloween pickets on Tuesday, "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble!" at Netflix and "Spooky Solidarity Day" at the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank.

Read more: Photos: Actors scare up spooky costumes for Halloween on the picket lines

During the holiday demonstrations, guild members showed their commitment to the cause by donning disguises that fit the theme while abiding by the union's widely panned costume guidelines — which advised members to avoid looks “inspired by struck content.”

“I’m Rosie the Picketer,” said Stevie Nelson, a SAG-AFTRA strike captain who wore a blue denim shirt and a red bandanna resembling Rosie the Riveter outside of the Netflix building on Van Ness Avenue.

“I thought it would be a fun costume for the picket today, just because she’s a [working] gal, and it was easy to do," said Nelson. "I was like, ‘It’s gonna be hot out. Let’s just do something that’s lightweight and feels good to be in.'”

A woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter lunches forward and flexes a muscle while holding a picket sign
Stevie Nelson attends a SAG-AFTRA Halloween picket as "Rosie the Picketer" in front of the Netflix office in Los Angeles. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Nelson was among several members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Actors who showed up at Netflix on Tuesday in creative, homemade costumes. One demonstrator, Martin Perea, came dressed as SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher's "The Nanny" character.

“This wasn’t even going to be my costume for this year, but with the strike I figured I should go with something that is topical,” said Perea, who strutted up and down the sidewalk in black tights, ruby heels, a red coat with cheetah-print lining (sewed on by his mother) and a sky-high, curly brown wig.

“I just thought it would be a great way to … show support and give people a laugh when they need to have a laugh because this strike has gone on so long, and these negotiations are so excruciating.”

A man wearing a curly brunet wig, a red coat and red heels while smiling and holding a picket sign
Martin Perea attends the Netflix Halloween picket as SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher's TV character from "The Nanny." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Others opted for more generic, eerie looks that couldn’t be traced to a particular film or TV series. Actor-musician Sonia Grace walked the picket line as a “random" goth schoolgirl.

“I do have some costumes that are struck, so I’ll save that hopefully for next year,” she said. “But you know, this is cool too. It’s simple, reminds me of when I was in boarding school. Plus I [already] have the glasses and braces. You don’t get more schoolgirl than that.”

To get demonstrators into the holiday spirit, picket organizers handed out candy and blasted Halloween classics — including songs from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” — from portable speakers.

A woman dressed as a goth schoolgirl while smiling and holding a picket sign
Sonia Grace attends a SAG-AFTRA Halloween picket as a schoolgirl outside a Netflix building in Los Angeles. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

A couple of striking actors — Bonnie Aarons, who plays the title role in the “Nun” movies, and Dane DiLiegro, who portrayed the Predator in 2022’s “Prey” — didn’t need costumes to stand out.

Even out of character, former pro basketball player DiLiegro towered over his fellow picketers at 6 feet, 8 inches tall, and fans of the “Conjuring” franchise would recognize Aarons’ face anywhere. (Aarons actually sued Warner Bros. earlier this year for allegedly profiting off of her likeness via Nun costumes and merchandise without giving her a fair share.)

“Us monsters, we stand together and support each other,” Aarons said.

For actors who play creatures and other nonhuman characters, the rise of artificial intelligence and tech in filmmaking is a particularly scary phenomenon, DiLiegro said.

“You’ll see a lot of [computer-generated] versions of these characters,” he added. “We have to protect our work and what we do and our identity as artists.”

A man in a gray shirt and black shorts and a woman in a denim outfit pose together while holding picket signs.
Dane DiLiegro, left, who played the Predator in 2022's "Prey," and Bonnie Aarons, who plays the Nun in the "Nun" movies attend a SAG-AFTRA Halloween picket outside Netflix in Los Angeles. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, SAG-AFTRA released some "strike-friendly tips and tricks" for dressing up on Halloween without inadvertently promoting movies and TV shows backed by major Hollywood studios. The guidelines advised members to "choose costumes inspired by generalized characters and figures" — such as a ghost or a zombie.

Read more: What to know about the SAG-AFTRA actors' strike now that WGA has a deal

But the guidelines eventually were taken down after drawing laughs and criticism on social media and beyond. "Saturday Night Live" even broadcast a skit poking fun at the costume parameters and Drescher.

Megan Fox posted a picture on Instagram over the weekend of herself dressed as a character from "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" and tagged SAG-AFTRA in her caption. (Lionsgate, which is not part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, currently owns the rights to the "Kill Bill" movies.)

Read more: Fran Drescher is SAG-AFTRA’s 'Norma Rae.’ But the 100-day actors' strike poses new challenges

In response to the backlash, SAG-AFTRA clarified that the costume guidelines do "not apply to anyone’s kids."

"Our number one priority remains getting the studios back to the negotiating table so we can get a fair deal for our members, and finally put our industry back to work,” the union said.

Strike captain Adrian Dev — who was picketing in a a colorful pink and yellow jumpsuit modeled after pro wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage on Tuesday, since “wrestling is not struck work” — said the costume guidelines come down to common sense.

“‘Barbie’ and Oppenheimer’ — all these movies just came out. The studios are still directly profiting off them. Maybe dig a little deeper,” he said.

Adrian Dev, a strike captain and also, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, snapping into a Slim Jim, while walking the Halloween line
Adrian Dev, a strike captain, is dressed as professional wrestling legend "Macho Man" Randy Savage, snapping into a Slim Jim, ooooh yeeeeeeah, while walking the Halloween line during a SAG-AFTRA picket in front of Netflix in Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Actors marked their 110th day on the picket lines Tuesday as contract negotiations continue between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, which represents the major studios. The two sides resumed talks a week ago after the last round of bargaining soured over streaming pay, prompting the studios to walk away from the table.

Read more: SAG-AFTRA eases anti-costume Halloween edict for children, spurring further criticism

After "working independently" on Monday, SAG-AFTRA's TV/theatrical negotiating committee informed members in a statement that discussions between the guild and the AMPTP "have been productive" but that the parties still "remain far apart on key issues." The committee said it was scheduled to meet with the alliance again on Tuesday.

"Please help us keep pressure on the AMPTP by showing up on the picket lines, raising your voices at rallies across the country and by posting messages of support and strength on social media," the statement read.

Multiple Halloween demonstrators told The Times they were “cautiously optimistic” about the recent spike in activity at the bargaining table.

“We want to get a fair deal … obviously, but if that doesn’t happen, then we’re gonna keep going strong as long as it takes,” Grace said.

SAG-AFTRA is seeking increased minimum wages, higher residuals from streaming and protections related to artificial intelligence, among other demands. The entertainment companies have argued that the guild is asking for too much, particularly when it comes to compensation from streaming.

“We are still far apart, and we’re trying to close the gap,” said “Titanic” actor Frances Fisher, a member of SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee, who decided to attend the Netflix Halloween picket after hearing that someone was there dressed as her. (Yes, they snapped some twinning photos together on the picket line.)

"Our performers are suffering, and it’s time for the studios to step up and make a deal with us that’s fair, equitable and respectful,” said Fisher, who left the picket to join negotiations in the afternoon.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.