Shem Bitterman has worked in the film industry since first coming to Los Angeles in 1987. His writing and directing credits include "Halloween 5," "Betty and Coretta," "Whitney," and "The Job."
He joined the Writer's Guild of America in 1997 and served as Strike Captain in 2007. During the latest WGA strike, Bitterman co-organized (with Taylor Nichols and Steve Kriozere) a series of "Bike The Strike" rides to the studios' picket lines. BikeLA spoke with Bitterman to learn more about the rides and the community built around them.
BikeLA: Tell us about the bike strike! Have you participated in bike strikes in the past that inspired you to organize this? Bitterman: I have never heard of a bike strike. Do such things exist? I was basically inspired by the idea that I wanted to travel the ten picket lines across the city by bike, and I didn't want to do it alone. At the time, we in the WGA were picketing from 9AM - 5PM, so it seemed eminently doable. The entire distance was about 27 miles. I figured I could bike from picket line to picket line, picket a little, then hop on my bike and picket at the next stop. One thing I didn't anticipate was how little time there would be for actual picketing. But I realized that biking itself was a kind of rolling picket line, and that we could cover the entire city and evangelize our cause at the same time as we sort of created a rolling pep squad for the different picketing locations. It gets pretty boring walking back and forth on the line, despite how truly wonderful a lot of the conversations I had were, with so many cool folks I wouldn't have met under other circumstances, but this was a different kind of camaraderie, based on testing our limits as bikers.
BikeLA: Can you describe a typical WGA bike strike? Anything in particular that made it special? Bitterman: From the start, I knew that the Santa Monica mountains were an obstacle for many people who wanted to bike from one picketing location to another, and somehow accomplish hitting all ten. Six were on the ocean side and four were on the valley side, so from the start my partners in crime and I, Steve Kriozere and Taylor Nichols, designed our first 'classic' ride. All ten locations, starting at Sony and ending at CBS/Radford with no hills. It was also a no-drop ride, which meant we were committed to everyone making it over the (or in this case) around the hill. We came up along the river trail, then hit Disney and Warner Brothers, Universal and CBS/Radford, then Steve and I went back up Wrightwood to get home. We got lost on the way and showrunner Jack Kenny ran into us on his bike and directed us home.
BikeLA: What was the best route and would you recommend it for people on their own recreational rides? Bitterman: From then we continued on, 16 and now, this [past] Thursday, 17 rides. Over 500 miles in total. We always tried to feature different aspects of the city. Baldwin Hills was a classic. That one started at Swingers — a lot of them started and ended at Swingers — thanks to Drew Carey's generosity (he offered free meals to all Writers Guild members plus a guest for the duration of the strike) — went to CBS/Television City, Paramount, Netflix, then all the way down to Kenneth Hahn Park and across the Park to Playa Bridge (named after disgraced Councilmember Mark Ridley Thomas), and on to the Culver City overlook. Steve always provided a wonderful tour of LA Arcania, including the fortune cookie dumpster (in downtown) and the pigeon farm at the start of the Los Angeles River Bike Trail. Other notable rides include the "It's Chinatown, Jake" ride that led from CBS/Radford through DTLA, to all the famous movie spots, including locations from Blade Runner, and of course, Chinatown. The metric +1 Century, to mark the hundred and first day of the strike. And of course, our "Elevate Workers" ride up Mount Lee to the back of the Hollywood sign and around the Hollywood reservoir. So, yes, there are many routes, and I would recommend them. The strike locations may be gone, but the city remains – ripe to be explored by bike. In some cases (like the LA River Trail, Mount Lee Drive and the Hollywood Reservoir), the only way to go.
BikeLA: Can you shine a light on some of the writers' most important demands and why they're important? Bitterman: There are so many, and many of them hinge on the transition away from traditional broadcast to streaming. For TV writers, that meant shortened contracts, no visits to set, no guarantee of room size, no minimum number of writers, residuals that didn't reflect the value of the shows they had created and finally the looming threat of AI. I think one of the smartest things the Guild did was to contextualize this struggle as respect for workers over the relentless and inhuman drive for streamlining processes to accommodate Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. People love their work, and their work gives meaning to their lives — creates avenues for socialization and accomplishment. If we sacrifice that for the sake of automation, what have we really accomplished? Have we made people happier? Have we made people's lives better? These are the sorts of questions we should be asking of our technologies and not, how do we replace our workers. It's time for corporate America to become aware of the fact that their value comes from people not products, from good will not willful disregard.
BikeLA: With the writers' strike ending, will any of you continue to ride together recreationally?
Bitterman: Hell yes. I have over 100 people on our Bike The Strike thread, Some have joined us only once or twice. Some have come to nearly every ride. And some keep threatening to come. We want everyone to enjoy our great city and ride with us, for workers, for people and for our community. To celebrate, we plan on doing a real century, 100 miles, no hills, and, as always, a no drop ride.