Studios Are Cutting Down Trees Where Writers And Actors Are Striking

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

Recently, the combined WGA and SAG strike effectively ground the development of new films and TV shows to a complete halt. The animosity between studios and creators reached new heights when those on the picket line discovered that Universal had cut trees outside of Gate 8, meaning that picketers would have no natural shade to protect them from temperatures reaching 90 degrees.

This development was quickly dubbed “Treegate” across social media, and the scandal just took another surprising turn: LA’s city controller confirmed that nobody pulled the appropriate permits to trim the trees, so Universal may face fines that start at $250 but could go much higher.

At this point, it seems certain that this rogue pruning of the Ficus trees was carried out solely to hurt those on the WGA and SAG strike picket lines. After all, these trees are a part of the neighborhood’s iconic look, and in the summer, they provide much-needed shade to everyone from professional writers and actors to those simply taking their dogs for a walk.

This development was quickly dubbed “Treegate”, and the scandal just took another surprising turn: LA’s city controller confirmed that nobody pulled the appropriate permits to trim the trees.

Now, the trees look almost unbearably-ugly, and nobody in the area–whether they are striking for fair pay and better working conditions or not–can get any relief from the record heat wave.

Universal Studios Responds

The city of Los Angeles already knows that Universal cut these trees because Universal admitted to it, although the studio insists that this was done for “safety reasons” rather than as a punitive measure against the WGA and SAG strike. While it’s not clear what (if anything) the city will do about the studio cutting city trees with no permits or permission to do so, both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over the matter.

hollywood strike

Actors and writers have a legal right to picket in public areas, and while NBCUniversal spokesperson claims to “support the unions’ rights to demonstrate safely,” Treegate would seem to indicate otherwise.

This whole thing quickly became a real “lose/lose” situation for Universal.

After seeing how much their reputation was taking a beating for allegedly trying to disrupt the SAG strike, Universal ended up providing tents for those on the picket line so they could have the shade while picketing in the summer heat.

This whole thing quickly became a real “lose/lose” situation for Universal: with their alleged attempt to punish those who are on strike, the studio ended up looking like bad guys who would rather see actors and writers suffer than go on strike. This would seem to validate actors’ claims they are being unfairly treated by major Hollywood studios and is likely to garner more support for the strike.

More ironic is the fact that everyone involved (from the lowest-paid actor to the highest-paid executive) wants the SAG strike to end sooner rather than later, but everyone has a different idea of how that needs to happen.

For example, actors are fighting for things like better streaming residuals while studios are fighting, tooth and nail, for replacing the human element of many productions with AI.

But if relying on AI means more awful VFX like those Flash cameos or the intro to Secret Invasion, it looks like simply paying creators a fair wage is the simplest course of action…far simpler, it seems, than illegally cutting down a bunch of famous trees and hoping nobody notices.