LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Hollywood writers’ strike marks the anniversary of Wednesday, with contract talks stalled and people at the sit-in protesting what they say is their demands being ignored.
The strike began on May 2 after negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and major studios reached an impasse over compensation, minimum staffing in writers’ rooms and payments remaining in the broadcast era, among other things.
Writers have also sought to regulate the use of artificial intelligence, which they fear could replace their creative input.
Entertainment industry execs have been trying to navigate the cross currents of declining TV revenues, movie box office not yet back to pre-COVID levels, and streaming companies largely struggling to turn a profit.
Warner Bros Discovery (WBD.O) CEO David Zaslav told investors last week that uncertainty about labor unrest in Hollywood could affect the timing of the company’s movie slate and its ability to produce and deliver content.
Actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) went on strike on July 14 as well over wages and artificial intelligence, effectively halting production of TV shows and scripted films and affecting businesses throughout the entertainment world’s orbit. This is the first time the two unions have struck since 1960.
A meeting last week to discuss resuming talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group representing the major studios in the negotiations, resulted in no set date for a return to the negotiating table.
The WGA sent a letter to its 11,500 members later the same day, complaining about leaked details of the secret session, but confirming that the union’s negotiating committee “remains willing to engage with the companies and resume negotiations in good faith”.
The WGA did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and AMPTP declined to comment.
Outside the picket lines this week, a solution mingled with anger.
“We’re in it until we get the deal we need and deserve, but we can’t help but feel frustrated by the attitude we’re getting from AMPTP,” said Dawn Prestwich, whose credits include the TV drama “Chicago Hope.” . “Indifference, and in some ways, it’s kind of downright cruel.”
Prestwich said studio executives are meant to be creative partners with writers, as they have done in the past.
“This business is changing now,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like human action now.”
The three-month strike took on at times the rhetoric of class warfare, with writers attacking compensation for media executives.
Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger, after a contract extension that gave him the opportunity to receive an annual incentive bonus of five times his base salary, was criticized for calling the union’s demands “unrealistic”.
“What saddens me is not thinking we wouldn’t win,” said television writer and WGA member Jamey Perry. “What saddens me is the exposure to greed and the cruelty of what these companies are doing and the absolute wrongness of what they are doing. It feels really bad.”
As with previous writers’ strikes, this career work responds to Hollywood tapping into a new form of distribution–and writers seeking to share in the newfound revenue.
The first hit, in 1960, centered around writers and actors seeking residual payments to show old films on television. After two decades, the writers quit their jobs in 1985 to claim a share of the revenue from the booming home video market.
The 100-day strike in 2007–2008 focused, in part, on extending union protections to “new media”, including downloading movies and television as well as content delivered via ad-supported internet services.
This time around, a central issue is the remaining payments for streaming services, although the demands of restrictions on emerging AI technology have also gained prominence. Reuters reports that Disney has set up a task force to study artificial intelligence and how it can be applied across the entertainment conglomerate, indicating its importance.
“When technologies create new sources of revenue, workers want a share of that revenue,” said Stephen J. Ross, a professor of history at the University of Southern California. Period. “When it comes to AI, it’s an existential crisis. They have the potential to lose their jobs forever.”
(Covering) Don Chmielewski and Danielle Broadway in Los Angeles Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Mahler
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