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LOS ANGELES – Hollywood writers have been on strike since May 2nd. What’s stopping you from striking a deal with the studios?
That’s partly because technology and the way people consume entertainment have changed dramatically since then 2007, the last time the writers went on strike. A big topic at the time was the remaining payments from DVD sales.
Here’s a look at some of the key issues currently separating the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. And remember, even if issues are resolved with the writers, the Screen Actors Guild has been on strike for about 40 days and has to negotiate a separate deal with the studios.
This problem has plagued the industry since Netflix released all 13 episodes of House of Cards at once in 2013, proving streaming services can produce quality content and viewers would pay to enjoy it. It contributed to profound changes in the way Hollywood did business, and perhaps most significantly in how writers worked and how they were paid. As part of the writers’ strike, several issues related to streaming are currently being clarified.
In theory, the more popular a show, the more leverage its writers would have to demand higher residuals, but studios and streaming services have been very opaque about viewership. The AMPTP proposes sharing confidential quarterly reports with the WGA that would enable the Authors Guild to propose a new residual regime “in the future”.
The WGA believes viewership data should be available now and proposes an viewer-based residual system to reward programs with higher viewership – in addition to a guaranteed minimum Residual value.
According to the authors’ guild, progress has been made in the negotiations. The writers feared that studios would start creating AI-produced scripts that would only need to be rewritten, leaving all but a few writers unneeded. But the studios have agreed to a series of safeguards to ensure AI-produced material isn’t passed off as human labor and that writers aren’t sidelined or face reduced pay because of AI.
But also writers want to make sure screenplays, screenplays and other material they’ve written in the past do so not be used to train AI systems – in other words, the screenwriters don’t want their work to be fed into the AI systems that synthesize and learn huge amounts of information they gather from the internet, into language and writing to appear more and more human.
The process by which television shows are written is a primary concern for many writers. Classic sitcoms like “Seinfeld” or “Friends” employed up to twelve writers under the showrunner, who was responsible for the overall operation of the show. writer would exchange ideas, and some would have the opportunity to go to the show’s set and interact with the actors — learning every step of the process. Authors were usually guaranteed employment for most of a year earned enough to at least have it lead a middle-class existence and support a family.
Studios have already begun reducing the size of writers’ rooms to so-called “mini rooms” for four or five people. In the current negotiation, the AMPTP proposes three writers’ rooms, including the showrunner. The WGA requires a minimum of six people, with the ability to hire up to six more depending on the length of the series. Writers say shows suffer when fewer viewpoints are offered and a small group is forced to get the work done quickly. In addition, minorities have said they believe they could be excluded if authors’ spaces were reduced.
For all but the most well-known authors — and few authors are really well-known outside of Hollywood — being a screenwriter or television writer means jumping from one project to the next, presenting shows that never get made or movies that are produced but never released to be produced. It can be a difficult way to make a living. The WGA requires a guarantee that streaming show writers will be employed for at least 13 weeks. The AMPTP counter is 10 weeks.
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