Monday, the entertainment world shook. The epicenter was in Burbank, Hollywood and New York where hundreds of Writers Guild of America members put down their pencils, closed their laptops, picked up picket signs and surrounded Disney Studios, Netflix, Warner Bros. Studios, Universal Studios, Amazon and more. In New York, so many furious writers turned out to picket, they took up an entire city block in front of Netflix’s offices.
The walkouts took place after talks between the Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke off at 12:01 a.m. May 1.
Wednesday night, more than 1800 Los Angeles WGA enthusiastic and energetic members were joined by leaders and reps from SAG-AFTRA, DGA, IATSE and LiNUA at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and New York’s Cooper Union (capacity 6,300) in a fired-up show of solidarity.
The west coast meeting, which lasted several hours, began at 7:40 p.m. and included a Q&A with WGA leaders as well as describing in detail the events of how the negotiations abruptly cut off with the studios and streamers.
WGA members, on both coasts, gathered to hear from leaders about what led to the breakdown in negotiations between the Guild and AMPTP. What started as an educational event morphed into what resembled a Friday night high school football pep rally.
“I’ve been around 25 years and have never seen all the unions this united or on the same page,” one showrunner who was in attendance told THR after hearing leaders from each of the guilds speak. “They are all getting variously screwed by these companies and they know the only way to win is to stick together. It’s a million percent different than last time around.”
Another guild member said, “It was wild up in the Shrine last night. I never really realized just how deep we were as a guild until I saw that energetic packed auditorium… let me say that again PACKED auditorium. Also… 399 set the tone for the whole night. I don’t think anyone in the history of anything has ever seen so many writers get riled up like that “F**k around and find out.”
The WGA’s lead negotiator, Ellen Stutzman, opened the L.A. event with a standing ovation. Stutzman stepped into the role on the west coast after executive director, David Young, went on medical leave in late February.
The crowd cheered as head of Teamsters Local 399 Lindsay Dougherty took the stage and said, “The only way we’re gonna beat these mother f—kers is if we do it together,” Lindsay Dougherty. DGA negotiating chair John Avnet added, “Did you tell them to forgo profits for subscriptions?”
WGA negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser was the central speaker of the night. The crowd booed as he shared that the AMPTP rejected the notion of regulating and banning the use of artificial intelligence because they, “might want to use in the future.” According to one WGA member, “Netflix is the worst of the bunch.”
The Guild has argued that existing scripts should not be used to train artificial intelligence, which would open the door to intellectual property theft. Some members have called them, “plagiarizing machines.”
The AMPTP has only countered by offering annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology, per the WGA.
Keyser also noted that the AMPTP’s lead negotiator, Carol Lombardini, referred to free rewrites by screenwriters as “collaboration,” which infuriated the membership. “When someone steals your wallet, but gives you $10–doesn’t mean you’ve made $10.”
The AMPTP’s agreement to pay staff writers script fees drew a loud show of support from members. Staff writers presently earn only their weekly salaries and are not compensated for their scripts.
The Guild has been seeking higher compensation for writers, higher wage floors across the board, standardizing fees for streaming and theatrical films, expanding span protection (which shields writers being compensated per episode from working for long periods on short-order series), regulating mini rooms and instituting a mandatory two “steps” (points of payment) for feature writers.
Before the talks broke off, however, the two sides had reached tentative agreements on several issues, including script fees for staff writers; improvements in the guild’s span provisions, which offer protection against the erosion of over-scale pay for writer-producers on short-order series, and an easing of burdensome options and exclusivity provisions that hold staff writers long-term without pay.
The two sides were very far apart on money issues, however. The guild wants to see pay and benefits increased by $429 million over three years, but says that the studios only offered $86 million.
The ball is now in the studios’ and streamer’s court to return to the negotiating table. Pickets are set to resume in front of multiple production locations on Thursday at 9 a.m. PT in Los Angeles and at Broadway Stages in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. ET.
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