Daily Digest: WBD Upfront Picket Foiled By... NYC Construction
➕ Netflix gets stingy about VIRTUAL invites
Whether purposefully or by absolute luck, Warner Bros. Discovery’s upfronts at Madison Square Garden went largely undisturbed this morning by the writers strike, thanks to its choice of location.
Foiled by the ongoing construction at Penn Station that wrapped around the block, ad buyers approaching from the north or west sides of the structure were met not with megaphones and signs, but with a maze of scaffolding instead. In frankness, if I hadn’t asked around and sought out the picketers afterward, it would’ve been easy to have left without even knowing a strike was going on.
Today’s picket line was a distance away, down at 32nd and Seventh Ave. — the closest permitted spot that the WGA was able to snag to MSG, one strike organizer told me. The group, about 30 strong, had been out since 9 a.m. and was marching in slightly dwindled numbers by the end of WBD’s presentation around 11:30 a.m.
Unlike Disney’s “protests? what protests?” stance, WBD plied attendees with a breakfast of fresh berries and donut holes, then addressed the strike head on.
Explaining the lack of wattage on stage, ads chief Jon Steinlauf told us that they “made the decision to only have our executives on stage out of respect for our talent and the WGA.” (The show included recorded bits with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Food Network’s Guy Fieri, and other unscripted-side talent, however.) WBD streaming chief JB Perrette lamented that he wasn’t introduced on stage by Lizzo this time (let’s just say there was onstage talk of “p juice” last year), while HBO and Max content head Casey Bloys professed that he was “hopeful that a fair resolution is found soon with the writers” so that talent could retake the stage at the upfronts.
Still, missing from the stage was CEO David Zaslav, whose name is adorning many a picket sign these days. But kudos to the company for at least saying the awkward part out loud.
Meanwhile, Netflix’s online-only upfront kicked off at 5 p.m., after hastily scuttling the idea of an in-person event at the Paris Theater (but not, of course, for any reason in particular that the company would state… I mean, definitely not because it has become the poster child of the writers’ ire, right?). The last-minute shift left many a reporter wondering when they would receive a link to the virtual show, with only one such ticket allotted per outlet (you know, the cost of Zoom rooms and all; I received mine at 5:02 p.m., shortly after the presentation began).
As upfronts winds down in New York, I’ll have a few more interviews to share before we bid farewell to this very peculiar advertising season spectacular. And thanks to all for the kind words about our strike coverage across Strikegeist and The Ankler, including this particularly touching (at least to me, ha) mention from The Globe and Mail film editor, Barry Hertz, who shared this after reading Richard Rushfield’s column at The Ankler yesterday.
Today in Strike News
Following in the footsteps of other live awards ceremonies, the Daytime Emmys are being postponed from June 16 to an undetermined date, pending the strike. (Washington Post)
On-location film permits in Los Angeles have dipped 69.5 percent compared to this time last year, according to the city and county film permit office. (Deadline)
The New Yorker’s Graham Techler offers up a tongue-in-cheek strike diary, told from the perspective of the greatly suffering studio CEOs. Case in point, under the entry for Day Five: “No one seems to have noticed our work stoppage. We remind the public that, as long as the C.E.O. strike continues, they’ll be deprived of our exciting and original ideas, like “a subscription tier where it costs money to rewind” and “a streaming service you pay for in years off your life.” (New Yorker)
Picket Signs of the Day
A New York state of mind.
From 2 hours ago...
DGA Member Update Regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Directors Guild of America
May 17, 2023
Directors and their teams, along with our industry collaborators, have expressed serious, legitimate concerns about the potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in our industry. We want to reassure you that the DGA shares these concerns and wishes to inform you of our current efforts as we ensure the protection of the unique and indispensable roles of DGA members.
There is no substitute for the creativity, drive and passion that Directors and their teams bring to set every day. Humanity, creative innovation and individuality are essential to making great art and fueling the global success of our industry.
The potential use of AI in our industry is new and much is still unknown. We are committed to learning as much as we can about AI’s possible impact on your work so we can firmly protect the role and vision of Directors and their teams — just like we have with each new technological development in our history. We are looking at all avenues to protect the rights of our members including taking an active approach on multiple fronts to establish further protections for Directors and their teams, as follows:
We have established a DGA working group made up of prominent Directors, Assistant Directors, UPMs, Associate Directors and Stage Managers. This Committee will meet with external experts to thoroughly research the issues that impact our members and propose meaningful solutions;
We are engaged and in active communication with the U.S. Copyright Office and members of Congress regarding this issue – including a DGA representative appearing on a U.S. Copyright Office panel on May 17, 2023.
Most importantly, we want you to know that our existing agreements already provide Directors and their teams with important protections against the impact of AI on their work. Some of the many provisions include:
A Director must be a person, and only that person is permitted to direct.
Only the Director employed on the project may direct, as that term is commonly understood in our industry. The “Director's professional function is unique, and requires his or her participation in all creative phases of the filmmaking process, including but not limited to all creative aspects of sound and picture. The Director works directly with all of the elements which constitute the variegated texture of a unit of film entertainment or information.”
Our contract provides that the Director is responsible for presenting “his or her cut of the motion picture” (the Director’s Cut) to the company.
“Cutting behind” a Director is strictly prohibited, and our agreement makes clear this prohibition includes editing by electronic means. Importantly, our contract expressly provides that “technological changes whether now known or not” may not be used to limit or affect the Director’s right to prepare his or her Director’s Cut.
Our agreements also include mandatory staffing requirements that require the employment of Unit Production Managers, Assistant Directors, Stage Managers, and Associate Directors that do not provide any exceptions for the use of technology.
Enforcement of both our existing contract provisions and copyright law are critical to ensuring these hard-won rights are protected. To this end, our Guild is working aggressively on these issues.
Since our Guild was founded in 1936, we have fiercely protected the role and vision of Directors and their teams throughout numerous periods of technological change and you have our word that we will continue to do so.