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The Great Backfiring: Did This Move Just Add Weeks to the Strike?
The studios released their proposals into the wild. The writers are crying foul
On Tuesday night, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers released its package of proposals into the wild (read: to we members of the press), making public the details of an offer that had been murmured about for the last week and a half since Hollywood’s studios and the Writers Guild of America reignited negotiations amid an historic 100-plus day strike.
Nice for reporters to have, of course, so we don’t have to keep trying to suss out deal points from the rumor mill. But according to some, it wasn’t necessarily released just meant as a point of clarification.
The Los Angeles Times’ Meg James and Wendy Lee report that the tactic — which may even constitute a labor violation, according to one legal expert they spoke to — was meant to divide and conquer the writers:
People close to the studios who were not authorized to speak publicly acknowledged the decision to make deal points public was designed to circumvent WGA leadership to spur writer-producers and legions of workers who are struggling financially to begin to apply pressure to WGA’s leadership to accept a deal.
For what it’s worth, a source close to the studios tells me that the release was meant to demonstrate the breadth of the proposals — i.e. that the major studio players were, in fact, trying to meet the writers’ asks — and not to circumvent the negotiation process.
If that was the intent, boy, did it not translate well.
“It was an incredibly dumb move that totally backfired on them because it added new fuel to the fire of the whole membership,” says one showrunner, who prefers to remain anonymous amid the negotiations.
The WGA sent its 11,500-person membership an update three hours later — timing that implied it had not anticipated the studios and streamers making its offer public — with word that the negotiating committee had just met with Disney CEO Bob Iger, Universal’s Donna Langley, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav and AMPTP president and chief negotiator Carol Lombardini.
“But this wasn’t a meeting to make a deal,” read the letter. “This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not 20 minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals.”
The meeting consisted of “a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was,” added the guild.
The actual details of the proposal have essentially been overshadowed by the aftermath of the AMPTP’s move, but as we noted yesterday, it includes a “new structure to train writers to become the showrunners of tomorrow, by guaranteeing the length of employment and requiring that at least two mid-level writers, chosen by the Showrunner, be assigned to production,” a guaranteed minimum of 10 weeks of employment for writers in development rooms, and quarterly reports of viewership data that will include the “total aggregate number of minutes a High Budget SVOD Program is viewed and the program’s total running time.”
On that last point, you’ll recall from the WGA’s published list of demands that the guild is seeking a viewership-based residual for shows. The AMPTP’s counter did not include language about such a residual. Here’s what a separate showrunner texted me today about the streaming data proposal:
The writers guild is expected to release more details on the negotiations as they stand later Wednesday night. As for the impact of this move on the talks, there’s been unsubstantiated chatter that talks could be paused again as a result — but of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that either side is going to walk out from the talks.
We’re on Day 114 of the writers strike and Day 41 of the actors strike.
Speaking of the actors? Some of them are nonplussed by what happened.
“The AMPTP chose to expose their most recent proposal to the WGA…so what. It’s the same ole feckless playbook. No surprise,” says actor Kevin E. West, a SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee member. “Only speaking for myself, and not SAG-AFTRA officially, it’s all pretty sub-standard as of this moment. Nothing to see here.”
Below is the full missive from the WGA to membership, sent a little after 11 p.m. PT Tuesday night.
After 102 days of being on strike and of AMPTP silence, the companies began to bargain with us on August 11th, presenting us for the first time with a counteroffer.
We responded to their counter at the beginning of last week and engaged in further discussions throughout the week.
On Monday of this week, we received an invitation to meet with Bob Iger, Donna Langley, Ted Sarandos, David Zaslav, and Carol Lombardini. It was accompanied by a message that it was past time to end this strike and that the companies were finally ready to bargain a deal.
We accepted that invitation and, in good faith, met tonight, in hopes that the companies were serious about getting the industry back to work.
Instead, on the 113th day of the strike – and while SAG-AFTRA is walking the picket lines by our side – we were met with a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was.
We explained all the ways in which their counter’s limitations and loopholes and omissions failed to sufficiently protect writers from the existential threats that caused us to strike in the first place. We told them that a strike has a price, and that price is an answer to all – and not just some – of the problems they have created in the business.
But this wasn’t a meeting to make a deal. This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not 20 minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals.
This was the companies’ plan from the beginning — not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy — to bet that we will turn on each other.
Tomorrow we will send a more detailed description of the state of the negotiations. And we will see you all out on the picket lines so that the companies continue to see what labor power looks like.
WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE
Today in Strike News
While A.I. and streaming have been the hot-button issues of the writers strike, film scribes have been waging a decades-long battle over the “free work” they say has emerged from pro bono script revisions mandated by studios before turning in payment-triggering first drafts. (Variety)
The WGA East’s current officer and council elections have been dominated by the writers strike, with all official candidate statements, released Wednesday, committing their support to the strike until a fair contract is reached. (Deadline)
Assistant directors — and former production assistants themselves — Katie Hacker and Andrea Block have started a strike fund for PAs, who don’t qualify for most strike relief and are already the lowest-paid crew members. “Our entire industry is in this together, and we feel strongly that the little guys should not be ignored in this conversation,” they said in a statement. (Deadline)
WGA strike captain Joelle Garfinkel, a longtime writer, created Green Envelope Grocery Aid — named after the color of residual envelopes — to provide $100 grocery grants to writers who don’t have access to the types of residuals she’s earned. (LAist)
Some actors have turned to Cameo, some have turned to different professions, but one Orange is the New Black star, Alysia Reiner, is taking the strike as an opportunity to become a volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver in Fire Island, New York. “I feel plugged into a community, which is very much what we as actors miss when we’re not allowed to be on set,” Reiner says. “And I feel plugged into being of service and making a difference.” (New York Post)
Actor and writer Will McFadden advanced to the finals of Santa Monica’s Brisk Festival with his 10-minute musical entitled My Little A.I. that was co-written by ChatGPT, something he did with a very specific intention in mind. “The only reason why this show works at all and comes together in any cohesive way is because of the creativity, talent and imagination of all the humans involved,” he says. “But these tools are here and they aren’t going away, so I’m doing what I can to understand them and utilize them so I can do everything I can to resist being replaced by them.” (The Hollywood Reporter)