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'We Didn't Anticipate the Groundswell of Support'
WGA negotiating committee member Adam Conover answers all our (and your) questions on the new deal
New day, new talks: Now that the Writers Guild of America talks have wrapped, the negotiating unit repping Hollywood’s biggest studios is turning its attention to the other guild on strike, which represents more than 160,000 actors.
“SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP will resume negotiations for a new TV/Theatrical contract on Monday, October 2. Several executives from AMPTP member companies will be in attendance,” reads a joint statement that came in this evening.
Newsy week, if there ever were one.
In the meantime, we’ve got a special midweek Strikegeist edition of the Ankler podcast today — what better occasion than an historic 148-day strike coming to a close?
WGA negotiating committee member and picket line fixture Adam Conover (Adam Ruins Everything) joins me and The Wakeup’s Sean McNulty to walk us through the new Writers Guild of America contract, which notably includes:
Staffing minimums: at least three writers on series of six episodes or fewer, five writers on series that span seven to 12 episodes, and six writers on shows that are at least 13 episodes long.
Viewership-based streaming bonuses: made-for-streaming high-budget shows and films that are viewed by at least 20 percent of a streamer’s domestic subscribers in its first 90 days on the service get a bonus on top of the fixed residuals.
A.I. protections: A.I. can’t write or rewrite work or produce source material, studios cannot require writers to use A.I. software like ChatGPT, and the guild “reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law.”
Guaranteed second step for screenwriters.
Increased pension and health contributions for writing teams.
Conover paints a picture of the crucial last five days in the negotiating room, in which the guild and Hollywood’s most powerful executives crafted a deal that the WGA would ultimately call “exceptional,” and explained the final sticking points that had to be picked apart. Here are some highlights from our chat.
On how the WGA contract could set a precedent for the studios’ upcoming negotiations with SAG-AFTRA:
“We have very different issues. And so if you look at our proposals, most of them do not pattern onto each other, to use labor law lingo. But what I think should pattern is the fact that we broke pattern, right? Because the AMPTP strategy is when one union goes on strike, they go to a more compliant union, they impose a deal on them and then they try to impose that deal on everybody else and say, well, ‘This was good enough for that union. You should take it.’ Right? That's what they did to the DGA this year — tried to pattern it onto us. And guess what? We broke that pattern.”
On the future battle over studios training A.I. using writer-produced work:
“We reserve the right to assert our rights over any part of that process for anything that might come up in the future. So if they develop a revenue stream off of training our — I don't know, they chew up all the scripts and they start outputting shitty novels on Amazon or something — we reserve the right to go take a look at what that is… It's very broad. It's been inaccurately reported in some places as studios have the right to train. It's like we both reserve our rights under the MBA. So it's sort of a site of future battle is what I would say, because the fact is it's at this point completely unclear that this technology is going to be useful for anything whatsoever.”
On the reason for codifying minimum staffing into the new contract:
“You often hear people say, ‘Well, why not just let the showrunner choose?’ And that is not good enough because I say this in my position as a showrunner: I don't get as many choices as people think. Often when a show is picked up, they say. ‘We'll pick up the show if you do XYZ.’ And so if we had left it up to the showrunner, ‘Hey, this is the minimum staffing level’ — unless the showrunner disagrees, [the studios] would say, ‘Hey, we'll offer you this show only if you opt out of the minimum staffing.’ And that would have put way too much pressure, especially on first-time showrunners like myself.
I mean, when I was first showrunning Adam Ruins Everything, I never saw a budget. I was told how many writers I would be able to hire. There's a big, big difference between the giant showrunners of the world and… someone who's running a show for the first time, and that's the majority of showrunners.”
On any major surprises from the last five months:
“I think the big surprises for us were we didn't anticipate the groundswell of support we had from every other union in town. We didn't anticipate that SAG-AFTRA would join us on the picket lines and then go on strike, massively increasing our leverage. We weren't sure that IATSE, the Teamsters, would respect our picket lines and add to our leverage that way. And so we didn't expect that level of support.
Something else that surprised me was: I didn't anticipate how much so many of the people who we pay to represent us in this town actually were working against their own talent during this process… I found it really shameful how many people were willing to work against their own folks' needs. And, you know, it's something that I really hope we can improve in the future because we're all on the same side on talent here.”
(There’s a whole story Conover has to share on that last point.) Listen to the whole podcast here, and tell me what you think: email@example.com.
Today in Strike News
Late night talk shows are going to be some of the first WGA-covered series back on the air, as Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers are all set to return on Monday night, while John Oliver will return to his weekly HBO series on Sunday. (New York Times)
Writers rushed to Bob’s Big Boy and Swingers on Tuesday night, as Drew Carey’s offer of free meals for striking scribes at the two L.A. restaurants came to a close. “Yoooo @WGAWest members!! Congrats!,” Carey tweeted. “If the strike is officially over tomorrow you’ll have til midnight to have one last meal at Bob’s Big Boy or Swingers! GO CELEBRATE! Love you all!” (The Hollywood Reporter)
With the starting gun for new/filming projects appearing ready to fire, a backlog of projects will likely cause scheduling issues for talent and crew alike. “You’ve got the entire industry starting up again. Everybody’s going to be hitting the starting line with the same needs. There will be issues with cast availabilities, crews, getting stages, equipment,” says one studio executive. (The Hollywood Reporter)
After quiet negotiations over how to proceed, the Academy Museum’s annual gala, which typically raises over $10 million, is adjusting to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike by excluding studio executives. (New York Times)
Speaking of the vast historical Hollywood gallery, unionized workers at the Academy Museum approved their first union contract on Tuesday, which grants them a $20/hour minimum wage, as well as parental and medical leave privileges. (The Wrap)
Additional reporting for Today in Strike News by Matthew Frank.
Disclosure: Elaine Low is an inactive member of SAG-AFTRA.