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WGA Fri. Night Bomb Drop: Divide & Conquer?
The union says it has spoken to legacy studio execs amenable to its proposals
Everything’s quiet, so something has gotta be happening, right? No? There’s just a lot of unease in the air?
At least that’s been the vibe on the street (and in group chats, and on the phone) this week, as we round out Day 130 of the Writers Guild of America strike and Day 57 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.
The writers guild must have been on the receiving end of that vortex of anxiety as well, as it released an update to membership late Friday afternoon, sharing details about “conversations with individual executives that illustrate how some of the companies can already see a path toward making a deal, while other members of the AMPTP are not there yet.”
According to the negotiating committee, it has had individual conversations with executives from legacy studios — while it did not name them, we can assume “legacy” to mean Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount Global, Sony, or NBCUniversal, i.e. not the streaming pure plays — and “heard both the desire and willingness to negotiate an agreement that adequately addresses writers’ issues.”
“One executive said they had reviewed our proposals, and though they did not commit to a specific deal, said our proposals would not affect their company’s bottom line and that they recognized they must give more than usual to settle this negotiation,” reads the letter from the WGA negotiating committee. “Another said they needed a deal badly. Those same executives — and others — have said they are willing to negotiate on proposals that the AMPTP has presented to the public as deal breakers. On every single issue we are asking for we have had at least one legacy studio executive tell us they could accommodate us.”
The WGA believes that those conversations point to the possibility of a fair deal — and said outright in the letter that it would be willing to negotiate with individual major studios outside of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the entity that bargains on behalf of the studios and streamers. (There were certainly rumors, earlier on in the strike, that certain entertainment companies were willing to break away from the AMPTP, though that has not borne out.)
While the letter was heartening to some writers and is certain to quell certain worries over the weekend, one former senior studio executive — who considers himself sympathetic to the writers’ cause — says that it’s “pretty hard to evaluate how meaningful” those discussions with individual legacy studios execs might ultimately be.
“Execs at what level? Anybody who has any voice in the process? Anyone who actually knows what’s being said in the room?” he asks. “That’s like the studios saying, ‘Well, we’ve talked off the record to many showrunners and they tell us that the WGA leadership is being intransigent and needs to offer more concessions.’ I’m sure that would also be equally literally true, and equally meaningless.”
“I also don’t think there’s any serious person at any level within the studios who believe that they’ve offered all they can or all they should,” says this person, who has expressed frustration with both the studios’ and the guild’s tactics. “What they believe is that the WGA’s response to their proposal in August, and the near total lack of movement therein, demonstrates that the WGA is not ready to be a serious negotiating partner, and there’s no point offering any further concessions for the time being because they won’t be received or responded to seriously or productively.”
The AMPTP did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Strikegeist readers who have written in are increasingly frustrated as well. While those who are writers, actors and crew members largely continue to support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA’s labor actions, they’re feeling the financial pain of the work stoppages and are hoping for a resolution sooner than later.
“I support the strike completely, but the near-daily news of layoffs, the collateral damage for our fellow IATSE colleagues, many of whom have been out of work for months, and the collective mental and financial toll of this four-going-on-five month stoppage weighs on me every day,” one pre-WGA support staffer emailed to tell me the other week. “I'm beginning to wonder if/when the WGA and SAG-AFTRA 'win', the human cost of these two strikes will be so massive as to render any perceived union victory as negligible. To be absolutely clear, I believe the fault lies 100 percent with the AMPTP for dragging this out as long as they have.”
Read the guild’s letter to membership here in entirety.
What are your thoughts? My sense is that writers and studio execs are digesting this missive very differently. Talk to me: email@example.com.
UPDATE: After this newsletter went out, the AMPTP shared the following statement:
The AMPTP member companies are aligned and are negotiating together to reach a resolution. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.
Every member company of the AMPTP wants a fair deal for writers and actors and an end to the strikes, which are affecting not only our writer and actor colleagues, but also thousands of others across the industry.
That is why the AMPTP has repeatedly put forward offers that address major priorities of the WGA, including a last round of offers on August 17th and 18th. [See below] On many issues, AI among them, we are close. Our AI proposal has provided clear guarantees that the use of AI will not affect writers’ pay, credit or separated rights. We have asked the WGA to identify any remaining holes in the AI offer and it has not responded.
On the important topic of mandatory staffing, the WGA has remained entrenched in its original position, except for a single modest change in its position on staffing in development rooms.
The WGA has achieved substantial gains for its members during this negotiation process and holds the power to move this negotiation forward by responding to the AMPTP’s most recent offers on key issues. The AMPTP, including all its member companies, remains eager to reach resolution.
TIMELINE OF PROPOSALS
April 14, 2023: AMPTP presented WGA with its Comprehensive Package Proposal, a 31-page document.
April 26, 2023: AMPTP presented WGA with its Revised Comprehensive Package Proposal, a 40-page document.
April 30, 2023: AMPTP presented WGA with its Second Revised Comprehensive Package Proposal, a 41-page document that addressed all items in negotiations.
August 11, 2023: AMPTP presented WGA with its Third Revised Comprehensive Package Proposal, a 69-page document that addressed all items in negotiations.
August 15, 2023: WGA responded with a 4-page document with limited moves in a handful of areas.
August 16, 2023: WGA provided details of its revised written proposal on A.I.
August 17, 2023: AMPTP provided WGA a revised AI counterproposal, which focused on the key concerns that the WGA had expressed during discussion the previous day.
August 18, 2023: AMPTP offered further compromises to WGA’s August 15th response. WGA indicated it would respond the following week. AMPTP has not heard from the Guild since that time.
Elsewhere on The Ankler
In lieu of any concrete progress in the talks between the writers and the studios, The Wakeup’s Sean McNulty and I tried to game out a few scenarios on the Ankler podcast earlier today (before the WGA letter dropped). I’ve heard from a number of Strikegeist readers who say, for instance, that their agent tells them they’ll be lucky if they’re working by January 2024, or “there goes my income for the year.”
What does it mean if the strike grinds on through the fall? Give it a listen and let us know your thoughts.
Today in Strike News
IATSE has officially chartered a new national union for freelance production department workers, which will begin with roughly 5,000 TV commercial workers who work for companies under the Association of Independent Commercial Producers umbrella. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Jewish WGA and SAG-AFTRA members in Los Angeles need not worry about where they’ll pray during the High Holy Days this year, as the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts is granting complimentary seating — which normally goes for $500 a ticket — to those on strike as well as their immediate family. “As an arts and entertainment industry synagogue, we feel it is our moral duty to support writers and actors in our community and pray for a quick resolution to their current strikes,” said Rabbi David Baron. (Deadline)
The Skybar Los Angeles’ Mondrian Hotel is set to host a fundraising “night of solidarity” on Sept. 14, with all funds raised going to strikers. (Deadline)
Further down the road, in late October, Friends co-creator Marta Kaufman, The League star Paul Scheer, and actor/director Paul McCrane will co-host a two-hour show consisting of musical acts, stand-up comedy, and sketches at the Orpheum Theater to raise money for those impacted by the strikes. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Hollywood heavyweights Greg Berlanti, Ryan Murphy, and Paul Feig each donated $800,000, $500,000, and $100,000, respectively, to charities either providing funds to their crews or to those in the industry at large. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Additional reporting for Today in Strike News by Matthew Frank.
Disclosure: Elaine Low is an inactive member of SAG-AFTRA.