First details of WGA strike deadlock emerge

Writing next to a clapperboard
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The alliance of film and TV producers seem to be playing hardball, dashing any hope for a quick resolution to Hollywood’s strike action.

The Writers Guild of America ordered its members to down tools this week, sparking the first writers’ strike we’ve seen in Hollywood since the 100 day shutdown of 2007/8 that was estimated to have cost the Hollywood economy around $2 billion dollars. The WGA’s negotiations to improve its deal with the American Motion Picture and Television Producers was expected to end in deadlock and that’s exactly what happened.

WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser has spoken to Deadline about being in the room with the AMPTP (which represents hundreds of US production companies such as Netflix and Warner Bros), and from his comments it sounds like both parties are very, very far away from reaching a consensus.

On the matter of the negotiations, Keyser said “the companies continued to refuse to move on, or even discuss a long list of our core proposals. In fact, what they did at the end is they said, ‘Listen, we’ll give you a little bit more on some things if you agree to drop everything else.’ And we said to them ‘no, we can’t do that.'”

One of those core proposals includes the WGA’s demands that artificial intelligence cannot be treated as ‘literary material’, effectively meaning that AI cannot be classed as a ‘writer’. In a clear sign of where the industry sees the potential for replacing human talent with cheaper automated processes, Keyser says “they would not discuss AI. I think you get a really good sense from the companies about where they see the future based on what they say they won’t talk about. Because the stuff they’ll say yes to is the stuff they feel like they can absorb so easily, or maybe not pay in the long run.’

The fact that the AMPTP won’t even open negotiations on the subject is revealing, and could prove to be the stickiest point of negotiation. Back in the 2007/8 strike, the WGA ended up foregoing an ‘instant’ improvement in DVD residual payments to get a fairer slice of the nascent streaming profits. That proved to be a very shrewd bit of negotiating indeed.

This time round it looks like the WGA may have to strike longer than 100 days if it wants to secure better pay and conditions for writers right now as well as securing guarantees on future use of artificial intelligence.

Production continues in Hollywood as plenty of projects are past the writing stage and already in development. However, the next date to keep an eye on is June 30th when the Directors Guild of America’s deal with the AMPTP runs out. If those negotiations don’t go well, production in the US will grind to a complete halt in a much quicker timeframe. On the other hand, if the DGA and the AMPTP do work something out, that could put the WGA under more pressure to make concessions.

We’ll bring you more on this one as we hear it.

Image: BigStock

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