By Milan Rafaelov, Staff Writer
On May 2, roughly 11,500 writers put down their pens in protest and picketed across Hollywood. The strike, which is going into its 9th day, is the first in 15 years.
The Writers Guild of America conducted a public work stoppage to protest the studio conglomerates that employ writers for the entertainment industry. The Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, which consists of studios like Netflix, Disney, and Universal, reached a three-year agreement with the WGA in 2020. Both parties readied to negotiate new terms once the old contract expired on May 1.
After the WGA and AMPTP failed to reach an agreement during the weeks-long negotiation phase, the WGA acted quickly, immediately coordinating strikes throughout Hollywood.
The WGA unified on issues such as better wages for writers, residuals for streaming shows, better benefits, and regulating AI use which threatens to replace writers.
In 2007, the guild organized a strike that lasted 100 days, which was related to writer's compensation in the digital age. However, during that time, the issues of compensation only pertained to DVD sales and residuals as media streaming was still in its early stages. The WGA argued that writers deserved a larger portion of the revenue generated from digital distribution but AMPTP rebutted, stating that the existing model of compensation was fair.
Adam Conover, Hollywood comedian and creator of the series “Adam Ruins Everything,” is a WGA board member and has been in the negotiation room fighting on behalf of his fellow union members.
“For 50 years, late-night writers have been paid 13 weeks at a time,” said Conover. “They want to pay us by the day instead. If they do that, this ceases to be a career — it becomes like driving for Uber.”
The WGA worries that the lack of laws surrounding AI could lead to the AMPTP outsourcing scripts to an artificially intelligent language model. The producer’s union responds to some claims about AI but sidesteps other concerns presented by the writers.
“It’s important to note that the current WGA Agreement already defines a “writer” to exclude any “corporate or impersonal purveyor” of literary material, meaning that only a “person” can be considered a writer and enjoy the terms and conditions of the Basic Agreement. For example, AI-generated material would not be eligible for writing credit.” says the AMPTP
Conover also explained that writers do not believe AI can replace them. Though a language model can output text, it requires skill to communicate with specific audiences..
“The actual concern is that the companies are going to frame that text generation system in a way where it's used as a loophole to undermine parts of our contract,” he said.
Conover fears that companies will convert writers to editors — of AI-generated words.
According to Deadline, the AMPTP offered double the annual pay raises but said the guild's other requests would lead to a hiring quota incompatible with the industry's creative nature. They rejected most of the WGA's proposals and refused to counter more, leading to increased protester outrage.
The entertainment business has seen a significant increase in earnings since streaming services revolutionized the industry. In the early 2000s Disney, Fox, Paramount, NBC, Universal and Time Warner’s collective profits were approximately $5 billion. After Netflix and other streaming services joined the market, the networks reported $30 billion in profits in 2019, while the earnings of writers were reported to be 4 percent or 24 percent less (when adjusted to inflation) than what they were being paid a decade ago.
The science fiction screenwriter Dante W Harper stopped his protesting to join Conover in the interview.
“What's so frustrating to me is that they could solve this problem with such a minuscule amount of money,” said Dante W. Harper. “This really isn't about money for them, this is a moral stance for them. They hate the idea of organized labor and they like the idea of turning everything into a gig economy. That is what's going on here.”
TV show lovers of late-night networks like “SNL”, “Late Night With Seth Meyers”, “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, and more have been the first to go dark as their scripts are written as world events take place. Audiences may feel some effects of the strike but the worst is yet to come and will not be fully felt until networks run out of material in their pipeline.