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The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood’s studios are trying once again to reach a contract deal nearly a month after a contentious meeting between union leaders and the top CEOs, but there are still many key issues that need to be addressed.
Since the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed talks in early August, studio insiders have told TheWrap that the AMPTP side believes the guild isn’t showing enough willingness to compromise, with one insider feeling like the studios are “negotiating against themselves.”
The WGA, meanwhile, is holding steadfast in its position that it cannot entirely give up any of the core demands of its contract proposal as the whole package is necessary to protect writers from exploitative practices and trends that threaten the financial sustainability of their profession.
Last Thursday, the AMPTP announced that it would be resuming negotiations after the guild requested a meeting with the studios. What is unclear is whether the negotiations will be based off a new contract counterproposal from one of the two sides or if it will be based off of the proposal publicly released by the AMPTP last month and the brief counterproposal returned by the WGA.
The AMPTP proposal, first sent to the WGA on Aug. 11, showed some movement by the studios compared to when the strike began on May 2. Among the new offers were guarantees of at least 10 weeks of employment for all writers, with a weekly rate increase of 43% for writer-producers to $14,214/week and rates for staff writers and story editors increasing by 31% to $6,959/week for staff writers and $12,978/week for story editors.
The AMPTP also offered to send a quarterly report on streaming viewership data to the guild with the goal of enabling the WGA to “develop proposals to restructure the current SVOD residual regime in the future.” It marked the first time that the studios offered to share streaming data in any way after keeping them strictly confidential for many years.
But the WGA, in a memo to members, said that the AMPTP proposal was “neither nothing, nor nearly enough.” The guild pointed out that the proposed streaming data reports are intended to only be seen by a small handful of WGA officers and not with the creators of shows. The lack of transparency between Hollywood’s creatives and studios regarding the streaming performance of their work has been a point of frustration across the unions.
On the issue of two-step pay for screenwriters, noting they sometimes go months without pay with multiple rewrites, the AMPTP did offer guaranteed two-step pay but only for the first draft writers of original screenplays, who make up a small fraction of WGA’s screenwriting membership.
On the TV side, WGA is still pushing for minimum rates for writers on all Appendix A shows (comedy-variety, daytime serials, documentary/news, and other non-dramatic shows) on streaming, as the AMPTP is only offering minimum rates for comedy-variety streaming shows but not for other shows like game shows and daytime shows.
Perhaps the most contentious issue is that of mandatory staffing, as the WGA is pushing for a system that will ensure that a certain number of staff writers will be guaranteed employment through a TV show’s production process, allowing them to gain the experience needed to become producers and showrunners.
This employment was once a common part of the TV production process with the writers room, but the WGA warns that streaming has eroded this practice through “minirooms,” in which writers are employed to write scripts for a show before production begins — or the show is even greenlit — but are not kept on once cameras roll.
“The companies have introduced the notion of an MBA guarantee of minimum staff size and duration. But the loopholes, limitations, and omissions in their modest proposal, too numerous to single out, make them effectively toothless,” the WGA said in a membership memo last month.
The big question surrounding this round of talks is how much further each side will be willing to move on these issues as pressure is building to reach a deal. Some showrunners have expressed deep concerns to the WGA leadership about the financial security of the writers and crew members on their shows and have urged progress on a deal.
Meanwhile, a handful of shows like ABC’s “The View” and “Dancing With the Stars” have resumed production, prompting plans by the WGA to picket their shooting sites. Other talk shows like HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” and CBS’ “The Talk” announced last week that they would resume taping, but backed off following news that contract talks were resuming.
For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, read here.