WGA Strike Roundtable: Writers Say TV Is ‘Broken, and We’re Reinventing It Poorly’ (Video)

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Guild negotiating committee member Kay Cannon talks with fellow writers about the struggles that led them to swap laptops for picket signs

The Writers Guild of America is settling in for a strike that could last weeks if not months. But Kay Cannon, creator of the “Pitch Perfect” film trilogy and member of the guild’s negotiating committee, feels that her union is ready for what lies ahead.

“This is different than the 2007 strike,” Cannon said during a roundtable video discussion with TheWrap. “It’s much more emotional. I feel like we’re so united on this fight. We had a big meeting last night at the Shrine [Auditorium] that I don’t know if you guys were there or not, but it was incredible. We had every every union…and it was one of the most emotional, amazing experiences that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Cannon was joined in the roundtable by “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star/creator Rachel Bloom, “X-Men: First Class” screenwriter Zack Stentz, and “Star Trek: Picard” supervising producer Marc Bernardin, the latter of whom lamented that “TV is broken…and we’re reinventing it poorly.”

The four talked about their frustrations with what they see as a decaying status quo in Hollywood, where the financial stability that writers were able to enjoy once their got their foot in the door in the industry is rapidly vanishing into a new normal where they are struggling to make ends meet even when they are doing just as much work.

“Most of my career has been doing two and three different shows a year just to make it through the year, just to make the money just to qualify for insurance,” Bernardin said. “The apprenticeship that television used to offer seems to have evaporated. It used to be that you’d write their episodes, you’d be shooting while you’re writing. You’d go to set and you’d produce your episodes, you’d also be in post while somebody else is writing the following episode, and you go to post on your episode.”

But now, with the rise of mini-rooms on streaming shows, Bernardin says that writers work on scripts before a project is even greenlit, and only a small number aside from the showrunner stay employed once production commences. Proposals by the WGA to guarantee that a minimum number of writers are staffed through production did not receive a counteroffer from studios.

“The experience one gets in that room is not what it used to be. You’re not getting the on-set experience. You’re not getting the producing experience,” he said. “You’re not learning how to talk to actors and directors and fellow writers and interface with department heads and prepping episodes and posting them. All of those things are now not fundamentally part of the job anymore unless you’re lucky enough to be on a network show.”

The writers also discussed the issue of artificial intelligence in writing. Stentz noted that the WGA already has written in their contract that scripts have to be written by a WGA member, so there’s no threat of a movie or TV show completely written by ChatGPT getting greenlit. But the concerns that writers have go deeper than that.

“My worry is that AI will get to a certain level where it can provide the crappy first draft for someone else to rewrite, or that when executives see it — in the words of a screenwriter I don’t think could be imitated by AI — they would drink the sand because they can’t tell the difference,” he said.

Cannon noted that the rapid rise of ChatGPT happened at the same time that the WGA was preparing for talks on a new contract, increasing the urgency within the negotiating committee.

“At the beginning of meeting with the committee, AI was not something I thought was super important. And by the end, for me personally, and I think a lot of people on the committee, it became the most important,” Cannon said. “And “I think it’s something essential, we have to do this. Otherwise…it’ll be just a showrunner, maybe a number two person writing, and a machine.”

Bloom acknowledged that the AMPTP and their studio members don’t want to include things in a labor contract that they can’t forecast the financial ramifications of, but says that it is the duty of both WGA members and leaders to stave off changes to Hollywood that could negatively impact their livelhoods before they can take root.

“I don’t think anyone working at these companies is evil. It’s just they’re working for a corporation. Your mandate in capitalism is to make as much money as possible and do it as efficiently as possible, and the reason unions exist is to regulate otherwise unregulated, unfettered capitalism,” Bloom said. “It’s codifying things that used to just be a kind of unspoken standard.”

Watch the full roundtable in the video above.