The meeting between the Writers Guild of America and the AMPTP on Friday has provided some small glimpses of what a fresh round of contract negotiations between the two sides might look like, but the timing for when a return to the table might occur depends on how the studios respond to writers holding the line on their demands for status quo change in Hollywood.
According to the WGA’s memo sent to members on Friday night, the only immediate movement signaled by AMPTP President Carol Lombardini was on an increase in TV minimums for certain writer positions and on artificial intelligence. Guild insiders who spoke with TheWrap said they anticipated the latter given that the AMPTP was offering more detailed proposals on AI to SAG-AFTRA during its failed talks in July than they were to the WGA this past spring.
However, the guild also wrote that Lombardini “did not indicate willingness to address screenwriter issues, Appendix A issues and many of the other proposals that remain on our list.” It’s still possible that the AMPTP may show movement on such issues in the coming days as it told the WGA that it “needed to consult with their member studios before moving forward.”
But even if the studios signal to Lombardini that they are willing to include those issues in a management-side counterproposal, the biggest sticking points still remain: codifying the writers’ room and viewership-based residuals.
The WGA said in its memo that the AMPTP signaled it would still not include a counter to the proposed requirements on hiring writers. Among these are requirements for a minimum number of writers depending on the number of episodes of a greenlit TV series, with at least half of the writing staff employed through the duration of production.
“While the WGA has argued that the proposal is necessary to ‘preserv[e] the writers’ room,’ it is in reality a hiring quota that is incompatible with the
creative nature of our industry. We don’t agree with applying a one-size-fits-all solution to shows that are unique and different in their approach to creative staffing,” the AMPTP said in a document outlining its position on May 4.
On the labor side, dozens of WGA members have told TheWrap over the past three months that ensuring that the writers’ room remains a major part of the entire production process, as it has been for decades, is an essential part of why they are striking.
Writers have spoken out against “mini-rooms,” which they say have proliferated in Hollywood with the rise of streaming and have made it difficult for writers to find steady work and gain experience. They have warned that the rise in writers only finding employment in mini-rooms is only the beginning, and they predict further erosions when it comes to writer employment.
“Right now, a studio might offer a show creator an incentive to not hire a staff at all… but five years from now, they’re not going to offer that incentive anymore,” predicted WGA negotiating committee member Adam Conover at the start of the strike.
“They’re going to tell you to write the show yourself with maybe a freelance writer or two, but they’re not going to allow for a writers’ room, they’re not going to even pay weekly,” he continued. “That’s why we’re pushing to have in our contract that shows have to be staffed the way every show has been staffed in the last 70 years.”
As for viewership-based residuals, that’s an issue that studio sources have told TheWrap is an even bigger impasse. While the Directors Guild of America reached a deal on streaming residuals that was based on total subscriber counts rather than viewership, both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have pushed for more compensation for shows that draw more viewers on streaming.
But the AMPTP has staunchly refused to base compensation on such data in its response to SAG-AFTRA’s proposal, and high-ranking studio executives tell TheWrap that such a stance extends to the WGA as the studios would rather offer a significant residual increase similar to if not identical to the one negotiated with the DGA.
“The Union is proposing that performers share in the rewards of a
successful show, without bearing any of the risk,” the AMPTP said in its public rebuttal to SAG-AFTRA’s proposed offer. “Under the Union’s proposal, performers would be entitled to receive not only the existing fixed residual — which is paid to the performer even if no one is watching the program — but also a new residual which ‘shares’ in revenue that is somehow attributed to the show. The Union proposes to ‘share’ in success, but not in failure. That is not sharing.”
In that rebuttal, the AMPTP also said that the labor-proposed viewership compensation structure “creates a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores the relationship between program suppliers and exhibitors.”
“It’s easy to say, ‘The companies are all related, so they can pay themselves.’ But that is not how it works,” the AMPTP wrote. “Many Producers regularly create content for streaming services that are not part of their own corporate family. And even those that are producing for a related streaming service are entitled to nothing more than a license fee.”
The WGA, backed by public sentiment and overwhelming support from SAG-AFTRA and other unions, has not backed down from a contract package it has said is necessary to prevent what was once one of Los Angeles’ signature middle-class professions from becoming a “a gig economy inside a union workforce.”
The guild has left open the possibility of compromise on all of its key issues, but will not accept a full rejection of any of them. But barring an unexpected about-face on the part of the studios, full rejections on what they see as unfeasible and inflexible proposals on hiring and compensation are still to come… which means the picket lines will continue as they have for nearly 100 days.