Writers Guild Strikes in West Village Against Streamers

By Roger Paradiso

MEMBERS OF THE WGAE CONTINUE TO PICKET outside of Harbor Editing Studio in the West Village where film and television projects are currently being edited despite the writers strike. Normally, writers would assist in the editing process. Photo by Bob Cooley.

As the Writer’s Guild strike moves toward July, we caught up with a picket line right here in the West Village at Morton and Greenwich.

We are outside of an editing facility called Harbor Morton and we are out here picketing because this facility is editing struck work that the WGA is currently on strike over.There is a television series and a streaming series editing in this building in which WGA members would be involved in producing and there is also a feature film being edited here. We are on the street making our presence known and hopefully convincing some of these editors working here to not cross the picket line.
—Geoff Betts, WGA Director of Contracts

In the past the Village has been home to writers like Edward Albee, John Dos Pasos, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, Edna St. V. Millay, Hart Crane, Thomas Paine, E.E. Cummings, and Lorraine Hansberry. I’m sure that most all these writers past and present would support the WGA strike.

Sara Schaefer, a comedy writer, tweeted:
According to the WGA negotiating committee, the studios are pushing for a “day rate” for comedy/variety writers. Truly horrifying. We won’t survive something like that. #WGAStrong #WGAStrike #WGAStressed
12:02 AM · May 2, 2023

The Issues

Union members have thresholds about how much they need to earn to qualify for healthcare and pensions. Less days worked also limits their residuals. Comedy or variety show writers normally get paid weeks, months or years for their services. They don’t want to be “day” players who could be relieved by an employer who is simply avoiding residuals, healthcare and pensions. It is a disaster recipe for writers.

The issues of streaming residuals and Artificial Intelligence are very complicated and unique to the streaming companies. Streamers would like to pay based on a complicated series of data.
As Bob Cooley of the Village View says, “The problem with analytics is that we’ve been conditioned to “trust the numbers” because the numbers themselves are immutable. But the story you tell with those numbers can be bent to draw different conclusions. When I worked in financial ser-
vices, we could use the same metrics to tell one story to a set of stakeholders, while using the same set of numbers to craft an entirely different story to a different group, based on the objective we wanted to achieve.  It all boils down to “is the glass half full, or half empty?”

A Bit of History

Jonathan Handel, who wrote a book about the WGA strike in 2007, explained the situation in an interview with Jason Frank of Vulture. “When home video was introduced, the studios (AMPTP) successfully argued for a residuals formula that was very disadvantageous to writers, actors and directors. They argued that it was a “just emerging” technology, the economics were unclear and the cost of making videotapes was high. But when manufacturing costs declined and then dropped precipitously with the introduction of disc technology, the formulas were never adjusted.”

Handel noted that the writers feel that when it comes to new technology, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. “That was part of the ethos in 2007 when the studios proposed a three-year study of new media rather than any actual contractual provisions. And now the AMPTP is proposing the same sort of study to A.I. Well, it’s true…we don’t know when and in what iteration ChatGPT will actually be able to do useful screenwriting work. But the WGA was burned very severely by the studio approach before…and they don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

Other Guilds

The SAG-AFTRA contract expires June 30, 2023. The actors may join the writers if they don’t reach a deal with AMPTP. There are over 150,000 actors in their union.
Many of the actors’ concerns echo the WGA fight for higher wages and increased residuals, specifically for content on streaming services. They also want protection against using actors’ likenesses without permission as part of the enhanced A.I. abilities. According to the writers, the studios offered little more than “annual meetings to discuss” A.I. and they refused to bargain over limits on the technology.

The Directors Guild, in contrast, said that it had reached a “groundbreaking agreement confirming that A.I. is not a person and that generative A.I. cannot replace the duties performed by members.” Details about what that meant were not revealed, Nicole Sperling reported in the LA Times. The DGA, which is my guild, is often the leader in negotiations with AMPTA or the studios. Let’s hope they have broken barriers for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.

Support has also come from IATSE, the Teamsters Union and writers from around the world including The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, The Australian Writers’ Guild, Writers Guild of Canada, Screenwriters Guild of Israel, The Writers Guild of Ireland, the Writers Guild of Sweden, Writers Guild Italia and la Guilde française des scénaristes.

The Studios

“The Studios include Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), CBS (VIAC), Disney (DIS), NBC Universal, Netflix (NFLX), Paramount Global, Sony (SNE), and CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. The studios have shown no inclination to engage the writers. The studios and streamers are already in a huge cost cutting mode. The strike is working for the studios and streamers.
—Christopher Isidore CNN

Everything changed with streaming and everybody needs to be compensated for their work. That’s f—ing easy.
—Amanda Seyfried in Variety

Status at Village View Press Time

According to Handel, “There are no talks scheduled. The AMPTP broke off talks, stating that the Guild was being unreasonable and unyielding. The Guild says the companies are being unreasonable. That’s not a formula for talks resuming. There will be back-channel attempts to resume talks if they aren’t already going on. At some point, a federal mediator will be deployed. That has never proved to be effective in the Hollywood strikes, at least in recent years. Right now, the writers are in fight mode, not talk mode.”