Acting Writing

WGA/SAG-AFTRA 2023: Mid-September Update

Evidently, meetings will resume between the WGA and AMPTP staring tomorrow, Wednesday, September 20th, so just a few things to update from the Strikes.

Hot Strike Summer” continues to radiate heat throughout the film industry and beyond. The studios suspended some development deals with more established writers, some of whom were about to meet with the studios before the main WGA/AMPTP meeting was announced.

Related to labor organizing Marvel VFX artists have been feeling the grind for some time, decided to file to form a union this summer, and have since voted to unionize. SAG-AFTRA, meanwhile, is really growing into its role as the heavy as its membership has voted to authorize a strike over their video game agreements should those negotiations not go well. “Hot Strike Summer” may be giving way to “Strike-tober.”

One sign of the heat wave just not dying down was Drew Barrymore deciding to resume production of her talk show, only to reverse her decision after much outcry. E.T was unavailable for comment.

The effect of the strikes is also being felt on the corporate bottom lines with Warner Discovery alone announcing quarterly losses of at least $300 million. You may have seen social media memes that place that figure at $500 million and just for one quarter — all the better to point out that paying the writers what they’re asking is far, far less. As much as I enjoy a good meme pointing out greed for greed’s sake (as opposed to say, “ars gratia artis“), what I’ve read on the financial reality appears to have a bit more nuance. However, such losses to indicate to me that the people striking are integral to making the studio’s product… and paying them enough so they continue making said products is probably part of a good game plan.

With the public perception of the narratives being more favorable to the strikers versus the studios, there’s still questions about what the studios do about their game plans. Will reduced CEO pay result? Unlikely, but whether it’s Taylor Swift showing that working with the unions won’t prevent you from becoming gobsmackingly rich or Netflix being able to pay success-based royalties showing it’s not technically impossible, much of the argument that strikers have unreasonable demands is falling flat in front of the public’s eye.

Mary McNamara, writing in the LA Times, sums up a lot of my thoughts well in noting that the studios have lost and now just need to figure out their terms of surrender.

In the meantime, the studios appear to want to prep the public for increased costs as one industry CFO has noted the streaming assets are undervalued. Disney+ and Hulu look to be increasing prices. On the other hand, Max increased it back in January (when it was still HBO Max) and Netflix increased it last year, with indications that they’ll hold the line this year, both before the current strikes. Still, my subscription spider-sense is tingling. Indeed, Angela Watercutter muses in Wired about whether everything old is new again as the streamers lean into ad-supported models.

Even with a breakthrough in negotiations — and I’d love to have a wrap-up post on these strikes come early October — I wonder how much is gone for good when I read pieces like the one in the Washington Post about Tom Fontana’s writing and producing career based on the old business model. The best outcome of the negotiations will almost certainly leave some structural issues with the streamers in place if the WGA’s assessment is accurate. And then there’s the overall industry culture which, truth be told, hasn’t been rosy as even the more lucrative business model had (has) cultural problems as Adam Conover and Maureen Ryan discuss below:

(Clocks in at around 70 minutes, but very informative if a bummer)

So here’s hoping I have some good news when we get to the official Fall.

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