It had been 16 years since Hollywood had seen something like this: the writers strike that now affects the Mecca of cinema promises to equal in its effects the strike called in 2007, a union protest capable of defeating the very James Bond (there is the script of Quantum of Solace to prove it) and whose total duration was three months and eight days.
As then, the antagonism between the PTAMP (employer of film and TV producers) and the union WGA (central with around 11,500 affiliates) begins to fill Los Angeles with pickets and threaten the weakest links in audiovisual production: the late nights live and the series. What are the demands that have led the writers to cross their arms this time?
If the 2007 strike was motivated by the irruption of DVDs, the current strike points to an equally revolutionary cause: the rise of video on demand. It is not surprising that, according to Variety, one of the first pickets to form (and one of the most numerous, with around 200 workers gathered) was in front of the headquarters of Netflix, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue.
According to the WGA, the new production conditions imposed by the streaming giants have combined with the effects of the pandemic (which, for a change, affected screenwriters more than any other profession) to create a seemingly insurmountable gap: that that separates luxury firms, such as Ryan Murphy, JJ Abrams either Shonda Rhymes, of the workers who sweat their shirts in the scriptwriters’ rooms.
Hence, the union affirms, right now there is a bloody paradox: although the union’s average salary is higher than ever, the compensation that a screenwriter can receive for his effort is, proportionally, the lowest in history. According to the Los Angeles Times, in fact, the number of screenwriters who charge the minimum fee has increased by 16% since the last decade, with writers of content for streaming entering 46% less than their free-to-air TV colleagues.
What do the writers ask for?
The list of demands published by the WGA demands, first of all, an increase in the minimum wage to offset the rise in calls short order shows, short series whose production times are also much shorter. Quite a problem for a guild whose members are paid per episode written, and whose current rates were calculated when 24-episode seasons were the industry standard.
The residuals, or “royalties”, also occupy considerable space among the union’s demands. The head office claims that these additional compensations (calculated, in the current agreement, from obsolete concepts such as replacements and sales in domestic format) are calculated in a unified way, equally benefiting writers no matter what format or genre they work for.
Likewise, the WGA document also requests that they regulate calls “mini rooms” either “mini rooms”, one of the most conflictive aspects of his negotiations with the employers. The union requires a minimum number of members for each team of scriptwriters, to avoid overloading the workers, in addition to contracts with more guarantees.
On the other hand, it is also worth noting that the requirements specify the need for “regulate the use of artificial intelligence and similar technologies”. As its representatives explain, the WGA is aware that the large platforms are obsessed with producing piece-rate content to gain subscribers, a mentality that makes the idea of having machines that generate dialogues and arguments as if they were sausages more tasty. .
It is interesting, in fact, that the AMPTP employers also prefer to take this last section with tweezers. His current proposal is based on annual meetings with the union to study technological advances and their possible applicability to screenwriting.
The WGA’s demands also cover measures against discrimination at work and improvements to the health insurance and pension plans of its members. But it is these aspects, related to changes in the industry, that most concern its associates, practically all of whom have seconded the strike.
Besides, This could be only the beginning: current Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild agreements expire in June, and those two guilds, too, are eager to shake off the conditions that work against them in the streaming era. The writers’ strike may go down in history as the prelude to an earthquake that will turn the industry upside down. Or at least he will try.
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