The Writers Guild strike isn’t going to end any time soon and here’s why.
It goes to the core of why Hollywood producers have always hated Hollywood writers. The stone cold fact is, film and video are not writers’ media. Screenplays and teleplays are just floorplans. Other artists will have to fill in significant details for the finished product to make sense. But every one of those other artists? They still rely on the writer to tell them what to do.
It all begins with words on a page – either real or virtual. Literally nothing happens without them.
And we writers know it. If we’re honest, we are what Jack Warner famously called us: schmucks with underwoods. But, as much as Jack Warner hated us? He was famous for standing around the writers’ building on the Warners lot listening out for the sound of all those underwoods pounding away.
As much as he hated us, he needed us way, way more.
The studios have always lined up the contract negotiations this way: The writers go first, the Director’s Guild goes second and the Screen Actor’s Guild goes last. It’s entirely by design.
The studios anticipated the WGA balking – and acting like “schmucks”. They expected us to strike just as contract talks with directors began.
And the studios expect the DGA – after a show of internal struggle – to make exactly the deal the studios think they will. They expect SAG – after a bit of its own hemming and hawing – will make a very similar deal.
And then – the studios believe – the DGA and SAG will turn to the writers – as they always have – and demand that we quit acting like schmucks!
Could that happen? Maybe.
The majority of the DGA’s members aren’t directors, they’re FIRST assistant directors, 2nd AD’s and production managers. They get residuals but not creative residuals. They have no real ownership stake because they don’t create anything.
Not like the writers do.
This puts writers in a unique position negotiating something the other guilds can’t negotiate: real ownership of the original idea that started everything.
Ownership is the bottom line.
In the “old days”, writers relied on their shows running multiple times because we got paid each time a new audience sat down to watch our work. Just like the network or the syndicator got paid.
You know – “owners”.
Pay cable channels like HBO changed that dynamic. In a sense, HBO – now MAX (talk about bullshit!) – broke the TV business model. Whereas repeat airings of a show on regular TV triggers residual payments to the writers (and directors and actors), repeat viewings on HBO or Showtime don’t. Not in anything like the same way.
In essence, pay cable can run our content as much as they want without paying us a penny. Success gets the writer nothing.
Streaming accelerated this breakdown. And the unfair treatment of writers.
Netflix refuses to share its data. They won’t say what exactly its subscribers watch. Or whose content is drawing all those paying eyeballs to its platform.
Whatever that content is, it almost certainly took a room of writers to create it.
Yes – the writing process to create a streaming series is different from the process to create a traditional series. But, both demand an environment where writers can make an actual living creating content.
Up until now, we’ve always caved. We’ve given in to our sister guilds. And to the studios and their insistence that (whether it’s home video or DVD’s or streaming or any future technology), “it’s not profitable yet and we don’t know if it’ll ever be profitable”.
It was bullshit about home video, it was bullshit about DVDs, and man-oh-MAN is it bullshit about streaming.
We writers have watched too many other people spend money that was ours. We’re done with it.
And then throw Artificial Intelligence into the mix.
AI truly is a conundrum. Used to tell stories – it can do anything. Used to bullshit people? It can do anything.
That includes coming for all our jobs.
This time – because of AI – all the guilds have equal skin in the game. That’s why the DGA and SAG will stand WITH the writers.
How long will the strike last? However long it takes for common sense and just plain decency to penetrate the studios’ rampant greed.
If we’re lucky, the Writers Guild strike could end in October.
But, if the studios get it into their heads that they can break us all? This could go on and on.