Hollywood is about to ground to a halt. Writers have been striking for twenty-two days now after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were unable to come to terms on a new contract. SAG-Aftra has asked members to authorize them to call a strike if they can't come to terms with the AMPTP by June 30, 2023. And the Directors Guild is in talks but there are no signs of a new pact being signed before their current deal expires.
What's the deal?
Studio executives were aware that all three unions had deals coming up, so why the delay in making sure contracts were signed to keep everyone working? The answer is simple, they would rather not deal with human creators anymore. They believe that bringing in artificial intelligence would be more cost-effective and profitable than working with the people who have brought in billions of dollars for each studio.
As the AI craze has exploded across the world, new opportunities for money to be made hard emerged. Republicans created an ad made by the technology in response to President Biden announcing his re-election bid, according to a report by Axios. Since then, more and more art has been created by non-humans.
This was one of the sticking points in talks with the WGA, studios were adamant that they be allowed to use AI to create products. It would be much cheaper for them but who would get the credit? And what happens to the writers that normally would have written that script?
Studios plead poverty when it comes to paying writers, actors, and directors more money. They claim they are losing money through the nose and have yet to be able to turn a profit with direct-to-customers streaming services and that there is no way for them to offer higher wages because the company is bleeding money.
Yet to the shareholders, they proclaim that profits have never been higher.
And CEOs' pay isn't shrinking. Deadline reports that in 2022, the top execs saw their highest pay despite their pleas of poverty. Some shareholders of the companies have even agreed that this is not a good look, going as far as to vote to not approve of Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav's pay for the year.
The disrespect doesn't just pertain to money. Writers' rooms have shrunk over the years as the industry has changed, with some hired and fired within weeks. Not due to their performance but because companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon don't want to pay for more than a few weeks worth of work but expect months of output in that time.
Many of the studios tried to force writers to work during the strike, claiming that non-writing duties were being ignored. They moved to cancel all the overall deals for writers in an attempt to force them back to work. It backfired. One showrunner told Deadline: "Now we are more united, more convinced than ever that there is no non-writing aspect of what we do.”
There is a reason why executives were intent on forcing the writers back to work without negotiating a deal and it's one that's already been covered: money.
The Cost Of The Strike
A writer on the set of a production can save a lot of money. One estimate says that having a writer can save a TV show about $250,000 in reshoots because they know where the story is going or can help guide the director if something needs to be changed. With the strike happening, there are expected to be a lot of reshoots needed, which is believed to be the reason why overall deals were threatened.
With almost everyone agreeing that writers are the backbone of the industry, the directors filling the role of the organs, and actors the face, why are studios still acting as if there is nothing to worry about? Because they would rather allow AI to put out plagiarized content than admit that they need to be looking at their pay to make up for alleged lost profits.
According to Deadline, Warner Discovery continued the mission to diminish and push the boundaries of disrespect to the people who have helped the company throughout its 100 years. As HBO Max morphed into Max on May 23, 2023, the credits for various movies and TV shows morphed from individual categories into one that simply said "creators."
Warner did release a statement apologizing for the incident, claiming that it was an oversight on their part: “We agree that the talent behind the content on Max deserve their work to be properly recognized. We will correct the credits, which were altered due to an oversight in the technical transition from HBO Max to Max and we apologize for this mistake.”
But the only reason that statement was released is because the DGA and WGA called them out for it. A company the size and caliber of Warner would not allow a "simple mistake" like that to get through. They were testing the waters to see what they could get away with, they wanted to see if the disrespect would stand.
It didn't. And it won't. There is a strong likelihood that all of Hollywood will be on strike until executives begin to respect the artists that brought them to the party in the first place.