The actors’ picket line in front of the Paramount studio. MARIO ANZUONI (Portal)
From the first minute of this Wednesday, the writers’ strike will become part of Hollywood history. The leaders of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) ratified the agreement reached with the studios on Sunday. This afternoon, the organization’s leadership approved the final text of the contract, ending 148 days in which screenwriters shut down their computers and put the entertainment industry on hold. The authors netted the companies a profit of about $233 million, a figure well above the $83 million that executives had put on the table in the first round of negotiations. However, it will still take a few weeks for Hollywood to return to normality. The actors are still on strike.
The WGA’s 11,500 members will vote on the collective bargaining agreement on the table between October 2nd and 9th. The negotiating committee did not shy away from words of joy on Sunday when it described the agreement as “extraordinary”. In these hours, the leaders of the organization have begun to explain the benefits that the new 94-page text, valid for three years, will bring them. These include an improvement in conditions with an increase rate of 5% in the first year, 4% in the second and 3.5% in the last year, viewership bonuses on streaming services and a brake on artificial intelligence. The green light given this afternoon also allows the return to work to begin. It is estimated that the talk show writers who were the first to quit their jobs when the strike broke out will be the first to return. The broadcasts will be broadcast on television again in the first days of October.
As demanded by the scriptwriters, the new collective agreement is intended to act as a dam against the emergence of artificial intelligence in the industry. The technological tool cannot be used to write a script or rewrite any of the versions, nor can it replace the performance of a human. Companies cannot force a screenwriter to use some of the artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT to help write a story. The WGA, on behalf of its members, will have the final say on whether or not creative materials may be used to train or develop artificial intelligence software.
The studios also agreed to a new distribution of residuals, the payment equivalent to members of a production when a show airs in a new market or platform. The more views, the higher the payments. This was one of the points that stalled negotiations for weeks because the companies refused to reveal their viewership numbers. However, in the new text, the studios undertake to report to the union the total number of hours of productions reproduced locally and internationally under a confidentiality agreement.
The new contract promises to compensate the screenwriters for a high-budget title that is considered a success from January 1, 2021. This is defined by any title viewed by at least 20% of local subscribers to a service such as Prime, Netflix or Max in the 90 days following its release. Titles that achieve this generate bonuses for their authors. These are calculated using a formula that takes into account the production budget, the length of a series or film footage and the number of views. This means, for example, that the writers of a widely watched television series make around $9,000 for each half-hour episode. For one hour, the profit is $16,400 and so on until $40,500 is reached for a feature film that cost more than $30 million to produce.
The new contract also requires studios to have a minimum number of writers to develop treatments for a television season. A show with at least six episodes requires at least three writers to receive a green light from a studio. For series with 13 shows per season, six writers are the minimum. Three of them could hold the position of writer and producer.
The writers’ performances have given the actors optimism. There are currently no ongoing negotiations between SAG-AFTRA, the artists’ union, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Paramount, Sony, Universal, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and the major television networks and streaming companies such as including Netflix and Apple TV.
The picketers continue to be called by the actors outside the doors of the studios. The WGA has not called for demonstrations against the companies since Sunday, but leadership is allowing writers to show solidarity with their colleagues as the labor dispute unfolds. This Tuesday, writer Matthew Weiner, creator of “Mad Men,” accompanied his friend, actor Noah Wyle, at one of the protests. “I think we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t have the support of the actors. They were very brave to come out,” the screenwriter told the AP agency.
This Monday, SAG-AFTRA put more pressure on the industry. Players involved in video games, a sector that made almost $35,000 million in profits this year, agreed by vote on Monday to go on strike if conditions are not improved in contract negotiations. The threat promises to prolong the long summer of labor disputes the United States has experienced. The companies that must respond to the challenge are giants Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Take 2, as well as divisions Disney and Warner Bros. “It’s time for companies to stop gaming and get serious about a solution “Look for an agreement,” said the president of the union, the actress Fran Drescher. Studios need to be at the negotiating table so that Hollywood can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
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