The writers’ strike officially ended at midnight, as the WGA West and East leadership voted to recommend the tentative agreement reached with AMPTP over the weekend. Next comes ratification by the guild membership, which will occur from October 2-9. The new mutual bargaining agreement is effective from September 25, 2023, through May 31, 2026. Writers can resume working while the ratification vote proceeds.
So, what’s actually in the deal? The WGA released an outline of the major bargaining points and agreements, which you can read here. The main thing is a 13% raise for writers amortized across the three years of the agreement, success-based residuals for streaming shows and films, and guaranteed staffing for writers’ rooms, both pre-and-post-greenlight, which effectively ends mini-rooms, the practice that was so devastating to the profession over the last decade. And, for those “singular vision” creators who grumbled about being “forced” to hire people they didn’t want to, don’t worry, there’s a carve out. In the case where a lone writer is engaged to write all episodes of a series, they do not have to hire according to the staffing minimums. Taylor Sheridan can continue writing Yellowstone “by himself” with increasingly mediocre results.
As for artificial intelligence, while I think this technology is still so in its infancy, we can’t really conceive of how we’ll use it—which means two years from now, there may be a nefarious work around allowing studios to screw writers out of their shiny new agreement—for what exists right now, these guardrails seem pretty good. Way better than the super vague language in the directors’ contract, at any rate.
For instance, anything generated by AI is not considered “literary”, which means, studios can’t get ChaptGPT to spit out some garbage and call it an “original” script. And studios would have to disclose if they used AI in any part of development/scripting, and they clearly define that AI is NOT a writer unto itself. Further, writers CAN use AI programs if they so choose—for instance, using a program like Grammarly—but they can’t be forced to use AI by studios. The WGA can also come back and challenge the AMPTP on behalf of members if they find out copyrighted material is being used to train AI programs (this is already a huge legal frontier in IP law).
At least as we understand the tech now, and what it is capable of actually doing, these are very sensible rules for utilizing AI in creative industry. It basically says there is an assistive use for these programs, and if a writer wants to use one, great, but if they don’t, you can’t make them. Further, you can’t use AI to try and cut writers out of the creative process or undermine their authority/rights as holders of intellectual property. Again, in three years, this tech could be radically more capable and then who knows what happens, but for now, these rules make sense for what is actually available (assistive typing processes, spelling/grammar checks, and auto-formatting documents).
But now comes the caution. We’ve already seen language in the trades trying to recast show business as “the content industry”, a clear effort to devalue the entire industry as something that can just be churned out on a whim (like they want computers to do). There will be more bullsh-t like this in the coming weeks, months, and years. The CEOs are not going to take the L and shrug it off. Hollywood bosses of the past might have, in the name of preserving talent relationships, but I genuinely don’t think the current leadership cares about talent relationships, at least not as much as they once did. The problem with thinking computers can do everything for us is inherently coming to devalue human effort, and it’s clear the end goal, at least for the current class of executives, is to cut the pesky people who demand things like living wages and retirement funds out of the industry altogether.
I don’t think they’ll succeed, because I just don’t think we, as humans, will ever want art created by machines. I do think machine learning and increasingly sophisticated algorithms will integrate into our lives in ways we cannot yet expect, but this increasing hostility between creators and distributors isn’t good for anyone. As the WGA strike ends and SAG-AFTRA are expected to start negotiating their own deal as soon as next week, I continue to wonder what’s next.
I bet filmmakers will be watching what happens with Taylor Swift’s self-distributed concert film very closely this fall. And I wonder if more people will listen to filmmaker Jim Cummings and ask one million and one questions about his process of DIY distribution (he’s already very open about it). I will not be the least bit surprised if the end result of the hot labor summer isn’t a reaffirming of the studio-creative relationship, but a breaking of it.
Here are Pedro Pascal and Jeri Ryan repping the SAG-AFTRA strike on the picket line yesterday.