Peter White, Dominic Patten and David Robb
Tue, 2 May 2023 at 5:57 am BST
A clearer picture of how far apart the writers and studios were from a deal has emerged after talks between the WGA and AMPTP broke down, leading to a strike starting on Tuesday.
The WGA said its proposals would have benefited its members by $429M per year and claimed that the AMPTP’s offer was approximately $86M per year, 48% of which is from an increase in minimums. The AMPTP countered that these numbers are hypothetical as it’s unclear how many shows would be ordered over the three years and how many subscribers the streamers would have. They also made it clear to the WGA that those were offers that it was willing to improve.
Many of the biggest issues were in TV such getting more writers on set and what the studios are referring to as “mandatory staffing” and the WGA is calling “preserving the writers’ room”.
On-set experience has been a key plank of the WGA’s drive to help its members. The guild proposed that writers on staff must get at least three weeks per episode, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, of what is called “post-greenlight rooms”. They wanted half of the minimum staff to be employed through production and one writer employed through post.
However, the AMPTP rejected this with studio sources saying that this was difficult because it could last for months, particularly at the streamers, where they often don’t greenlight a show until all of the scripts are written.
There did seem to be some give on comedy/variety shows for streaming coming under the MBA, although the two sides disagreed on certain parts of this issue. The WGA wanted to extend these terms for those essentially working in late-night on streaming to include weekly minimums, 13-week guarantees and residuals based on “aggregate”.
The studios, however, didn’t want to include the 13-week guarantees or aggregate and wanted to allow the possibility of writers being employed on a daily rate.
WGA West board member Adam Conover, creator and star of Netflix’s The G Word with Adam Conover, said, “This is why we’re striking. The studios are trying to turn writing into a gig job. Eliminating the writers room, forcing screenwriters to work for free, paying late night writers a ‘day rate’. If we don’t fight back, writing will cease to exist as a livable career.”
The WGA was also looking to secure a number of staff – six writers including four writer/producers – as part of “pre-greenlight rooms”, otherwise known as mini-rooms – and “post-greenlight rooms” where one writer per episode up to six episodes, then one additional writer required for each two episodes after six. For instance, an eight episode show would require seven writers including four writer/producers and a ten episode show would require eight writers including five writer/producers.
The studios again rejected this, pointing to shows such as HBO’s The White Lotus, which was written entirely by Mike White.
Once it became clear that the studios and writers were very far apart on these issues, all parties left, shortly before 8pm PT.
Elsewhere, on residuals, the guild was asking for 6%-5%-5% increases over the course of a new three-year contract for all minimums including residual bases. But according to the guild, the AMPTP only offered 4%-3%-2% (one-time increase to most residual bases of 2% or 2.5%)
The writers were looking to establish a viewership-based residual, in addition to the existing fixed residual, which it said would reward programs for greater viewership, although would require transparency on its numbers.
Lastly, on AI, the WGA wanted to regulate its use on MBA-covered projects but the studios wanted to introduce annual meetings “to discuss advancements in technology”.
WHAT DID THE WRITERS AND STUDIOS AGREE ON?
There were some tentative agreements over the last six weeks. These included script fees for staff writers on top of their weekly pay; an increase in span cap from $400,000 to $450,000 with span protection to be extended to writers on limited series, an increase earnings cap from $325,000 to $350,000 on options, a 150% pilot premium and 115% backup script for high-end streaming series; the WGA to have the option to divert 0.5% of negotiated minimums increases to its Pension or Health Fund and to allow one additional free “promotional” run for new made for broadcast series.
The streamers also appeared to give in to residuals based on foreign subscriber counts with Paramount+ and Max continuing to pay a lower license-fee-based residual.
It seems it wasn’t enough. “Less than 1988, more than 2008,” one worried studio insider predicted of how long this just declared strike could last.