Saturday July 13, 2024

Hopes rise for end to Hollywood writers’ strike as talks extend

September 24, 2023

LOS ANGELES: Hollywood writers and studios will meet for a fourth consecutive day of high-level talks Saturday, as the industry hopes to end the costly 145-day Writers Guild of America strike.

The two sides “met for bargaining on Friday and will meet again on Saturday,” the WGA said in a message to its members Friday evening. “We continue to work toward a deal that writers deserve,” it added.

Thousands of film and television scribes downed their pens back in early May over demands including better pay for writers, greater rewards for creating hit shows, and protection from artificial intelligence.

They have manned picket lines for months outside offices including Netflix and Disney and -- having been joined by striking actors in mid-July -- have brought the entertainment industry to a costly standstill.

After a lengthy negotiating session Thursday, the WGA wrote to members that talks would continue again the next day, and urged “as many of you as possible to come out to the picket lines” Friday, where the usual protest hours were extended into the early afternoon. The heads of Netflix, Disney, Universal and Warner Bros Discovery have personally attended this week’s talks, according to Deadline.

Analysts say that unusual step could indicate that a deal is close -- or simply a renewed sense of urgency to end a walkout that is preventing work from resuming on a wide array of film and TV projects, leaving studios and networks with looming gaps in their release schedules. Among their demands, writers say their salaries have not kept up with inflation, and that the rise of streaming has diminished the “residuals” they earn when a show they work on becomes a smash hit.

Studios have offered greater transparency in streaming audience numbers, while stopping short of offering to revise the way residual payments are calculated. Writers have also demanded curbs on the use of AI, which they fear could be used to partially replace them in generating future films or show scripts, and therefore further undercut their pay.

This remains a key sticking point between the two sides, according to reports in Hollywood trade publications this week. The Financial Times reported Milken Institute research at the start of September that put the cost of the current Hollywood standstill at $5 billion. At 145 days and counting, the WGA strike is already significantly longer than the writers’ 2007-08 walkout -- which lasted 100 days and cost the California economy $2.1 billion.

It is approaching the union’s longest-ever industrial action, which lasted for 154 days in 1988. Even if the writers agree to a new deal, the actors’ strike would continue.

There have been no known contract talks between the studios and the actors’ 160,000-strong SAG-AFTRA guild since that strike began.