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Studios and writers return to contract negotiations for first time in 3 months


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Amna Nawaz: Major studios and producers are sitting down today for the first time in three months with the Writers Guild of America. It's the first sign of any progress and possibly the first steps on the road to a deal.

Jeffrey Brown has the latest on the standoff and the talks for arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: The strike by TV and film writers began before the summer. Then, last month SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors, joined with their own strike after their contract negotiations broke down over similar issues.

The dual strikes have upended the industry, halting promotion of new movies and shows and shutting down most production. Jane Fonda is among those who have been out on the picket line.

Jane Fonda, Actress: These unions coming together in solidarity is historically important. Union solidarity forever.

(Cheering and Applause)

Jeffrey Brown: The new talks will have to solve some major divides over streaming, revenues and compensation and the role of A.I.

We get an update now from Matthew Belloni, entertainment journalist and founding partner of Puck News. He's also the host of the podcast "The Town."

Thanks for joining us, Matt.

It's worth noting that, even before they sit down today, there was new mudslinging. But what brought the writers and producers back to the table?

Matthew Belloni, Puck News: I think, honestly, the pain has that has been inflicted on both sides over the past three months is really driving this.

We're getting to mission critical right now, where some of these movies that are slated to come out next summer in the summer moviegoing season are in peril. The fall television season is basically on life support at this point. And these writers are also getting pretty desperate.

They are feeling the pinch of no work for three months. So I really do think that it's the overall collective pain of this three-month strike by the writers that is coming home to roost. And they're saying, let's at least see if there is a common ground to work on a settlement.

Jeffrey Brown: But it's interesting that it goes starting with the writers first, nothing with the actors. Where does that stand? And should this be seen perhaps as a new strategy by the producers to go to the writers first?

Matthew Belloni: The studio side has gone one by one with these guilds. That has been the strategy from the beginning. They went first to the writers. They couldn't make a deal. So they went on strike.

Then they went to the directors. The directors did make a deal and did not strike. Then they went to the actors, and the actors then decided to strike. So I think the length of term here, three months for the writers, is a factor in them going to them first.

Also, the rhetoric on the actors side, especially from the president of SAG-AFTRA, Fran Drescher, has been really ratcheted up. And I think the studio side thought that they might have a better chance going to the writers first.

Jeffrey Brown: There's been a lot of focus on the actors and writers issues. What about the studios, the producers side? These are different kinds of media companies, traditional studios, as well as streamers.

Do they all come with the same issues, with the same top things that they're after? And how together are they?

Matthew Belloni: That is a fascinating issue, and something that really distinguishes this strike from other labor impasses in Hollywood history, is that the major players on the studio side are companies that are traditional, like Disney and Warner Bros., but there are also companies like Amazon and Apple and Netflix that are tech companies and have very different business interests.

They are in selling subscriptions. That is their primary business in Hollywood, whereas the others have all these other businesses, like linear television, where their late-night shows are shut down. They have theme parks where they're not going to have new product to promote the theme parks.

So, the studio side is not an entirely coalesced coalition. They are negotiating together, and they're trying to put on the best face. But, behind the scenes, there is a lot of debate amongst the members.

Jeffrey Brown: There is one interesting side activity here where there are some independent studios that are making films now because they're getting so-called waivers from the unions.

Explain that. It's caused some tension, hasn't it?

Matthew Belloni: A little bit, yes.

And just to clarify, these are not waivers. They're what's called an interim agreement. And for certain productions that are not financed or distributed by these struck companies, the major studios and streamers, you can sign an interim agreement, which essentially says, we agree to everything that the guild is asking for.

And that's a lot. That's double digit-rise in wages. That's an agreement to share 2 percent of all your revenue on the content. You can sign that agreement and go into production a show or a movie. Now, whether the talent involved in those movies is willing to do so is a separate issue.

We saw Viola Davis specifically back out of a movie that got an interim agreement, because she said she didn't feel it was appropriate to be working while her fellow actors or not. But there are others, almost 100 now, productions that have gotten these interim agreements and are able to shoot.

Jeffrey Brown: Even in recent days, we have seen some big-name actors come together to build — help build a very large fund to help other actors in need. Does that point to a level of solidarity that we expected?

Does it point to a potential for a long strike?

Matthew Belloni: The level of solidarity in this strike has been pretty extraordinary, both on the writers' side and the actors' side.

Basically, the writers were able to go to the picket lines around the country and say, no, you are not going to shoot this show. And most of the productions shut down. On the actor side, you're seeing an extraordinary level of solidarity, because the actors have not been on strike since 1980.

So, this is new ground, especially in the social media era, where they're able to mobilize, and you have got these big stars that are under pressure from the guild and from social media to provide funds for the actors that are out of work.

So it's not a surprise to me, that you're seeing this level of giving and solidarity.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, we will keep watching.

Matthew Belloni, thank you very much.

Matthew Belloni: Thank you.

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