Public Media Arts Hub

What's next for Hollywood after writers and studios reach tentative deal to end strike


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Major Hollywood studios have reached a tentative deal with writers after nearly five months of striking.

Geoff Bennett: In coming days, members of the Writers Guild of America will vote to approve the new contract, which includes pay increases to keep up with streaming and protections around the use of artificial intelligence.

But when production on shows restarts is an open question, since actors remain on strike.

Janice Min is editor in chief of The Ankler. That's a digital media company that covers the industry.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Janice Min, Editor in Chief, The Ankler: Thanks for having me.

Geoff Bennett: And we should say that neither the Writers Guild nor the studios have released the detailed terms of this three-year contract.

On the face of it, it appears the writers have won some concessions. What are they, based on your reporting?

Janice Min: One of the big ones was about minimum staffing in rooms.

And one of the things writers were trying to get the studios to agree on was a certain number of people that could be in a room, so you couldn't have these situations where sole show runners were being asked to create and write shows. They wanted to guarantee work for people in their union.

Another big concession seems to be in artificial intelligence. And anyone who's been paying attention to the strikes probably has heard A.I. thrown around a lot. Writers obviously consider this a big threat, and actors who are still out on strike probably consider it even a larger threat, because their likenesses can be replicated and used in filmed entertainment.

And then pay increases. Seems like they want a pretty big pay increase in terms of streaming residuals, in terms of pay in the room. I think one of the really positive signs for the Writers Guild members is that even though those details haven't been released, their language in the press release or the e-mail sent to members yesterday was incredibly triumphant.

And, in 2008, when they last had a strike and settled with the AMPTP, the studios, they were much more sober about it, saying, we put in the fight, we got what we could.

Yesterday felt much more like a victory lap.

Geoff Bennett: Well, let's talk more about the residuals, which you mentioned, because writers say that the streaming revenue model has really broken the residuals and that writers and even actors are now paid a flat fee, regardless of how well their show does on streaming platforms.

We spoke with a writer named Charles Dewey. He's a staff writer for the TV show "Criminal Minds," and he identified that as his top concern.

Charles Dewey, Members, Writers Guild of America: Historically, the big corporations have been profiting off of residuals, to no end with no real oversight.

Particularly, the show that I worked on was one of the most streamed shows in the world. And for any residual payment, it was a flat fee. It wasn't -- it wasn't watch-based. It wasn't, because we kind of blew up during the pandemic, we were not compensated. We just had our flat fees.

Geoff Bennett: So, Janice, as you well know, in this feast-or-famine entertainment industry, residuals or royalties, that's the thing that keeps these artists afloat.

What has the guild outlined as an acceptable approach?

Janice Min: They have asked for data. And this is one of the big issues that will impact Hollywood for the next 10 years.

When Netflix came into the ecosystem, they created this model that at first seemed great. We're going to pay you basically more than the studios, the legacy studios, are going to pay you, and it's going to be an all-you-can-eat price.

And then what I think none of the writers and actors were planning on or were expecting was just how big streaming would come -- would become in this industry, how many millions and millions of people would be watching their shows, and how little information they would have about that to give them any leverage in knowing if they were getting paid enough, not enough, too much.

And so that is where the this gray area formed, which is the basis of so much of what was being negotiated.

Geoff Bennett: Our team also spoke with a writer named Jorge Reyes. He writes for shows on streaming platforms. And he expressed some concern about the impact of artificial intelligence.

Jorge Reyes, Members, Writers Guild of America: They would just hire us to tweak things. And that would reduce us to a gig economy. It would reduce what a writer earns. It would reduce our pension. It would reduce our health care.

So it would decimate us, and in a way that we weren't willing to accept.

Geoff Bennett: So you can understand the ways in which the studios would want to expand into the realm of A.I. What might a compromise look like on this issue?

Janice Min: I'm going to imagine there probably -- it sounds like that there are very specific guidelines around credits and the usage -- and the actual usage of A.I. to originate ideas.

I think that it's also in the way that actors are looking to protect their likeness. A.I., as you know, requires -- it feeds off original existing material. I am going to have to guess some of this, there are provisions around using existing writers' material to generate future material, so, if you were a writer on, let's say, "The Office" for eight years, that your voice cannot be used to create the new "Office" spinoff that's coming out, that will come out in 10 years from now.

So, it's about protecting your original voice and not being replaced in the writers room. And I think anyone who's played around with ChatGPT knows you can plug in, can you write me some Aaron Sorkin dialogue about Trump's potential second term in office, and it spits it out, and it's fairly convincing.

And that is probably one of the most terrifying things for writers today.

Geoff Bennett: In the less than two minutes that remain, what might an agreement for the writers mean for the separate actors strike? Because those two sides have not spoken in more than two months. And so far as I know, there's no talks that are scheduled.

Janice Min: There are no talks scheduled.

And one of the things that we should look out for is that the Screen Actors Guild leadership has been much more strident. And they are asking for different things. In some ways, they are asking for more.

So, Fran Drescher, the president of SAG, formerly the star of "The Nanny," she has come out with, even in these very heated times, especially loaded language against the studios, calling them land barons, being particularly insulting personally to Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney.

She has definitely made it much more, I would say, a true class war in Hollywood, taking it far beyond even some of the rhetoric of the writers. So, bringing them -- getting these two to the table, and what we hear is that the CEOs are actually fairly stunned by the words coming out of SAG.

I think it's going to take a lot of -- both of them will have to cool down a little to make that happen. But SAG is asking for something that the WGA is not, which is revenue sharing. And what they're asking for is 2 percent of revenue generated by the shows where their actors star.

And, as anyone who knows, with these big data companies, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, they don't share. They don't share data. And that makes it almost impossible to figure out how they could come to some sort of conclusion there.

Geoff Bennett: Janice Min is editor in chief of The Ankler.

A real pleasure to speak with you, Janice. Thanks for your insights.

Janice Min: Thank you.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.