The boogey man's come a callin'. If you can call justice and equity the boogey man. The tip of the spear is the Writer's Guild of America and they're foreshadowing things to come.
It's May 15, 2023 and the WGA is on strike. It's not the first time this has happened and it probably won't be the last. But, it is the most important in history. Here's why.
Artificial Intelligence is the newest Pandora's Box we just couldn't keep shut. Doing exactly what it's designed to do, images and imagination are up for grabs. Capturing someone's likeness from film, or voice from recording and "sampling" it for another work without permission is cold, calculated thievery. Pure and simple. Even more disturbingly, AI samples billions of human created written works to "write" lists, speeches and screenplays. Yes, they're crap. But they won't be forever because Pandora's curators are premeditated (dare I say evil?). It's not the first time we've seen this kind of thing, and it never ends well.
In the big picture writer's are negotiating for about $350 million in wage, benefit and security improvements. Seems like a lot, right? It is, to you and me. But, let's put it in perspective. Warner Brothers/Discovery CEO David Zaslav earned $246.6 million last year. All by himself. $246.6 million! And he's not even the highest paid. I think Bernie Sanders said it best when he said, "Last year, 8 Hollywood CEOs made nearly $800 million, yet pay for TV writers has fallen by 23 percent over the last 10 years." (Hollywood Reporter) All of a sudden the WGA demands don't seem so demandy.
For balance, I'm the first to celebrate someone's success. And, $246.6 million in one year is a whole mess of financial success. By the same token, it's not fair. I know what you're thinking. Who said life is fair? Well, I say, who said is shouldn't be?
My daughter came over last night and we discussed the vagaries of capitalism and the inherent inequity it promulgates. Right now writers are at the barrel end of inequity while the studios and networks have their fingers on the trigger. Zaslav's millions make for a pretty cushy cushion against the ups and downs of showbiz. I'll bet he doesn't really worry about food on the table or a roof over his head. But, a stoppage like this threatens roofs and food for the staff writer to show runner. It's very real. It's very immediate.
I'm not a member of the WGA. I haven't yet had the success required to join. I'm what is known as a "Pre-member." Catchy, right? I am a member of SAGAFTRA and Actors Equity, though. Sister unions in spirit and allegiance. I walked the picket line. I walked for my brother and sister writers because I just might need them to walk for me. And, it's the right thing to do.
A staff writer on the Freeform show "The Watchful Eye," clued me in while we were picketing Disney. Yes, it was a sorrowful reason to be there, but we were buoyed by camaraderie and unity of purpose. Words out of the mouths of MPTPA lawyers, she said, put them squarely in "our" corner. But their overlords ordered them to proffer draconian terms. If true, that's bloody nefarious because rising water lifts all ships, even ships of studio.
The glut of content gave the MPTPA a backlog to air during the strike. Writer's trying to make a living produced enough for a "100 day" stoppage. It's a plan. I'm told by sources in the know the studios and networks know for how much they will settle, and it's in the $350 million neighborhood. But, while holding out they pay no production costs saving even more millions at the expense of IATSE, DGA, the Musician's Union and all the adjacent businesses; like catering. It's no wonder the "impasse." It's capitalism.
Actor contract negotiations begin June 7, 2023. And we can see another picket line in our future. I hope it doesn't happen. It's tough enough to get a job when the creaky machinery is turning, but a strike? Already things have slowed appreciably for every discipline in the industry. If SAGAFTRA go dark it'll be a tough row to hoe no matter what you do in "Hollywood." Unless you're a CEO like David Zaslav.
So, the writer's are on strike and it turns out the boogey man is the MPTPA. It's tiring, angering and unnecessary. Can't we all just get along here?
Eventually it will end. Until then, Protest AI. Support the WGA (#WGAStrong). Keep praying and working toward your dreams, because Hollywood isn't the only place dreams come true.