WGA leaders describe ‘existential’ disaster dealing with writers

Less than every week earlier than negotiations with the foremost studios, leaders of the Writers of Guild America are already urgent their case over why writers deserve higher pay.

In an interview with The Times, the guild’s high negotiators argue that many WGA members are scuffling with a gentle erosion of earnings at the same time as content material has surged within the streaming period. Despite uncertainties they’re dealing with, studios can afford to pay writers extra as new distribution fashions emerge, they say.

To bolster their claims, the guild on Tuesday launched a report exhibiting that median pay for writers has fallen within the final decade, an indication of how all sides is staking out its positions upfront of what are anticipated to be contentious negotiations to interchange a three-year contract that expires May 1.

“The economic challenges facing writers are deepening and becoming existential,’’ said Chris Keyser, who is co-chair of the negotiating committee, in a wide ranging interview with The Times.

The “Party of Five” and “Julia” author was joined by negotiating co-chair David Goodman, a former guild president and “Family Guy” author; and the union’s chief negotiator, Ellen Stutzman, who stepped in to interchange veteran chief David Young, who not too long ago stepped right down to take a medical go away of absence.

A spokesperson for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to remark.

The interview has been condensed for readability.

How are you feeling in regards to the upcoming negotiations?

Goodman: The help from the membership could be very sturdy, as a result of we’re trying to handle points which are affecting our members. From the corporate facet, we are able to’t actually predict what what they’re going to do.

What is it about this cycle that has so many individuals fearing a strike is coming?

Keyser: The transfer to the streaming mannequin has devalued writers’ work in a method we’ve got not seen earlier than and leaves us with an agenda that’s central to the financial survival of writers. So we all know what’s going on right here issues deeply. How different folks reply to it’s different folks’s points; we’ll know in every week.

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We reside in a world the place 50% of writers work at MBA minimal [the minimum level of pay set in the contract between writers and studios] Twenty 4 % of showrunners work at minimal. They work on the lowest stage comprehended by the contract, they work both too few weeks with an unreasonable strain on them to supply, or too many weeks with out their salaries going up.

There isn’t any ladder of success within the enterprise, there isn’t any brass ring on the finish. While the businesses are making billions of {dollars}, spending increasingly on streaming, writers are making much less and fewer. That’s untenable. It’s unsustainable.

What are your high priorities going into negotiations?

Goodman: Compensation is down throughout the board in each sector of our membership — characteristic writers, comedy/selection writers, episodic tv writers, high to backside. So our precedence is to handle compensation for all these folks on this new mannequin that the businesses have determined is the mannequin they’re going to pursue. It’s not one or two points. It’s how writers earn a residing in each sector of the enterprise.

Studios are shedding employees and reducing again on spending. Does that make it harder so that you can obtain your targets of accelerating pay?

Keyser: There’s no query that they’re looking for a greater backside line. They are looking for earnings wherever they’ll discover it. They’d like to search out these earnings by lowering the sum of money they pay to writers, however sooner or later, that’s not OK. There’s by no means an excellent time, proper? Studios by no means say, “Oh, thank God, you came in this year, because this year we can afford it.” That by no means occurs.

They proceed to spend huge quantities of cash on the stuff we write first after which they make: $19 billion they’re planning to spend on streaming this 12 months. So they’re spending loads of cash. They’re spending it as a result of they know there are going to be a bunch of winners within the world streaming enterprise which are going to make firms fabulously wealthy.
There’s a disconnect there, and we have to finish that disconnect. Writers are simply as precious as they ever had been earlier than the streaming mannequin, they usually have to be paid that method.

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Stutzman: We have a look at the trade over a really lengthy interval and see simply how affluent and worthwhile it’s been. The content material that writers and others on this city create has great worth. The firms have monetized it to nice success globally and can proceed to take action. It’s not for writers to pay for the poor decision-making of firms who resolve to pursue costly mergers or tackle giant quantities of debt. Those are short-term issues that may change, and we’ve got to barter a contract that may reside on for many years.

If you improve pay, might it imply much less work for writers?

Stutzman: What we wish to get out of this negotiation is to make sure that there’s a future and a profession for writers and that there are a ample variety of jobs for the quantity of labor. That writers are stored round and employed a ample period of time to get the job finished as an alternative of crammed into as few weeks as doable, and that they’re paid appropriately. We’re about defending this profession and the flexibility of writers to work.

Goodman: I don’t suppose we might actually predict how the businesses will react, however we are able to definitely put guardrails in place in order that the variety of jobs doesn’t shrink and that these jobs are properly paid.

Keyser: I’ve been within the enterprise for over 30 years. I’ve made exhibits a long time in the past the place the corporate spent loads much less, the place a studio wanted 100 episodes to be able to assure it made any a refund, the place all of us had been paid adequately and far smaller budgets. Now, the budgets are a lot increased, they’re spending much more cash, the dangers are a lot decrease. We ask for more cash. Is it doable that they reply to us and say, “Fine, we’re not going to hire you?” I suppose they may; it might be an irrational enterprise determination. But they’ll try this now. No one tells them what number of writers to rent, we are able to’t.

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Can a deal be achieved with no walkout?

Goodman: That’s actually as much as the businesses to resolve. We current our agenda, we current what we want and we current the power of our union, which I don’t suppose has ever been stronger. I’ve been within the guild since 1988, and I don’t suppose there’s been a interval the place the membership felt as sturdy because it does and the businesses perceive that. The firms are going to attempt to get the most cost effective deal doable. They’re going to attempt to pay us as little as they’ll. And the query is, how a lot leverage do we’ve got as our union to get them not to try this, to pay us our residing wage? It comes out within the negotiation. And once more, I’ve been in 5 of those. And each time it’s a shock the place we find yourself.

What efforts are you making to align with the opposite unions which are negotiating contracts this 12 months?

Goodman: We’ve had conversations with the (Directors Guild of America) and (SAG-AFTRA.) Their membership too are dealing with difficulties of compensation. Whether we truly negotiate collectively is one other factor, and we haven’t been arrange for that. But it does appear that for the primary time shortly, at the least there’s open communication and a few aligned pursuits. However, the problems that we’re [the WGA] speaking about, are fairly writer-centric. We all the time hope that sooner or later these three unions might align and work collectively at this. And definitely, I really feel help from them that we haven’t had earlier than.