Report: with the striking screenwriters in Hollywood
On the walls of Warner Bros, in Hollywood, huge posters recall the glorious past of the studio. Legends, including Lord of the Rings and Friends, but also more recent successes,…
On the walls of Warner Bros, in Hollywood, huge posters recall the glorious past of the studio. Legends, including Lord of the Rings and Friends, but also more recent successes, such as the spy film Argo or the comedy series Abbott Elementary. At the entrance to the studios, screenwriters on strike parade to make their voices heard.
The atmosphere is friendly: one has come with his dog, another is walking her child in a stroller. A talent agency has parked its ice cream truck in the shade, on the other side of the boulevard, and is distributing free ice cream to the strikers. Motorists ping the picket honk their horns in support.
Rise of streaming
The strikers came to defend a model that once dominated Hollywood, but which they believe is threatened by the rise of streaming platforms. “We started our career on traditional television channels, where the series had around 22 episodes per season,” explain Andrew Reich and Greg Milans, two writers who helped write the cult series Friends.
“Each season, the authors had the opportunity to step up and gain responsibility,” adds the first. “The director took you to the casting, he let you see the editing process, or at least the shooting. Today, there are young screenwriters who have taken part in three, four or five series without ever having seen a shoot. So they won’t have the skills to move up in rank and become ‘show runners’,” continues Andrew Reich.
Loss of purchasing power
THE negotiations between studios , represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), and screenwriters failed on May 1. They mainly concerned the remuneration of the latter, who believe that they have lost purchasing power since the arrival of streaming platforms a decade ago.
“When I started my career, I was employed on the series Sleepy Hollow,” says Nelson Greaves, next to the ice cream truck. “We were 10 or 11 screenwriters on this series. The first season had thirteen episodes, then it was renewed for 18 episodes. I had the chance to take part in the filming. »
“A few years later, I started working for a streaming platform. Instead of being employed for 35 or 40 weeks, I was employed for 10 weeks, and I was asked to do essentially the same job for less money, with less job security,” notes the young screenwriter. .
To hold out during this sometimes long period between two contracts, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) asks that screenwriters receive remuneration linked to the rebroadcast of series, especially abroad. A practice that was widespread a few years ago, before the arrival of streaming platforms. This remuneration could be based on the number of international subscribers for example.
“So-called residual income is a percentage that talent continues to earn when what they have produced is exploited on several platforms,” explains Sébastien Slek, former director of global marketing purchases at Warner. “For example, the first season is shown on television, then the series appears on a subscription streaming platform (SVOD) or it is sold abroad. This can represent significant amounts over the years. »
The powerful syndicate also wants to make sure studios won’t use artificial intelligence to write or rewrite scenes. The latter refused to commit to this point, simply proposing to organize an annual meeting to discuss the uses of AI.
The writers’ strike comes at a key time in Hollywood. “The ‘upfronts’ are the time when broadcasters sit down with the studios to discover new programmes,” continues Sébastien Slek. “Before committing to buying this new content, broadcasters think about their advertisers, to whom they will promote these programs in order to ensure their advertising purchase commitments in advance. The broadcasters say to themselves: ‘nice, we will be able to target consumers in such and such a way and sell this content to advertisers’. »
“If there is a writers’ strike, there will be less content, adds the latter. For now, the new season is not written. It will only be released after the agreement between the studios and the advertisers, which provides for a certain number of episodes. Instead, the channels are betting on special election evenings, sports or reality TV. “It’s the fallback solution, but it’s not a lasting solution,” says the former leader.
Normally, the “upfronts” begin in May and end at the end of the summer, before the broadcast of the first episodes in September. The writers’ strike could upset this schedule. Especially since other professions could join them. On May 18, the main actors’ union asked its 160,000 members to give them permission to declare a strike. They have until June 5 to decide.