EXCLUSIVE: We might be getting somewhere after it emerged that the writers and studios could hold more talks over the next two weeks.
Deadline understands that there is a proposal in place for the two sides to potentially talk next Tuesday.
This is a significant step in the negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP as there was a planned two-week break starting from the end of today, with the original idea to come back to the table for eight days beginning on April 17. However, sources have told Deadline that there seems to be a willingness to keep discussions going, in some form, after some common ground was found between the WGA and AMPTP.
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One source said that it seems that the two parties are closer than expected on a number of key issues, which suggests there is more momentum than either side predicted there would be.
However, this comes amid expectations that the WGA is still planning to ask its members over the coming days for a strike authorization vote, in what was described to Deadline as a series of “roadshows”.
Some of this has been credited to the leadership of WGAW Assistant Executive Director Ellen Stutzman, who suddenly replaced David Young on February 28 after he went on medical leave.
A late addition to top of the guild’s 25-person negotiating committee, Stutzman has been singled out for her role in the talks. “There’s a different mood in the room with Ellen leading things,” said one WGA member. “It’s firm, thoughtful, not giving in, but not trying to start a fight over nothing,” she added.
“It’s less antagonist with Ellen,” another well connected guild member said in praise of Stutzman and the way she has held the WGA Negotiating team together. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind wants a strike, but the leverage is important.”
The second week of negotiations was more substantive than the first, according to sources.
The first week began slowly with one source describing it as “arduous” as the two sides danced around each other. Studio sources initially described the WGA’s strategy as “stonewalling” and were disappointed that the WGA wouldn’t respond to certain questions that it had on their proposals. One exec described the WGA team as “giving speeches, not proposals.” On the other side of the table, a scribe close to events said studio reps are “just a wall, neither offensive, nor defensive.”
Over ten days of meeting in AMPTP’s Sherman Oaks offices, the two sides have spent less than 10 hours together in joint talks, we hear. Much of the rest of the time has been in caucuses and private rooms, drawing up their responses to the other side’s proposals.
One presentation towards the end of this week seems to have changed the temperature in the room, with more hopes than ever of finding some common ground.
Having said all of this, and with the strike authorization still a distinct possibility, one insider familiar with the negotiations told Deadline, “I’m 95% sure there is going to be a strike, everybody assumes it is coming at this point.”
The two main issues for the writers, it seems, continue to be streaming residuals and mini-rooms.
The writers say that the studios have used streaming to cut writer pay, separate writing from production and “worsen” working conditions for series at all levels. They added that more writers are working at minimum “regardless of experience”, often for fewer weeks and despite rising budgets, say median writer-producer pay has fallen. The mini-room trend has exasperated this, they say, particularly for younger writers.
On the flip side, the studios say that the writers achieved a 46% increase in high-budget streaming residuals from its last contract in 2020, some of which may not have entered their bank accounts yet due to timing. They also point out that they’re negotiating for minimums, and most writers work for above this scale. On a more fundamental level, the studios say they are having to cut costs and make layoffs as a result of a worsening financial outlook.
“I know we don’t talk about recession, but I don’t think enough attention has really paid to that,” said one studio source. For instance, the $2.1B loss in the fourth quarter of 2022 by Warner Bros. Discovery.
For now, it will be key to see how and when the two sides to return to discussions, admittedly close to Passover. The original plan was to return to the table on April 17, two weeks before the WGA’s contract with the AMPTP expires.
In those two weeks, the WGA is widely expected to ask its members for a strike authorization vote. In January, the WGA noted that the last time that writers took a strike authorization vote, in 2017, 96.3% voted in favor. “Throughout the history of the WGA, writers have proven that they can win new industry standards through collective action,” it said.
Multiple sources in the room said that the vote was intended to “strike fear” towards the AMPTP, although the studios fully expected this move.
“I fully expect that that card to be played,” added another before the talks began. “It’s become something of just the standard tool in their toolbox and negotiations, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”
As another put it, it’s “like they brought their divorce attorney to the wedding”.
What will be interesting to see is whether a compromise can be reached rather than a strike, which is clearly more than a consideration now.
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