As television and movie writers started their 101st day on strike on Thursday, the leaders of their union said they had agreed to formally restart negotiations with studios for a new three-year contract.
“Our committee returns to the bargaining table ready to make a fair deal, knowing the unified W.G.A. membership stands behind us and buoyed by the ongoing support of our union allies,” the Writers Guild of America negotiating committee said in a statement. The session will take place in Los Angeles on Friday.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of entertainment companies, declined to comment. Carol Lombardini, the alliance’s president, contacted the Writers Guild on Wednesday with a request to return to formal negotiations. Her appeal followed an informal sidebar session between the two sides late last week.
After that meeting, the Writers Guild sent a note to its 11,500 members saying Ms. Lombardi had indicated a willingness by studios to sweeten their contract offer in some areas, including finding ways to safeguard writers from artificial intelligence technology. The note added, however, that Ms. Lombardini had said studios “were not willing to engage” on other Writers Guild proposals, including success-based residual payments from streaming services. The note said guild leaders would not return to negotiations until studios were willing to engage on all proposals.
The announcement of a return to the bargaining table was the first positive development in a dual labor walkout — tens of thousands of actors went on strike in mid-July — that has brought Hollywood production to a halt. Late-night television shows immediately went dark, and broadcast networks have retooled their fall seasons to include mostly reality series.
Last week’s session, which lasted about an hour, was the first time the lead negotiators from each side had sat down in person since May 1, when talks collapsed. Both sides had characterized it as a meeting to determine whether it made sense to restart talks. With a strike starting to hurt companies and writers alike, was there a give-and-take to be had? Pressure has been increasing from multiple directions to reach an agreement.
“It is critical that this gets resolved immediately so that Los Angeles gets back on track, and I stand ready to personally engage with all the stakeholders in any way possible to help get this done,” Karen Bass, the mayor of Los Angeles, said in a statement last Friday.
Screenwriters and actors are worried about not receiving a fair share of the spoils of a streaming-dominated future. They say streaming-era business practices have made their profession an unsustainable one.
Many streaming shows have eight to 12 episodes per season, compared with more than 20 made for traditional television. Writers are fighting for better residual pay, a type of royalty for reruns and other showings, which they have said is a crucial source of income for the middle-class writer whose compensation has been upended by streaming.
The Writers Guild also wants studios to guarantee that artificial intelligence will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation. The studios rejected the guild’s proposed guardrails, instead suggesting an annual meeting on advances in technology. (In recent weeks, studio executives have said in interviews that they made a mistake by not taking the union’s A.I. concerns more seriously.)
The studios defended their offer after negotiations broke down, saying in a statement that it included “generous increases in compensation for writers.” The primary sticking points, studios have said, are union proposals that would require studios to staff TV shows with a certain number of writers for a specified period, “whether needed or not.”
Caught in the crossfire of the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA, as the actors’ guild is known, are tens of thousands of crew members and small businesses (dry cleaners, caterers, lumber yards) that support movie and television production. The 2007-8 writers’ strike cost the California economy more than $2 billion, according to the Milken Institute, which recently estimated that losses this time could be double that figure.