Two days after the Writers Guild of America’s first strike in 15 years, union leadership gathered members for a “noisy” and “raw” meeting at LA’s Shrine Auditorium on Wednesday night.
The venue, which previously hosted events such as the Academy Awards and Grammys, drew more than 1,800 WGA members who gathered to hear from leaders, leading to the breakdown of negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. and eventually became a kind of solidarity meeting between the unions, with representatives from six different entertainment unions. (The shrine has a capacity of 6,300.)
“I’ve been at it for 25 years and I’ve never seen all the unions so united or on the same page,” a showrunner who was in attendance told me. THR after hearing leaders from each of the guilds. “They are all screwed in different ways by these companies and they know the only way to win is to stick together. It’s a million percent different from last time.”
The LA event, which followed a counterpart meeting at New York’s Cooper Union earlier in the day, opened with a standing ovation for Ellen Stutzman, the WGA’s chief negotiator who stepped into the role after the Western branch of the executive director of the union, David Young, on medical leave at the end of February.
“The only way we can beat these bastards is if we do it together,” Lindsay Dougherty, the head of Teamsters Local 399, told those in attendance. She was one of several industry figures to join the writers in the auditorium on Wednesday: In addition to the Teamsters, The Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA also sent executives to the meeting, while representatives from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association and IATSE were also present. The DGA and SAG-AFTRA’s contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) both expire on June 30, leading some industry players to worry about an additional strike from one or both. “Did you tell them to forego profit for subscriptions?” That’s what DGA negotiating chair John Avnet said from the podium.
As she left the venue on Wednesday night, Dougherty added The Hollywood Reporter that since the industry’s unions have been dealing with the COVID pandemic and several harsh confrontations with entertainment companies in recent years, “we’ve all realized lately that the only way we can get them (entertainment companies) so to speak to beat is to be together. Because that’s what they do, time and time again: they unite as the AMPTP. We must unite like the labor unions and guilds of Hollywood.”
Showrunner Mike Schiff (The neighbourhood) believed that the meeting of workers’ leaders from different trade unions marked a shift from the guild’s last strike, in 2007-2008. “In 2007 I thought maybe there was some resentment.” Though he says he’s never personally felt that from colleagues, “I definitely feel like, wait, we want to work, what are you doing?” This year, “having all those unions there and showing their support, knowing that our fight is their fight and vice versa, that was very encouraging.”
Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee, was the central speaker of the evening. When he shared that the AMPTP didn’t want to give in to the use of artificial intelligence because the studios didn’t want to take off the table new technology that they “might want to use in the future,” the crowd exclaimed defiantly. . The guild has proposed regulating the use of AI and prohibiting its use to write or rewrite scripts and ensure that writers’ materials cannot be used to train AI. The AMPTP rejected the proposal and responded only by offering annual meetings to discuss technological advancements, according to the WGA.
Keyser also noted that the AMPTP’s chief negotiator called free rewrites by screenwriters “cooperation,” which also seemed to alienate membership. The AMPTP’s agreement to pay the staff writers’ scripting costs drew loud support from the audience. Staff writers currently only earn their weekly salary and are not compensated for their scripts.
The meeting, which began at 7:40 p.m., lasted several hours and included a question-and-answer session with WGA leaders. weeks ahead for writers in terms of pickets and answering member questions. The attendees received pre-packaged food from Wolfgang Puck. “There’s always food,” one said, while another said they got an extra meal on the way out.
Sources at the Shrine described the atmosphere as a showcase of solidarity, with many members pledging to fight and stand firm in the guild. to demand. “It is a astonishing showing unity and determination. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been in this union for almost 25 years,” said another showrunner THR from the hall. A number of other writers remarked on the number of standing ovations, “I’ve lost count of how many,” said one film and television writer as he went out. “The place was on its feet, roaring.” Added Geoff Roth, who recently wrote a turnaround movie for Amazon, “The mood was rowdy, it was raucous. People were excited.”
Added a staff writer experiencing their first strike as a member of the WGA: “It’s wild. Huge togetherness. Everyone is excited and hopeful. All the other unions came to support us and marched with us. No crossing picket lines. They are all behind the WGA.”
Corey Dashaun and Isaac Gomez, who have both joined the guild in recent years, are getting most of their energy from the WGA’s focus on easing the mounting pressure that has been placed on what are known as “mini-chambers,” of which they are one were recently teamed up at Amazon. They see the implementation of such reforms as linked to achieving a living wage. “It is immensely funny that now that marginalized voices are finally getting access to this business, the goalposts are being moved,” Dashaun notes.
As they left the Shrine, they felt it was now up to the studios to rekindle the talks. (Attendees were not told when either side would return to the table.) “The big misconception about a strike is that those who walk are responsible,” Gomez said. “No, it’s the ones who don’t come to the table.”
Peter Hankoff, a WGA member since 1978, sauntered out of the room satisfied, noting that he is now on strike for the fifth time and “this is the best union membership meeting I’ve ever been to – and I’ve been in a lot theirs. I am hardly pessimistic.” He added: “This is the tightest negotiating committee I have ever seen. It feels united. It feels like we’re going to win. I haven’t felt this way every time.”
Pickets will resume for multiple production locations on Thursday at 9 a.m. PT in Los Angeles and at Broadway Stages in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. ET.