The Writers Guild of America and representatives of major studios met on Friday afternoon for the first time in three months, but there were no signs of an immediate breakthrough in the months of worker coldness that had plagued Hollywood.
Hopes rose in the entertainment industry after the WGA announced it had received a request from Carol Lombardini, head of the Motion Picture and Television Producers Guild, to meet on Friday to discuss negotiations. Alliance, Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. Discovery negotiates on behalf of Netflix, Apple TV+ and other media companies and broadcasters.
But in a note to members on Thursday afternoon, WGA leaders lowered expectations for a decision on the strike and expressed skepticism about the AMPTP’s intentions, noting that during the 2007-08 strike, both sides resumed negotiations and only began to split for the second time.
“We will not be biased in the future,” the WGA negotiating committee said. “But playbooks die hard. So far, companies have spent months on the same failed strategies. They have repeatedly tried to undermine our resolve by using scare tactics, rumors and lies through anonymous citations in the media.”
In response, AMPTP described the rhetoric of the WGA’s bargaining committee as “unfortunate”.
“This strike has hurt thousands of people in this industry and we take it very seriously,” AMPTP said in a statement Thursday. “Our only bedside book is getting people back to work.”
A labor struggle on two fronts—actors joined writers on strike three weeks ago—is becoming increasingly costly for major media companies, which are also facing pressure to resolve a conflict that has hit Los Angeles’ high-profile entertainment economy.
LA Mayor Karen Bass called Friday’s meeting an “encouraging development.”
“The economic conditions of the entertainment industry are changing, and we must respond to this challenge and evolve,” Bass said in a statement. “It is critical that this is resolved promptly for Los Angeles to get back on track, and I am ready to personally engage with all stakeholders in any way possible to help get this done.”
The writers went on strike on May 2. They want a larger share of streaming platforms and regulations around the use of AI, among other issues.
The authors of the strike on Friday expressed cautious optimism about meeting with the AMPTP and said they saw this as a positive step, emphasizing their determination to continue the strike if necessary.
“I haven’t been on strike for over three months just for incremental change,” said showrunner Marc Guggenheim, who struck outside the Walt Disney Studios plot in Burbank on Friday. “We voted for the strike because we hope there will be systemic change, and I think the authors are willing to stay on the strike line for as long as it takes to get that systemic change.”
Screenwriter Joshua Allen Griffith, who helped organize the scouts outside of Sony Pictures in Culver City, said guild leaders were cautious as they tried to temper members’ expectations.
“I tell my team members that past behavior predicts future behavior and talks are likely to be interrupted again,” said Griffith, a WGA strike captain whose credits include Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” series.
Many hoped that the alliance would first reach out to SAG-AFTRA, whose members have been on strike since 14 July over similar issues.
But after SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher’s impassioned words to rally its members last month, media executives realized that sentiment was too high to immediately restart negotiations, according to people familiar with the matter and not authorized to comment.
“Maybe the heat is a little too hot for this relationship right now,” said David Smith, professor of economics at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business. “Maybe they just need to calm down a bit so they’re dying to talk to SAG-AFTRA.”
SAG-AFTRA negotiators were outraged by a statement made by a senior AMPTP negotiator at the last bargaining session before the contract expired on July 12.
Chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and actor Joely Fisher said he told SAG that companies will return to the bargaining table once players begin to “behave civilized”.
In the midst of this acrimony, media executives concluded that they might have a better chance with the leadership of the WGA, especially since members of the union had been marching in strike lines since early May.
But company executives privately said the WGA would have to forego the minimum staffing of writers rooms and the length of writers’ contracts in order to reach an agreement. Managers say they would refuse to get into a situation where writers dictate how many people are needed to write a television show.
The parties also debated over the transparency of streaming viewing. Company executives were annoyed that SAG-AFTRA demanded that actors in popular shows be paid 2% of a broadcaster’s revenue.
People on the AMPTP side said the offer was unenforceable, pointing out that there were many shows that didn’t work. They also rejected SAG-AFTRA’s suggestion that payments be based on data from research firm Parrot Analytics, stating that Parrot doesn’t measure viewership or impressions on a show alone.
SAG-AFTRA negotiators said they were not married to Parrot, but made the proposal as a way to start a dialogue about having a third party determine which shows were the most popular. Currently, actors are complaining that they are not sharing enough of the revenue from hit shows on streaming platforms.
Actress Blake Worrell said she hopes talks will continue.
“I don’t think anyone wants this to continue,” Worrell said at the lookout in front of Sony. “But at the end of the day, it’s about equal rights, fair pay and recognition for our work.”