‘Think down!’: Hollywood writers strike as late-night comedy shows darken | film industry

Outside Amazon’s Los Angeles studios, Hollywood’s gripping screenwriters had a promise for studio executives: “AI will replace you before it replaces us.”

Diandra Pendleton-Thompson, 32, carried the sign with the AI ​​slogan and prepared for what could be a long battle with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers.

The 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike Tuesday, sending hundreds to Los Angeles and New York on picket lines outside major studios like Amazon, Netflix, Paramount and Warner Brothers, instead of their writers’ rooms. As they negotiate a new contract with major studios, the writers say the rise of the online streaming era has left them behind, leading to lower wages and less stable work, and demanding new rules on how studios are using artificial intelligence in film and television writing. .

Some effects of the new strike will be immediately visible to audiences: Late-night comedy shows died down on Tuesday, with favorites like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live set to air reruns instead of new material. It’s unclear how long the writers will strike before their union can reach an agreement with studio executives. The last Hollywood writers’ strike, in 2007, lasted 100 days.

“Fists up, pens down, LA is union town!” writers outside Amazon Studios chanted on Tuesday, with many striking writers wearing blue Writers Guild t-shirts as they marched, demanding better pay and protections in an era of streaming dominance .

For Pendleton-Thompson, a Star Trek writer who spent years working as an assistant in Hollywood before joining the Writers Guild in 2021, the strike means financial uncertainty and negotiations over dream movie projects suddenly in limbo . But she thinks the fight is worth it.

She is particularly concerned about studios using AI for stories about people of color and people with disabilities: “We’re going to have the stories told of people who have been disempowered through the voice of the algorithm rather than people who have lived it.

“I think this is the start of a larger conversation about how AI is going to be used to continue funneling money straight to the top, rather than distributing it to the hard-working people who built this industry,” she added.

Still, the need for the strike, coming so soon after the economic challenges of the pandemic, is “sad,” especially for new writers like her, Pendleton-Thompson said.

“It’s hard to see that these footholds that we just took seem to be slipping away,” she said.

Brittani Nichols, screenwriter of the hit series Abbott Elementary, was picketing the Warner Brothers studio on Tuesday, rather than begin work on her show’s third season, which was due to begin this week.

“It’s a pretty funny coincidence that when the Writers Guild becomes the most diverse it’s ever been, that studios decide to pull the rug out from under us,” Nichols said, saying writers are more additionally treated as gig workers, not entertainers. “It feels like we’ve been turned into content farms.”

Judge Hardy, a writer for the television series True Lies, holds up a sign as members of the Writers Guild of America demonstrate outside Warner Bros. Studios.
Judge Hardy, a writer for the television series True Lies, holds up a sign as members of the Writers Guild of America demonstrate outside Warner Bros. Studios. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP

Many of the captains in the Writers Guild, who are picketing, are “people of color and people from backgrounds that aren’t the most privileged, stepping in and saying, ‘We’re not going to accept this'” , said Nichols. . “Writing was a path to a middle-class life.”

“Now it’s been ripped from us,” she added. “It’s not a sustainable career as it is.”

On Tuesday, another writer outside Amazon studios carried a sign that read, “You can’t spell diversity without PAYING US!”

Erika L Johnson, writer for Ugly Betty, Queen Sugar and The Good Lord Bird who started as an assistant in Hollywood during the last writers’ strike, said it was encouraging to see more writers of color in the industry. A networking group she founded for black women writers now has more than 200 members, she said.

But since the last writers’ strike in 2007, studios have invented new “loopholes” that result in more work for less pay, such as “mini-rooms” of writers who finalize scripts even before a show is on, she said. . “The struggle continues,” she said.

Along with pay gaps between network TV and streaming shows, “mini-rooms” have become a major focus of the strike: “What if I told my landlord that this month I’m just going to pay a mini -rent ?” comedian Ashley Nicole Black joked on Twitter.

Some writers have said the strike forced a consideration of the gap between perceptions of Hollywood’s success and an often difficult financial reality for most workers.

“While we’re telling the truth about what goes on behind the curtains in this business, it’s not all the celebrities, it’s not all the Met Gala,” said Alex O’Keefe, a speechwriter turned television writer for the critically acclaimed show The Bear, together in a Chicago sandwich shop.

O’Keefe said he was still making payments on the bow tie he rented to attend an awards gala for The Bear, and his bank account had a negative balance, even as he posed. for a Getty photographer.

The writers’ strike is expected to impact Hollywood workers. But unions for other film industry workers, from the Teamsters to unions representing directors, actors, stagehands and hair and makeup specialists, have released statements supporting the screenwriters’ strike. Other strikes in Hollywood could take place this summer: the contracts of the Directors Guild of America and Sag-Aftra, the actors’ union, expire in June.

As cars passed the picket line outside Amazon’s Culver City studios, many drivers honked their horns in approval, and the picket editors responded with cheers.

Studio executives have been waiting for the strike for months and are making contingency plans for how to operate without writers, including rushing to get scripts before the strike deadline.

“We assume the worst from a business perspective,” David Zaslav, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, said last month. “We have prepared. We had a lot of content that was produced.

Overseas series could also fill some of the void. “We have a broad base of upcoming shows and movies from around the world,” Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos said during the company’s April earnings call.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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