outside the Fox lot in Century City this afternoon, wga co-chairman of the negotiating committee Chris Keyser appeared among more than 150 members who were on site to picket after the breakdown of talks with the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers and the termination of their contracts.
WGA Award nominee, known for her work on series such as Society And party of fiveThis year his fellow is in talks with former guild president David Goodman, who himself held the position between 2011 and 2015.
In a conversation with Deadline this afternoon, he spoke to the atmosphere of the room AMPTP member last night, the stakes in these talks and how the current strike compares to the strike in 2008, his concern about the studio’s reluctance on the topic of AI, how long he sees the labor strike lasting, how it affects his Work on my series has been affected Julia to HBO Max, and more.
Deadline: Why did the conversation fail last night around 8PM PT? What were the biggest obstacles to AMPTP?
Chris Keizer: The companies continued to refuse to move forward, or even discuss a long list of our core proposals. In fact, what he did in the end is he said, “Listen, we’ll give you a little bit more on a few things if you agree to drop everything else.” And we told them, “No, we can’t do that.” And they said, “Okay, then we don’t have any more moves.” And so it ended just a few hours ago.
Deadline: Were there areas where they were willing to make qualified concessions?
Keizer: We made some progress on the bare minimum, and in some ways at a premium for a pre-Greenlight room, and a bit of the comedy-variety stuff, though with ample provisions, it made it a lot less useful. And by the way, he had solutions for most of what he offered. But they won’t discuss all that structural stuff that really goes to the heart of our problem – that in a world where writers are writing less and less, even performers are writing less and less, we requires a guarantee of a certain number of weeks of work, and that writers are being hired in the first place, and that the writing continues through production, and is paid at least for that post, and that that screenwriters actually get some respite from the endless abuse of free work, and that they have some protection when they write movies for streaming the exact same way they did in theaters, and comedy- Miscellaneous authors have MBA terms that apply… anyone who is in Appendix A has terms that apply without the carving that they wanted. No day rates for comedy-variety writers, all kinds of stuff.
And AI, by the way. They will not discuss AI. I think you get a really good sense from companies about how they see the future based on what they say they won’t talk about. Because the thing they will say yes to is something they feel they can absorb so easily, or probably won’t pay off in the long run. So, we see a real risk of an attack on weekly pay for writers, fixed deals. It means they’re trying to turn us into a guild of freelancers… and treat screenwriters horribly.
Time Frame: How do you see the situation in this round of talks compared to the time of the last strike in 2008?
Keizer: Obviously, the business landscape is somewhat different. Each one of these is somewhat different from the previous one. It’s more complicated, what might be our leverage, in some ways, and might be where we have some advantages in others. That room may well be, I mean AMPTP, more divided than ever because their interests are that much more diverse. I really don’t know how much Netflix has in common with Paramount+ or NBCUniversal. Disney is also different, and Amazon and Apple, so they’re going to have to work through all of that, and I think it’s going to be interesting.
Deadline: Do you see it as an advantage to the Guild that studios and streamers have come to the table from different places, with different priorities and resources available?
Keizer: I guess it goes both ways. I think if they let each other stand in the way then it is difficult to make a deal in less time. At some point, the pain of it will probably be so isolating for some that they decide they cannot possibly stand together. I don’t want to be one of those broadcast networks waiting around for Netflix to stop taking advantage.
Deadline: How has the strike affected the series you are currently a part of? Julia,
Keizer: I don’t know we have finished production and post [on Season 2], I have nothing to do with any promotion. But I have something that is in development and I am dealing with Peacock. Obviously I’m not going to have any conversation about it.
Time Frame: How long do you see this strike going on?
Keizer: you never know. But I will say that as of this morning, we only hit 35 once in years, and we only do so when we see an existential threat to writing as a profession, as we did when we Had considered the idea that streaming wouldn’t pay us enough. , where we had no guesses. So, I think the writers understand that they need to stick together, and we’ll stick together until we solve this problem.
Deadline: Do you have any idea when you can get back on the table with AMPTP?
Keizer: It’s up to them.
Deadline: How have you personally experienced the issues that led to the strike? How have they affected you or the people around you?
Keizer: The young writers who work for me talk about how difficult it is to make a living year after year because the jobs are so few, and it’s such low pay, and so little. I know myself, as a showrunner, that I work for a very low episode fee for a year and a half or two, until my fee drops. No one needs to cry for me. But there are young listeners, when they’re told it’s the best one ever… you get your own show. If you reach the pinnacle, you can at least work endless hours, no writers to help you, on your own… you know, have fun. So, it’s very difficult.
One of the reasons we got 9,000 votes of approval on our strike authorization is because it’s affecting everyone in every corner of the business. So I was talking about television, episodic, but that’s equally true of features and comedy-variety. There is no one who is unaffected by it, or does not know someone they care deeply about who is affected by it. And it means just as much to us.
Time frame: The WGA is often in a difficult position to figure out how to negotiate topics such as AI, given that our understanding of the business implications is still developing. How have you prepared yourself for that challenge? How do you approach it?
saffron: Right now, I think we have a very simplistic philosophy that AI can’t be literary material. It can’t be a draft that we have to rewrite. That doesn’t mean companies won’t use it in some way. It can be research material – but it cannot be literary in content. I will say this, no one knows exactly what AI is going to be, but the fact that companies won’t talk about it is the best indication we have that we have a reason to fear it.
Deadline: What is your view of how the strike could play out, in best and worst case scenarios?
saffron: I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not going to tell you the worst-case scenario, because in our minds that’s not going to be the worst-case scenario. We can’t give it. Our best-case scenario is that we make a fair deal—not everything we asked for, but enough to protect writers and make this a viable profession in all areas of the business.
Deadline: It seems to me that the success of this conversation will mark a significant paradigm shift in business. How do you see one win turning you around?
saffron: Here’s the thing, the things we are asking for were the things we had before. It’s just an attempt by writers to maintain a vibrant career, a working career, and that’s all. So, I don’t think we’ve argued, and I think it’s true, that these costs overall can be contained within the budget of the film and the film. They are small compared to these overall budgets. I think we’re arguing for keeping a system that’s worked really well for decades. I don’t mean going back to the old broadcast model. I mean, where we write stuff that makes them millions and allows us to earn a living that allows us to stay in this business.