The Hollywood Writers’ Strike Looks to be Over
Even with the new thrice-weekly format of ALLi's Self-Publishing News, there are some stories where reporting carries a risk. What seems, at the time of writing this, to be the closing stages of the Writers Guild of America strike is one such story. I hope to keep this report up to date as it nears press. Inevitably, a hurdle will emerge or be cleared the moment the story goes live.
The biggest story in the writing world for much of the year so far has been the Hollywood writers’ strike. Not only has this had a massive impact on what will be hitting viewers’ screens in the weeks and months to come as show after show has been canned. It has also brought issues to the public’s attention that face all of us as writers, wherever our audiences may be. This week, an agreement was reached that has some fascinating details.
AI and Residuals Concern
Much of the attention has inevitably focused on worries about AI. Writers are concerned that AI is reducing the role that human writers play in the creative process. And that concern is typified in the dispute over the “writers’ room.” Writers’ rooms are the talent pools that exist on all major shows. They are the teams of writers who ensure that 13 or 26 episode series can run on an annual basis and never lose tension or continuity. The fear is that AI will reduce the number of writers in these teams. And change the role of those writers, from creators to polishers.
What may be of most interest, though, is the dispute over residuals. These are the repeat royalties a writer gets when their shows are repeated on main networks. It is not AI that has disrupted this income stream, but another big technology change: streaming. Streaming means there is no simple way to ensure payments get where they should. Writers demanded extra payments up front to account for this loss of revenue. How streaming creative content and payment for that content are linked is an issue that will increasingly affect us all.
The agreement has guaranteed minimum staffing levels for writers’ rooms depending on the episodes in a series. And there are improvements to payment terms for streaming series, including a bonus for material viewed by 20% of a platform in the first 90 days of streaming.
The settlement agreement also represents an interesting resolution to the first real confrontation of the AI age between writers and those who rely on their talent for a living. In many ways the resolution reached draws some of the distinctions around AI we are getting used to. Writers may use AI tools to assist them. They may be given AI-generated material to work with. But, studios will have to tell them when they do so. And AI-generated material will never be considered “source material”. Writing, in the creative sense, is enshrined as a human activity.
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