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“Releasing the Counteroffer Was an Unforced Error”: Writers Weigh in on Latest Studio Proposal

A day after Walt Disney Studios was bustling with thousands of union members for the National Day of Solidarity, the mood Wednesday was more subdued at the Burbank lot as writers voiced their frustrations with the latest offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, but I think that there’s still a lot of ground that needs to be covered,” Writers Guild of America board member Dailyn Rodriguez told The Hollywood Reporter in front of Disney on Wednesday. “I can see loopholes all over the proposal, and our membership sees that as well.”

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The AMPTP on Tuesday night released details of its Aug. 11 offer to the WGA that included percentage increases in salary, span protections and some guardrails on the use of generative artificial intelligence. But it was the notion that the AMPTP put out the details of its offer that seemed to strike the biggest chord with writers. The guild criticized the counteroffer and its release to the public as a ploy “not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy — to bet that we will turn on each other.”

“It feels like the AMPTP is going around the backs of our negotiators,” one veteran genre writer said Wednesday. “They’re trying to take [their offer] directly to the membership. It’s equally possible they were trying to send a signal to Wall Street: ‘Don’t be too angry at us, we’re trying to be reasonable.’ But it’s hard not to shake the feeling that it was an attempt to do a runaround of our negotiators.”

Studio sources said the AMPTP considered putting out its offer late Friday but opted instead to wait until Tuesday with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the group that represents Hollywood’s studios and streamers thought the WGA might take its offer to members.

“If the entertainment conglomerates thought that they could bully us into caving, they’re still underestimating how much resolve we have and how fed up and dissatisfied the town is with the state of working in the industry right now,” Big Mouth creator Andrew Goldberg told THR on Wednesday at Disney, where he helped organize a themed picket of “sad” fans of the New York Mets. “Either that or it was a PR move to try to keep treading water and avoid making a deal.”

Others echoed Goldberg’s sentiment, with another comedy showrunner who missed out on promoting their show during the strike going so far as to say the AMPTP “needs a new PR firm” after releasing the offer following a meeting with the WGA that also included CEOs from many of the industry’s top conglomerates.

“They are treating us like children. Flying in CEOs to explain why this is a good deal and we should take it. Bring in mom and dad to give us a lecture,” the comedy showrunner said. “Anyone who has tangled with business affairs on any deal knows that this is what they try to do to us, always. There’s always a call from our agents or lawyers telling us we are being unreasonable. It’s always a best and final and there’s never enough money until you push back and it miraculously appears. … Releasing the counteroffer was an unforced error.”

As for the offer itself, some writers see it as a sign of progress after the strike became the third longest in WGA history this week, surpassed only by the work stoppages in 1960 and 1988.

“The high-budget streaming residual, if we can believe their numbers, seem very good to me,” said Andy Bobrow (Malcolm in the Middle, Community). “For comparison, my Malcolm in the Middle episodes have gotten me around $60,000 per episode over a period of 15 to 20 years, and that show syndicated about as well as you can do. The producers’ high-budget streaming proposal is $87,000 over a period of only three years. And that would be for every show, not just the hits. So, for most writers, that sounds like a much better deal than the old-fashioned residual system. But of course the devil is in the details, and that number came from the producers themselves. I have to defer to anyone who has read the actual proposal at this point.”

Over at Universal, where it was Prom Night on the picket line, about 75 picketers kept the mood buoyant with the help of music from Katy Perry and Whitney Houston. Lot coordinator Rob Forman, dressed in a purple velvet three-piece suit with a lace train, threw water on the AMPTP’s latest offer.

“They put out a lot of numbers but at the end of the day, if work is so infrequent, the amount of money you get paid per week doesn’t really matter,” Forman told THR. “They have to address our core concerns, and at the moment, they’re completely ignoring them, whether it’s mini-rooms in television, minimum room size, or weekly pay for screenwriters. There are fundamental things that we’ve been very consistent on and they need to address them.”

In terms of minimum room size, which has emerged as one of the core issues for the WGA, board member Rodriguez felt like the AMPTP was deferring to the discretion of showrunners on the issue. “We don’t have anything in the Minimum Basic Agreement that describes a showrunner,” she said. “So what if they decide the showrunner is the director or the non-writing producer?”

The genre writer agreed that while the AMPTP did “accept the premise” of minimum room size — an issue that helps guarantee the future of writing as a profession as well as protections against the use of AI in scripts — “there are huge loopholes that would have to get plugged in, in order for those offers to be meaningful.

“Saying the showrunner can pick two people to stay with them through production and post sounds great … but are we incentivizing studios to eliminate the showrunner position in favor of head writers? While the existence of writers room is not codified in the MBA, neither is the existence of a showrunner. This proposal makes me feel like we need both. Having minimum room size codified is meaningless if we’re encouraging studios to get rid of the showrunner position,” they said. “This is a good foundation, a really good starting off point that may be in the makings a really good deal, but the devil is absolutely going to be in the details.”

Summed up a lower-level writer who was pleased that the AMPTP was engaging on the guild’s core issues: “It’s nice to see them engage on the things they said they would never engage on. It’s almost like striking works!”

Borys Kit contributed reporting.

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