“Wreaking havoc is my personal specialty.” – Cruella de Vil
“I have a plan.” – Cruella de Vil
That’s what I’m feeling right now. I’m disgusted by the industry I see before me, for it is an industry in ruins. The ruins of a once-great civilization capable of wonder and magic. And while those things still exist, and always will thanks to the human spirit and our innate need to tell stories and create, it’s clear that this is not the same town I moved to in 2006 as a hopeful NYU grad. No, this is not what I signed up for at all.
As I’ve said before, every great story needs a villain, and if it isn’t yet clear who the bad guy is by now, I’ll spell it out for you: It’s the A-M-P-T-P. After 101 days of this madness, it’s the entertainment CEOS who are looking like the Cruella de Vil of Hollywood — cruel and sadistic for no good reason. How else to explain that quote from the anonymous exec who let it slip that the AMPTP’s plan is to wait for writers to start to “lose their homes.”
Greed has overwhelmed the industry. I’m not saying that these CEOs don’t deserve tens of millions of dollars, because it’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you can get, and besides, these are pretty big jobs with a lot of pressure and responsibility. I’m not downplaying any of that. But would it kill these guys — all guys, by the way — to cut their pay packages from $100 million to $50 million, or $50 million to $25 million? How much money does one need while others starve on their watch?
I know someone — hardly a millionaire — who was recently forced to decide whether to pay themselves or their staff ahead of the holidays, and they chose their staff. A noble gesture, and one that these fat-cat millionaire CEOs would never make. If “everyone” has to sacrifice for the greater good, why not those in Hollywood’s C-suites, who have enough money for multiple lifetimes, and whose severance packages — money paid to not work — are worth more than most of us will ever make?
Just last week, sensing that it was walking into a trap but walking into it nonetheless, the WGA agreed to meet with the AMPTP to discuss the possibility of reopening talks — not that they were ever really open in the first place — though the guild warned its members not to get their hopes up.
Sure enough, the AMPTP refused to engage with the guild regarding several key issues and the trades warned that the strike would go on “indefinitely.” They changed their tune on Thursday, Day 101, as the two sides agreed to formally begin negotiations on Friday afternoon, thereby giving Hollywood a glimmer of hope that this strike could be over by Labor Day, though that remains an optimistic forecast.
What the WGA must now prepare for, given the “total domination” agenda it has been pushing, is to give an inch or two. After all, that’s how a successful negotiation works. At the outset, one party or the other has the upper hand, and by the end, it’s all about who can hold out the longest. I don’t question the guild’s solidarity or resolve, but unfortunately, I’m going to place my bet on the studios there, as the WGA is full of people who will have to return to work at some point, and when they do, its members will find that there will be far less work to return to. Even if WGA members were suddenly paid twice as much when they return, there will be half as many jobs to return to, and I don’t say that to scare anyone but merely to state a fact — the business was simply unsustainable as it was before. Netflix cannot continue making $200 million movies, because there aren’t enough subscribers in the world to justify that kind of cost.
As for AI, it’s not going anywhere, and while the WGA should certainly seek to limit its use and put guardrails in place, the guild may have to embrace AI as a tool in the long run, as right now, it feels like they’re simply delaying the inevitable, and Hollywood can’t really afford to fall behind. The guild also needs to realize that staffing minimums and data viewership appear to be non-starters with the AMPTP and that, in lieu of those concessions, they should push for other things. “You want to keep viewing stats private? Fine. But you’re going to pay for the privilege.”
Actors, writers, and heck, even producers, are struggling to make a living, as are agents, managers, publicists, and perhaps the lowest rung of the ladder — humble entertainment journalists. Below the line, it’s just as bad. Thousands of crew members are out of work given that there’s nothing to work on, and I know one LA-area VFX worker who was laid off only to be told he could reapply for his job… in Mumbai. And yet the mainstream media has largely treated the AMPTP with kids’ gloves, knowing full well who butters its bread.
Much-needed alternative voices are being, if not silenced, then certainly marginalized by a lack of FYC ads, which only seem to go to a handful of legacy print publications even though awards voters have moved online and invested in individual voices rather than outlets. Meanwhile, rather than investing in artists and the next generation of storytellers, studios are desperately trying to climb out of debt in an attempt to look like more attractive acquisition targets to potential buyers.
CEOs like Bob Iger and Bob Bakish pay lip service to resolving the strikes “quickly” and in a “timely” manner, but it’s just a lot of hot air. And yet reporters dutifully carry the message even though they don’t even believe it themselves because they have a professional duty to share it. But do they? Doesn’t part of that responsibility involve acting responsibly? If it wasn’t clear before, it’s more clear than ever where some of these outlets’ loyalties truly lie.
There are rumors that Disney is slimming down to its core assets in hopes of a sale, possibly to Apple, and if that proves to be Iger’s legacy — handing over control of Hollywood’s single greatest studio to our tech overlord in Cupertino — you will be able to put your hand to the earth and feel Walt Disney spinning in his grave.
Disney is doing exactly what Iger promised he wouldn’t do upon his return — focusing on sequels that no one asked for, like Tron: Ares — while Searchlight has been relegated to making movies for Hulu, which is getting more expensive for some reason. Across town, Warner Bros. is still recovering from a bad case of franchise fever, during which they chased IP instead of filmmakers, though I expect that will change under Mike DeLuca and Pam Abdy‘s watch. Even A24, riding high off its latest Best Picture win, has embraced the franchise initiative, focusing its efforts in that realm on relatively low-budget horror movies as opposed to blockbuster fantasy fare.
Paramount, for its part, is coming off a great year that I worry it may have learned the wrong lessons from, Prime Video is spending hundreds of millions on TV shows that not nearly enough people watch, while industry mercenary Sony is lying like a snake in the grass, just waiting to strike and sell its content to the highest bidder. Only Universal appears to have its shit together, and even there, it’s not hard to see that the studio’s biggest franchises have grown long in the tooth.
Studios routinely ask writers to do a ton of free work even though executives never have to do free work themselves, and everyone just goes along with this, just like they’ve collectively agreed not to make a fuss when payment is routinely late, and those who do make a stink are all but blacklisted out of the industry. “This guy’s a pain in the ass,” is the reputation they start to get, whether it’s deserved or not, and it’s like, actually, no, this person just wants to be paid on time for their work, and grown adults honor their commitments. Is that so hard?
The writers have the actors behind them, and should the WGA strike resolve itself before SAG-AFTRA, they’ve sworn to stand behind the actors, though at this point, I’m not sure who will “blink” first, for lack of a better word.
What is clear is that if the guilds don’t lock the AMPTP inside a room over the next few weeks and Hollywood’s double strike carries beyond Labor Day, the fall festival season will be affected in addition to the fall TV season, the Emmys, and possibly the back half of the 2024 movie release calendar, and at that point, the studios might as well see this thing through to the end of the year. Now is the time to start talking, not just for their own sake, but for the future of the entire industry, which will almost certainly look different when the dust settles and all the picket signs are laid to the ground.
I never expected Hollywood to stay frozen in time, as this industry is a living, breathing thing that’s constantly changing and adapting. I just hope Hollywood still exists after these strikes, as the AMPTP’s reluctance to negotiate in good faith may have done irreparable damage, the likes of which we won’t even be able to calculate for a few more years.
So buckle up and hang in there, everyone, as to quote Cruella de Vil, “A new day brings new opportunities.”