What you need to know about the Hollywood Strikes: AI, streaming and the impact on a screen near you

“The reality is you really can’t make a whole lot. There’s reality TV and I don’t really watch that. So I’m a little concerned about my viewing pleasure.”

By Laura RiceJuly 18, 2023 3:17 pm, , ,

First one strike, now two. Both writers and actors are on strike in Hollywood, and the impacts of that are global.

So who are the players and what are they fighting over? And is anything being produced in the meantime?

Barbara Morgan is executive director of the Austin Film Festival – known as the writer’s festival. She stopped by the Texas Standard studio to give us a Texas perspective about what’s going on in Hollywood. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s begin with the writer’s strike since that one started first. What precipitated it?

Barbara Morgan: Well, I mean, the contract negotiation time period, you know, the contracts are coming up. And they are just, you know, things that are new now that are kind of uncharted territory. You know, a lot of different points. But the foundation is really streaming and AI (artificial intelligence).

Is the concern that writers might get pushed out of their jobs because of AI?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, there’s not really, you know, there’s no law around AI, really at this point.

So the way that it really affects this industry is who owns the creative product. And so the sort of basic things that the guild wants is that AI cannot write or rewrite literary material or create source material – that really is the writer’s job. And the digital world has entered into this in a way that has not really been considered.

And yeah, even though streaming happened, there were still some streaming back in the last strike. It was not what it is now. I mean, streaming has upended it. And so those contracts weren’t written for that. And so what’s happening is these people, though, there’s a lot more shows. They’re not on the shows for very long because they’re not doing 22 episodes.

So they’re not getting all those residuals.

And they don’t even own their work product anymore because they got those with TV, they got those with the networks, they got those with the studios, but now they’re talking about the digital world and those people aren’t paying them and they’re not part of the deal and they’re not part of the contract.

Let’s turn to the actor’s strike. Some people are saying that if this goes off into the fall, this could be catastrophic for Hollywood, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Yeah, I mean, it’s looking a little scary right now, But, you know, things are unpredictable. And I sure as heck am not a person to be able to predict it. But the reality is you really can’t make a whole lot. There’s reality TV and I don’t really watch that. So I’m a little concerned about my viewing pleasure.

It can seem, outside of Hollywood, that you’re talking about folks in Hollywood crying about how much they get paid. It can be hard for a lot of people living outside of Hollywood to understand what it is that these folks are complaining about, especially actors.

I think it’s an easy thing to assume that these people are all making a ton of money. First of all, the reason we have so many Californians here (to Texas) is how expensive it is to live in L.A.

I don’t know, there was a piece in Deadline that was kind of a really snarky piece that came out maybe last week. And it was saying that the studios plan intentionally what, as a group, was to make sure these writers were losing their homes and their apartments and their way of life and to break them. I don’t know if that all really happened, but Deadline did run it.

And those are, of course, real things, right? If nobody’s getting a paycheck and you live in an expensive town, it’s going to be rough.

Are the writers, the actors working together in this strike?

You know, I don’t know. I’m in neither of those guilds. But they sure do seem like it. And I think they both have the same primary issues.

This is creative content. These people are the reasons that these shows become popular. And so all of a sudden, these people aren’t able to share at all in their work product. I think that’s kind of the crux of what people are concerned about.

What about the producers? Are they unionized as well, and where do they fit into all this?

Well, they’re an organization, and I don’t think that they’re union, but it’s called the AMPTP and they’re the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

And basically, that group is the negotiating body that negotiates with the Writers Guild and with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) – they’re the people like Amazon and MGM and Apple and Universal and Disney and Sony.

There used to be more organizations, but now it’s shrunken because there’s been a lot of consolidation.

And so what are they saying about the strikes?

Well, they’re just saying “no” to everything, kind of. That’s what it appears to be. They do have the power, right? They’re the people who own the content and hire all these people.

They’re all public companies. They all have shareholders. And, you know, at some point, not making content is going to not make money.

What does all this mean for consumers, as you see it?

I’m not, like I said, watching reality TV, so I just can’t do it. So I don’t know what I’m going to be watching in two months from now.

You know, streaming does bank a lot of stuff, so there’s probably a lot of material sitting there. But I think for consumers, it’s going to mean there’s going to be a little bit of a hole in the market for a while, especially I think with films.

People just aren’t going to be able to make it. And I think they’re going have to wait longer for the TV shows they loved that weren’t already done.

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