Contract talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will begin March 23.
The WGA West and WGA East and AMPTP will be working on a tight timetable against a May 1 contract expiration deadline at a time when the industry is bracing for the possibility of a work stoppage. Writers have been grappling with a number of bottom-line issues that have developed amid a fast-changing industry landscape, and those issues could boil over into a work stoppage depending on how far the AMPTP is willing to go to address those concerns.
A representative for the AMPTP on Friday declined to confirm the March 23 target date for contract talks. Representatives for the WGA did not respond to requests for comment. When the sides last met for talks three years ago, bargaining sessions began on March 13, 2017.
The WGA talks will come on the heels of the AMPTP’s negotiations with the Directors Guild of America, which wrapped on Thursday after starting on Feb. 10. The DGA is keeping mum on the details until the offer is presented to the guild’s national board on Saturday. But multiple sources familiar with the broad strokes of the agreement say the DGA deal includes a significant increase in residuals for high-budget streaming content.
Streaming residuals are sure to be a big focus for the WGA as well as for SAG-AFTRA in its upcoming talks. As the streaming revolution shakes up the broader entertainment industry, writers are increasingly dissatisfied with the residual fee structure for streaming given how central such platforms are becoming to AMPTP members and signatory companies.
The AMTPT traditionally negotiates its three-year master film and TV contract agreement with the DGA first to set a template for the other guilds. The step-up secured by the DGA for some digital streaming residuals is a sign that AMPTP recognizes that movement in that area is necessary to adjust to the new realities of the marketplace.
For decades, writers received lucrative residual payments when movies and TV programs were rerun in primetime on broadcast TV. But those reruns are virtually obsolete these days on the major networks, which has only heightened the determination by the guilds to demand big gains in streaming, given how much viewing is moving in that direction and away from linear channels.
The WGA-AMPTP talks are expected to delve into complicated issues involving the formulas for calculating compensation for writers working on episodic TV series and the length of time that writers can be committed to working on a given series. Those issues don’t typically affect directors but they are relevant to SAG-AFTRA members, which means the AMPTP likely is crafting some kind of proposal to address those issues for both unions. SAG-AFTRA talks are expected to come after the WGA negotiations as the former union’s contract expires June 30, as does the DGA’s.
It’s also understood that the WGA has dropped its demand that the new Minimum Basic Agreement with the AMPTP include a provision that would bar studios from doing business with agents for guild members who do not adhere to the guild’s new rules regarding packaging fees and affiliated production.
The WGA has been a nearly year-long standoff with the industry’s largest talent agencies over the implementation of the guild’s agency reforms last April. Last year, the AMPTP previously rejected the WGA’s request to have that provision added to the current Minimum Basic Agreement. It’s understood that the AMPTP reiterated its previous stance that the major network and studio conglomerates would be in violation of anti-trust laws if it were to do so. The Los Angeles Times first reported the guild’s withdrawal of the agency franchise provision.