Writer-Comedian Adam Conover, Producer and Host adam ruins everything And members of the WGA negotiating committee spoke candidly on social media in the wake of the Guild’s negotiations with AMPTP, the collective bargaining representative of the major Hollywood studios.
On the first day of the writers’ strike, Conover called out David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, during an appearance on the company’s network CNN this morning, saying that Zaslav was “paid $250m last year, a quarter of a billion dollars.” This is roughly the same level as what 10,000 authors are asking them to pay us all collectively.
Conover didn’t mince words in an interview with Deadline. While on the WGA picket line in front of the Netflix offices, he gave a candid assessment of failed talks with the studios and their stance on AI and a warning for the DGA, which is starting talks with AMPTP next week.
deadline: A lot has dropped in the last 24 hours. How did it get to this, the writers are on strike today?
conover: We thought in the chat room that they would try to make it difficult for us, that they would bring us enough stuff that we would be in a position to say, oh man can we get together? Are there really enough issues for us to go on strike?
But this did not happen. After last Wednesday, he essentially stopped making any reasonable counters. They made little little moves, they offered stuff — like you saw in the document where we — they offered an annual meeting on AI. He is funny. What is happening in that meeting? Oh, technology is advancing, AI is getting good. see you next year. He is nothing.
deadline: Do you think maybe studios were wringing their hands that they see AI as something they want to use going forward?
conover: I think what they did was they took an issue that we thought would be easy, because this technology is not currently usable in any way, shape or form; Its output is also not copyrightable. So we thought they would say, it’s easy. Let’s ban it or maybe at least have a moratorium or something like that, but instead they completely balked at it.
This was one of the issues that he declined. They didn’t even discuss it in the room. As we go in and say, you guys need to say the words, make an argument about your AI proposal. He didn’t really say anything about it. And what that did, it raised the issue for us and on everyone’s mind here, because since we started this process, people have become more and more concerned about AI. We’ve seen the effects on more and more work areas, the SAG-AFTRA actors are dealing with it right now.
The only reason they would do this would be so that they would have a plan. I don’t know what their plan could be. But it definitely feels like 2007 when we were saying, we need coverage for the Internet, and they were like, we don’t even know if we’re going to do something on the Internet. We clearly knew that they were. In this case, it’s a bit overhyped because I personally think the technology is completely overhyped and oversold. I don’t think you’ll ever really be able to replace a writer’s work, but I don’t begrudge these companies for trying some cockamamy scheme where they have an output text and try to rewrite it. Let’s hire writers or something like that. I think people will hate it. I think it will be a financial failure, but I think they can try and they can hurt a lot of writers by doing so.
We thought they were going to make it difficult for us. And the shocking thing was that he did not do so in the last three days of talks. They made it very easy by not giving us anything. They also didn’t do the work we would expect them to maybe try to give screenwriters, or maybe TV writers something and leave it to the comedy-variety writers. He didn’t even do that. Everyone in the room said nothing to me that he had to offer. So yeah, let’s go on strike. He united the union, and I don’t know why he did it. I think this is a terrible strategy. But it’s better than them trying to divide us, not that it would have worked.
deadline: Do you think studios are seriously ready to talk about what’s happening with streaming residuals?
conover: We’re going to get them to have that conversation. The truth of the matter is that AMPTP is an organization designed not to have such conversations. All Those CEOs Outsource Their Labor Decisions [AMPTP President] Carol Lombardini and her team. And Carol Lombardini tells them, hey, if you agree to this, if you outsource and invest all your power in me, I’ll cut you out of your annual negotiations with just a 2% bump every year, no matter what it is. They have a little backroom deal about how much room he has to maneuver here. And when you try to go beyond that, they don’t have the ability to offer that to you because they’re not the decision makers.
So the essence of the strike is that we should get out of here and stop our labor from them. Remind them that they have nothing without us, and nothing without Teamsters and IATSE and all the other unions standing in solidarity with us to force those CEOs to come to the table and negotiate about I you are talking. Because you’re right, we need to have that conversation. But conversation is much more than residual. The conversation is about how, over the last 10 years, studios and streamers have tried to turn writing from a career to a gig job.
deadline: How do you think this is going? A studio source told me, I don’t think it’s going to be as long as 1988, but I think it’s going to be longer than 2008.
conover: It is entirely up to the companies how long we are out. We are completely united. We waited for agents for a year and a half. And because we didn’t lose any support, as a result, we forced them to sell their fucking production branches. We forced these giant companies to make material changes to their businesses. We have the power to do this for these companies.
By the time they realize this, we will be out of here. Now what’s likely going to happen is, if you look at how AMPTP has laid out the calendar, Carol is going to think, well, I’m going to go with a DGA, I’m going to say I have time for this. You’re not, and they’re going to make us wait here. We can play that game. We can wait as long as it needs to because the writers know it’s existential.
deadline, In 2007-08, one of the things that ended the strike, along with other factors, was that the DGA entered into an agreement with AMPTP. Do you see AMPTP trying to play a similar strategy with DGA?
conover: Well, first of all, I sincerely hope that the DGA is on our side, and we stand in solidarity with their members. I have some concern with a statement that they made a few weeks ago encouraging their members to cross our picket line and saying that if you don’t cross the picket line, you could be in big trouble, etc. A follow-up statement of support, so you’re really going to hope they stick to that. But Carol Lombardini is very smart and she structures these things for a reason. So the reason she positions them — like she did in 2007 — is to undercut, even though not all DGA leaders think they’re undercutting, that’s the purpose.
But the difference between 2007 and now is in 2007, we were basically fighting for one thing. There were other things on the table as well but the main thing was the coverage of streaming and what the resulting formulas would be. So DGA went in, got that deal, using the leverage of us being on strike, and then negotiated a deal on the residuals that we then had to accept — that’s pattern bargaining, that’s how Carol does it. In this case, what we are fighting for is not even in the DGA contract. One of the biggest things – just take one of them – is writers’ room patronage. Companies are trying to eliminate the writers room.
If they have their way, five years from now, it will be an audience sending emails to freelancers asking them to pick up scripts, even if they are allowed to do so. Companies are looking at some big, high-profile examples of a showrunner writing six or eight episodes and saying, well, what if we could get everyone to act in a way that would make us a lot of money? Will survive
That’s why we’re fighting to preserve the writers’ room and codify it in our contract. That doesn’t do the DGA pattern. DGA’s not going to make some deal that then Carol is going to say hey, you guys have to take this, that’s not possible, and so that’s a really big difference. Now there are some things that the pattern likes residuals for example, and that’s where you can start to see the interaction a little bit more. But the conditions for comedy-variety and Appendix A and streaming, the fight against free work and weekly pay for screenwriters, are things like that. They don’t exist for DGA. So, if there’s going to be an undercutting, it can’t be on these issues.
deadline: You got strong support from Teamsters, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA. What would you say to the DGA leadership right now as they look to eight days from now to begin their conversation?
conover: What I will say is Carol Lombardini AMPTP and the CEOs of these companies are incredibly powerful, smart, strategic, your enemies who have designed a strategy that is designed to drive off your members and break up your union. And it is in your best interest to fight against them with us as much as possible. I’m really happy to see the strides they’ve made, and I hope they keep it up and I’d love to see them out here.