EXCLUSIVE: “We told them, and we told them for six weeks of negotiations, what they needed to address to meet writers demands, and have a real negotiation,” exclaims WGA Chief Negotiator Ellen Stutzman from the picket line today on the now-shuttered talks with the studios. “They refused the whole time.”
Amid chants of “Hey Netflix, you’re no good/Pay your writers like you should” and hundreds of protesting guild members outside the streamer’s Sunset Boulevard HQ, longtime labor leader Stutzman is in the thick of it again.
RELATED: WGA Strike Explained: The Issues, The Stakes, Movies & TV Shows Affected — And How Long It Might Last
Less than 24 hours ago, Stutzman was leading the Writers Guild of America’s bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over a new three-year contract. However, with talks having ended late Monday with the two sides far apart on money, transparency and good security and with an apparent philosophical disagreement on the basic role of scribes in the ever-changing industry, the WGA leadership declared a strike starting in the early hours of Tuesday.
As picket signs, scribes, stars and other supportive guilds and unions took to the streets of Los Angeles and New York this afternoon, the first major Hollywood labor action since the 100-day WGA strike of 2007-28 reveals an industry clearly at an inflection point.
RELATED: What Went Wrong? Writers & Studios Reveal What They Couldn’t (And Could) Agree On As Strike Is Set
At the center of that, Stutzman stepped out of the picket line today to talk to Deadline about how we got here, what’s at stake, and what needs to be addressed for writers to go back to work.
DEADLINE: When talks abruptly ended last night, the AMPTP sent out a statement essentially claiming the WGA negotiators walked away — that they wanted to keep going at it and the guild pulled the plug. As the lead negotiator, what is your perspective on what went down on Monday?
STUTZMAN: I wish any of that were true. I wish they were willing to give us anything more than very modest increases that don’t even address inflation and certainly don’t get at the decline in pay that writers have seen over the past decade.
RELATED: Deadline’s Full Strike Coverage
We didn’t walk out. We told them, and we told them for six weeks of negotiations, what they needed to address to meet writers demands, and have a real negotiation.
DEADLINE: And their response?
STUTZMAN: They refused the whole time. All they did yesterday was say, “Get rid of these proposals, and maybe we’ll give you a little bit more.” And that’s not acceptable to writers.
DEADLINE: Perhaps this sounds silly to ask, but as the top person at the table, why do you think that was the attitude from Carol Lombardini and the AMPTP?
STUTZMAN: That’s a very good question. I’ll just say, the entire time it seemed like they were out of touch with what’s going on with their workforce.
DEADLINE: We’re standing next to the WGA picket line here at Netflix on Sunset. Streamers and the shift they have brought to the industry in terms of pay, expectations and more clearly were major issues in the negotiations. What would you say to Ted Sarandos and crew about what needs to happen for writers to get back to work?
STUTZMAN: We’ve put out exactly what our proposals are in terms of what’s needed for screenwriters and television writers and comedy variety writers. I think we’ve made clear what’s needed to improve residuals because these companies have cut out the middleman. They’ve said, “I’m going to take a service, and I am going to distribute that content around the world, cut out all the middlemen and cut out all the residuals that writers, actors and directors have shared in for decades.”
They’ve got to pay more in residuals to capture the global growth of their services, and they should pay a residual based on success. It used to be revenue, now its viewers.
It’s just really unfortunate that the companies didn’t want to address things that are really reasonable and basic and fundamental to the work here, and has, in particular in television, been made for decades upon decades. Our view is that they just want to do away with that and they don’t want to have writers in the process anymore. And they want it to be a freelance gig economy, and they’re fine with that. We’re not.
DEADLINE: In that vein, transparency also was on the table with the streamers that, like most tech companies, aren’t so quick to share data like viewership. What was the give-and-take over the negotiating table with the AMPTP about that?
STUTZMAN: (Laughs) There was no give-and-take.
STUTZMAN: They don’t want to do it. They don’t want to be transparent. And that’s a problem for this entire town. Funny thing is, I would expect it has to change as they all want advertisers to help them fund their services. They’re going have to start telling people who watches these shows and how many, and that’s it. That’s a key demand.
Look, I think that this industry has to remember the compact that it has with its creative talent that you have to pay them sufficiently compensation and residuals so that they remain highly skilled available workforce. You create the most profitable entertainment content in the world. And you’ve got to address AI.
DEADLINE: Well, on that, in the document comparing proposals, so to speak, that the guild put out last night when the strike was announced, it seemed that while the WGA wanted AI regulated, the studios simply wanted to meet once a year to discuss advances in technology. Sounds to me like that was them keeping the door open to use AI as a creative force down the line, to write scripts…
STUTZMAN: Dominic, they refused to talk to us about AI until Sunday.
STUTZMAN: Yes. On April 30 they gave us an offer that they would agree that the MBA already says a writer is a person and that they would meet with us once a year.
That’s it, and that is unacceptable.
We are very concerned given over the course of this negotiation what has come out with AI that these things have no business being in the writing of scripts. They only exist because they’ve taken all my members and everyone else has written to create some generative text. And so, it has to be dealt with in this negotiation, and they would not address it.
DEADLINE: Back in 2008, the studios eventually adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy to end the last WGA strike. They made a deal with the DGA while you guys were out on the picket lines, and that agreement became leverage to get writers to go back to work. The DGA stepped out of its traditional position of being the first to talk with studios this year so the WGA could go first, but their negotiations currently are scheduled to start on May 10. Are you concerned we could see a repeat of 2008, with the DGA being used to rein in the WGA?
STIUTZMAN: I think that the whatever deal Directors Guild makes cannot address writer issues. So f the companies think that’s the solution like it was in 2007-2008, they are dead wrong. Dead wrong.
DEADLINE: You suddenly were the chief negotiator for the guild this year after health issues sidelined WGA Executive Director David Young. It’s a big debut for anyone — what was it like for you?
STUTZMAN: Well, I’ve been in negotiations since 2014. So I have a lot of experience being in there. We have an amazing staff. We have an amazing group of member leaders, and we have a process and that’s how we do it. Yes, it’s challenging to be the person who leads it, but it’s a great team effort, and we do everything together.
DEADLINE: Speaking of which, it seems like a different tone this time around, first strike in 15 years. What do you want the town, the execs, the studios to know from what has happened in the past 24 hours and is happening today?
STUTZMAN: I think writers are incredibly united, willing to strike and take action for as long as needed to make a good deal. We are always willing to talk. Now it’s really on the companies, the studios and streamers to decide that they want to end the pain that they’re inflicting on everyone.
I’ll just say the amount of money that they have spent and continue to spend on the content that writers create makes it clear that they absolutely need writers. So they’re going have to come and make a deal.
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