Charlie Galle/Getty Images for Netflix
Outside the Fox lot in Century City this afternoon, Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA Negotiations Committee among more than 150 members who were on site to picket after negotiations with the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers broke down and their contract expired.
WGA Award nominee, known for his work on series such as the society And party of fiveThis year, he is leading negotiations alongside fellow former union boss David Goodman, having held the position himself between 2011 and 2015.
In a conversation with Deadline this afternoon, he spoke to the atmosphere in the room with AMPTP members last night, the stakes in these negotiations and how he compares the current strike to one that happened all the way back in 2008, his concerns about studios’ unwillingness to broach the subject of AI, and time. in which he sees work stopping, and how it affects work in his own series Julia for HBO Max and more.
DEADLINE: What caused the negotiations to fail so early last night, around 8 p.m. Pacific time? What are the biggest sticking points in AMPTP?
Chris Keizer: The companies have continued to refuse to move forward, or even to discuss a long list of our core proposals. In fact, what they eventually did is they said, “Listen, we’ll give you more on some things if you agree to give up everything else.” And we told them, “No, we can’t do that.” And they said, “Well, we don’t have any more moves.” And so it ended a few hours ago.
Deadline: Were there areas they were willing to make worthwhile concessions?
Keyser: We’ve made some progress on some lower bounds, and in some respects on the premium of pre-greenlight rooms, and a few things in the variety of comics, though on sufficient terms, have made them far less useful. And by the way, a lot of what they’ve provided, they have workarounds for it. But they won’t discuss all the structural stuff that gets to the heart of our problem — that in a world where writers write at least, even exhibitors write at least, we need a guarantee of a certain number of weeks of work, that writers will be hired first, and writing continues through production, And the post is paid for, at least at least, and that the screenwriters actually have some respite from the endless abuse of liberty. work, and that they have some protection when they write the exact same movie for broadcast as they did for the play, and writers of variety comedy have MBA terms that apply… anyone who’s on Appendix A has terms that apply without the deductibles they wanted. There are no daily rates for various comic writers, all sorts of things.
And by the way, artificial intelligence. They will not discuss artificial intelligence. I think you get a really good idea from companies about where they see the future based on what they say they’re not going to talk about. Because the things they will say yes to are the things they feel they can easily absorb, or may not pay off in the long run. So, we see a real risk of an attack on writers’ weekly pay, term deals. That means they’re trying to turn us into a syndicate of freelancers…and treating screenwriters terribly.
DEADLINE: How do you see the situation in this round of negotiations, compared to the time of the last strike in 2008?
Keyser: The business landscape is clearly something different. Each of these is somewhat different from the previous one. It’s more complicated, what are our leverages, in one way, and maybe we have some advantage in the other. This room, I mean AMPTP, may be more divided than it has ever been because their interests are more diverse. I really don’t know how much Netflix and Paramount+ or NBCUniversal have in common. Disney is also different, and Amazon and Apple, so they’re going to have to work through all of that, and I think that’s going to be interesting.
Deadline: Do you see it as an advantage to the community that studios and broadcasters come to the table from different places, with distinct priorities and resources available to them?
Keyser: I think it goes both ways. I think it’s hard to make a deal in the short term if they let each other get in the way. At some point, the pain from this may be so different for some than for others that they decide they just can’t stand being together. I don’t want to be one of the streaming networks waiting for Netflix to decide when to stop tapping.
Deadline: How has the offense affected the series you’re currently on, Julia?
Keyser: I don’t know. We have finished producing and publishing (in the second season). I will not do anything with any of the promotion. But I have something in development and I’m closing a deal with him at Peacock. That is, I’m obviously not going to have any conversations about that.
Deadline: How long do you see this strike continuing?
Keyser: You never know. But I will say that until this morning, it only strikes us once every 35 years, and we only do so when we see an existential threat to writing as a profession, as it did when we entertained the idea that streaming wouldn’t pay us enough money, since we had no expectations there. So, I think the writers understand that they need to stick together, and we’ll stick together until we work this out.
Deadline: Do you have an idea when to get back to the table with AMPTP?
Keyser: It is up to them.
Deadline: How did you personally deal with the problems that led to the strike? How did they affect you or those around you?
Keyser: The younger writers who work for me talk about how hard it is to make a living year after year because the jobs are so short, they’re low paying, and they’re few and far between. I know myself, as a model, I work a year and a half or two for very little occasional fees until my fees are amortized. Nobody needs to cry for me. But there are young show makers out there who, when they’re told this is the absolute best…you get your own show. If you make it to the top you can work endless hours at least with no book to help you, all alone… Have fun. Therefore, it is very difficult.
One of the reasons we have 9,000 votes to approve a strike permit is because it affects everyone in every corner of the business. So I was talking about TV, episodic, but equally true in features and comedic variety. There is no one who is not affected by it, or who does not know someone who cares deeply about who is affected by it. This concerns us equally.
Deadline: The WGA is often in the difficult position of having to figure out how to approach negotiations on topics such as artificial intelligence, as our understanding is still evolving, of the implications for business. How did you frame this challenge for yourself? How do you deal with that?
KeizerA: At present, I think we have a very simple philosophy, which is that artificial intelligence cannot be a literary subject. It can’t be a draft we have to rewrite. Not that companies won’t use it in some way. It can be a research material – but it cannot be a literary material. I will say this, no one knows exactly what AI will be, but the fact that companies won’t talk about it is the best indicator we have that we have reason to fear it.
Deadline: What is your vision for how the strike might play out, in the best and worst case scenarios?
Keizer: I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not going to give you a worst-case scenario, because that worst-case scenario just won’t happen, in our minds. We can’t let it go. Our best case scenario is that we make a reasonable deal – not everything we asked for, but enough to protect the writers and make this a viable profession moving forward across all business sectors.
Deadline: It seems to me that success in these negotiations would represent a major paradigm shift for the business. How do you see winning transforming it?
Keizer: Here’s the thing, the things we ask for are things we had before. This is just an attempt by the writers to maintain a livable, working profession, and that’s it. So, I don’t think we’ve made the argument, and I think it’s true, that those costs can be absorbed into film and film budgets, in general. It’s small compared to these total budgets. I think we argue for maintaining a well-functioning system for decades. I don’t mean to go back to the old broadcast model. I mean, where we write the stuff that makes them millions and allows us to make a living that allows us to stay in this business.