Hollywood Screenwriters Strike Against AI and Salary Stagnation

  For many fans of American dramas and movies, mentioning “Hollywood” means mentioning “Dream Factory” and the “city of the future” in the culture of film and television dramas. Under the high-level creation and standardized film and television production industry, Hollywood has contributed many interesting and forward-looking masterpieces, and once constructed the audience’s various imaginations of the future of the world.
  However, with the rapid development of technology and streaming media, “Dream Factory” has to face a lot of feathers. Artificial intelligence, which once existed only in science fiction films, is making waves in various fields. ChatGPT brings human-fed corpus and invades every profession that uses text, drawing, etc. as products—for Hollywood screenwriters, it is also exception.
  The Writers Guild, the casters behind those “dreams,” is the most important cog in the Hollywood entertainment production line. But on May 2, local time in the United States, thousands of members of the Hollywood Screenwriters Guild (WGA) took to the streets to strike and demonstrate against the invasion of AI and the stagnant or even declining salary system, vowing to leverage the giant Hollywood However giant.
  According to general economic laws, industry strikes usually occur at the moment of rapid economic recession or large-scale layoffs in the industry. But in this strike, in addition to the “traditional” dissatisfaction with the salary system and dividend mechanism, the screenwriters also want to defend the dignity of human workers.
  At the moment of the strike, it was the screenwriters union’s resistance after the breakdown of negotiations with the Alliance of Major Entertainment Companies in the United States (AMPTP), which represented the interests of the management. Time has changed and things have changed. This time, will the rights and interests that were not obtained on the negotiating table have a chance of winning after the “threat” of strike?
human labor loses dignity

  The last time the writers union went on strike was in 2007. At that time, today’s “streaming media brother” Netflix (Netflix) was still doing DVD rental and mailing, and the information delivery method we are familiar with today has not yet occupied the market. The overall shock of the industry: the popular “Breaking Bad”, “Desperate Housewives”, “The Office”, “Ugly Betty” and other dramas had to stop broadcasting and filming, waiting for the results of the writers’ strike. A long time later, movie star Daniel Craig still had lingering fears when recalling the strike: when the screenwriters union organized the strike in 2007, he was filming “007 Quantum of Solace”, because no one wrote the next script because of the screenwriters’ strike, in order to minimize The loss caused by the delay of work, as an actor, he had to write his own lines on the set to maintain the shooting progress. The strike lasted for 100 days, causing direct economic losses of more than 2 billion U.S. dollars and evaporating nearly 40,000 jobs.

On May 10, 2023, New York, USA, 12,000 screenwriters went on strike after failed negotiations with the Screenwriters Guild of the United States

Senior Screenwriter Mark Guggenheim

  The screenwriting work here is more like an assembly line: each person is only responsible for one of the delicate links.

  Another appeal of the screenwriters union’s strike is to fight for a greater share of profits for writers in the streaming media era, that is, to ask for a salary increase.

  Today, the same plot is being played out, so why did they take to the streets again this time to “tear their faces”?
  From the strike slogans held by screenwriters: “AI cannot replace screenwriters”, “replace executives with AI”, “AI has no soul”… you can get the answer.
  In this strike, one of the screenwriters’ major demands is to limit the use of AI tools—such as the recently popular ChatGPT to create scripts or assist in creation. This includes the right to use and the right to be used: employers can neither use AI to write or rewrite scripts, or use AI-produced materials as source materials for human screenwriters to modify, nor can they use the scripts written by human screenwriters in the past and at this moment as corpus.” “Feed” to the AI ​​for training.
  In Hollywood, creating with AI is nothing new. Due to the mature film and television industry in Hollywood, the screenwriting work here is not a “small workshop” where several people cooperate to write a complete story together as we know it, but more like an assembly line: each person is only responsible for one of the fine links . For example, the American drama “Game of Thrones” has 17 screenwriters, some are responsible for writing the outline, some are writing the lines, some are responsible for character setting, and some are responsible for the cutscenes… The fine “screw-driving”
  work makes the replacement of AI possible— For example, in the part of writing a character biography, if you “feed” the past scripts that have been created to the AI ​​to reproduce them in the same tone as before, or let the AI ​​follow the logic of the story after learning the plot of a certain popular drama Write the script outline for the new season… For AI, the production “from 1 to ∞” is a “pixel-level” imitation, which seems to be better, more active, and cheaper than human screenwriters.
  Out of cost considerations, Hollywood management tends to train and use AI to complete some links in the screenwriting pipeline, and even requires human screenwriters to assist AI and modify the scripts generated by AI.
  Being deprived of creative rights by AI obviously disgusts the screenwriters who make a living by creating, thinking that the products generated by AI plagiarize the past labor of human screenwriters, and it also opens the way for blatant plagiarism. If the employer asks to modify the first draft generated by AI, it seems to be an insult-the screenwriters believe that such modifications “belittle the dignity and value of human labor.”
  The screenwriters union hopes to redefine the difference between those “materials” generated by AI and the creation of human screenwriters: only original content is “literary content” or “source material”, which is the work of real screenwriters, if AI cannot complete ” The originality of “from scratch” is just an imitation of “from 1 to ∞”, so it cannot be called a “screenwriter”.
Defend jobs

  Obviously, today’s strike means that representatives of management have rejected the screenwriters union’s proposals for the use and role of AI in screenwriting work. The representative of the employer claimed that if the screenwriters insist on entangled in this issue, everyone can wait until the “annual negotiation meeting” and discuss related issues on how to use AI at that meeting.

  This kind of reply of “let’s talk about it next time” is obviously not sincere. Mark Guggenheim, a senior screenwriter who wrote “Arrow” and dealt with various managements, was extremely angry at this reply, thinking that “this is a ‘delaying tactic’ that managements have always used.” The birth of new technologies will have a huge impact on the careers of many people. The management uses time as an excuse to observe new trends and calculate new costs. By the time the so-called “annual meeting” arrives, many practitioners have already been fired , Many jobs have been “cut off” long ago, and many salaries have been reduced long ago… The done deal, let alone the so-called negotiation.
  Such finely “cutting words” and redefining, in addition to hoping to defend human creation and protect the dignity of labor, but also because the word “screenwriter” not only carries a professional expectation, but also the job of practitioners, which means signature, share, etc. Realistic factors related to the breadwinner.

On May 3, 2023, New York, USA, writer Yang Bowen of “Saturday Night Live” participated in the strike

  In an era without AI intervention, from the first draft to the finished product, the participants in every link of the screenwriter can get income, and the copyright and division are clear. With AI, the past works of screenwriters will become weapons to attack themselves in turn: on the one hand, AI has learned the language of human screenwriters to continue production, completely making some screenwriters lose their jobs; In the preparatory work and initial stage of writing dramas such as biographies, AI can generate some messy first drafts, and the employer hires human screenwriters to modify the first drafts of AI—even if the “garbled code” generated by the machine is modified, the work content may be more complicated, but this is “modification” Instead of “creation”, there is also a reason to reduce the scriptwriter’s fee.
  In fact, topics such as the strike against AI and the confrontation between humans and artificial intelligence have also made people on the sidelines in the public opinion field forget the fact that this is a conflict between screenwriters and employers, and between humans and humans. Another appeal of the screenwriters union’s strike is to fight for a greater share of profits for writers in the streaming media era, that is, to ask for a salary increase.
  With the continuous development of streaming media, more episodes are no longer produced and played on fixed TV stations as before, but turned to the Internet for production and display.
  Traditional TV stations adopt a relatively stable employment system for screenwriters. Screenwriters work for a TV station rather than a certain project. Even if some bottlenecks are encountered in creation or broadcasting, at least a basic salary is guaranteed. A stable job also brings a stable workplace environment and visible promotion paths. Today’s streaming media companies employ a more flexible approach to hiring screenwriters, taking the lead in building a “small team” with a project. After writing the prescribed parts, they shoot and break up. Screenwriters are more like “part-time jobs” without a basic salary as a guarantee, let alone a workplace. Advancement, promotion.
  But companies in the streaming age are clearly making more money than traditional TV stations. Television broadcasts are scheduled and time-limited, but popular dramas in streaming media can be decided by the audience, and they can be clicked and watched repeatedly—every click will generate revenue. But no matter how hot and popular dramas are written, no matter how many clicks bring long-term “revenues”, they will not enter the pockets of the screenwriters. They can only get a fixed amount of salary without a basic salary after the writing is completed. Then move on to the next item.
who will win

  Today, such guerrilla-like working methods are also being eaten up. The number of episodes is shortened, and the income of screenwriters who charge per episode is reduced; the income of screenwriters is not guaranteed in the gig economy; the meaning of work is questioned due to the invasion of AI… It is also difficult for senior screenwriters in their 50s to live a decent life in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Life.
  The arrogance and contempt of writing by management became the last straw that led to the strike. In addition to the rejection of AI’s participation in script writing, some Hollywood executives even made no secret of their favor for AI: film producer Todd Lieberman predicts: “In the next three years you will see movies written by AI … and they are very good. The CEO of Fox Entertainment Group also said: “Not only the script, but also editing, storyboarding and other aspects will have the participation of AI in the future.
  ” In the negotiation memorandum published by the screenwriters union, the employer stated that it could only give up to 2.5%-while the screenwriters demanded at least 6%.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a talk show that has been canceled due to the strike

  In the negotiation memorandum released by the screenwriters union, the employer stated that it could only give a maximum of 2.5%-while the screenwriters demanded at least 6%.

  Will the tide of strikes wash out a new order?
  So far, the strike has been most affected by American talk shows. Shows like “Saturday Night Live”, “The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, which rely heavily on screenwriters and write jokes based on reality, have begun to stop or rerun. The characteristic of these programs is that they connect reality with humor, produce complex emotions such as irony and humor, and tell about human feelings… Obviously, AI at this moment cannot understand or replace humans.
  The predicament of talk shows virtually “supports” the appeals of the screenwriters. Since the script writing time of traditional autumn American TV dramas is mostly concentrated in May to June, if the strike time continues to be extended, the shooting of many autumn TV dramas may be postponed. The production cycle of movies such as 5″ will also be delayed due to these turbulences. In the streaming media era, time is money. Even if replays and other methods are used to temporarily “fill in the blanks”, the lost traffic and money cannot be easily estimated.
  Under the suspension, rebroadcast, and postponement, will the capital side—those film and television giants—will compromise?
  In addition to favoring AI and contempt for creation, the capital side also has some unspeakable hidden pains. The first quarter financial report released by Netflix (Netflix) is not optimistic: the net profit is 1.305 billion US dollars, down 18% year-on-year, and the growth of users is not as good as expected. It is also undergoing small layoffs and merging departments internally; HBO canceled “” The preparations for the fifth season of Westworld; after Disney released an unsatisfactory financial report, it announced a 30% cut in content investment and increased cost review of movies and TV series.
  Screenwriters are dissatisfied with their treatment and take to the streets. The giants seem to have only superficial arrogance under the economic downturn, and the wave of strikes in Hollywood has also spread from screenwriters. It is reported that the American Directors Guild is also planning to launch a strike in June. strike movement.
  Who wins the deer wins, or loses to both sides, AI can’t trap the screenwriter, everything is just a human struggle.

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