June 7, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
Members of the striking Writers Guild of America picketed outside the Silvercup East Studios in Long Island City on Tuesday, June 6, leading to the day’s shooting of the TV show “Daredevil” to be shut down.
Around 40 people took part in the picket, most of whom are members of the Writers Guild of America, a combination of two different labor unions representing writers in film, television, radio and online media.
The guild represents around 11,500 workers across America, all of whom have been on strike since May 2 because of a dispute over pay and the potential use of artificial intelligence (AI). Members say they want a greater share of revenues generated each time their work is streamed on online platforms (known as residuals), while they also want to cut a deal that would prevent studios from using AI to write scripts, a process they say could eventually replace them.
The picketers marched quietly in a small circle in front of the studio’s main entrance, located at 34-02 Starr Ave., carrying signs that read “I stream, you stream, we all stream for a fair contract.” The sign refers to the residual pay dispute.
Other signs read: “Protect residuals not CEOs,” “Pencils down, boots on the ground,” and “You’ll miss 100% of the shows we won’t write.”
Some drivers passing by beeped their horns in support of the picketers while Daredevil’s production crew could be seen standing and sitting along the sidewalk directly across from the picket.
It is understood that the crew would not cross the picket line, although one crew member said production for the day could not go ahead anyway, since trucks carrying equipment — being driven by members of the Teamsters union — did not show up.
The Teamsters have declared their support for the strike; however, the union did not provide comment pertaining to Tuesday’s picket.
Meanwhile, Kris Bagwell, the executive vice president and general manager of Silvercup Studios, said it hopes both sides can reach an agreement.
“We hope that the Writers Guild of America and the content producers and distributors reach a fair resolution so that this industry – and the thousands of jobs it brings – can continue to grow and thrive in New York,” Bagwell said in a statement to Schneps Media.
The Writers Guild of America is in dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major film and television studios in Hollywood.
The writers argue that streaming services, which upended decades of television industry business practices, have significantly undercut their compensation, according to Reuters. They say they aim to recover lost income, in part, by proposing streaming payments that take into account the number of times an episode is viewed, and the number of subscribers outside the U.S.
AMPTP says streaming has been a boon for writers, giving them more opportunities for assignments and allowing them to earn income on shows that were canceled or would not otherwise reach syndication.
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Tuesday’s protest came the day after the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which represents around 160,000 performers, announced that its members had overwhelmingly voted to authorize strike action on similar grounds.
Meanwhile, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract which includes wage hikes and a 76% increase in international residuals on the largest platforms, according to a Variety citing a DGA summary.
Sarah Montana, a picket captain who was protesting outside Silvercup East Tuesday, said the members want to create leverage in negotiations by shutting down production.
“[We are] hitting the studios where it hurts and hopefully costing them millions of dollars, so they’ll come back to the table and give us a fair deal.”
Montana said that the writers are looking for less than 2% of streaming profits generated from the shows they help create. She said this would be in line with compensation earned from regular broadcasting or cable TV.
She said that studios have been cutting back on writers, too, and that the guild wants shows to be staffed with a minimum number of writers which would, in turn, safeguard promotional opportunities.
“What we are trying to fight for is that there is not too much free work and that there’s a future in this career so you can continue to be a writer and grow.”
And then the other big angle to their cause is AI.
“It’s not that AI inherently bad, it’s that but AI shouldn’t be credited as a person, it shouldn’t be a writer,” Montana said. “And we are asking them to come to the table and say that a writer will always be credited as a human and that AI can be used as a research tool. The solidarity from unions across this strike has been incredible, it’s been really humbling. This feels that it’s not just about us but it’s a big moment for labor across the country.”
Organizers say that they have picketed at least five times outside the premises since the strike started, forcing production to shut down. There was also a picket at a production location on Steinway Street in Astoria on Tuesday.
Montana said the picketers aim to assemble at their sites before production crews arrive, as crews are unwilling to cross the line.
“As long as we are there and we have a picket line most of them have said that they won’t cross, and if they don’t cross, they can’t start production,” Montana said. “And it’s only because of their solidarity and their willingness to do that is why this is working. Our goal is not to put people out of work … our goal is to do whatever it takes to get the studios back to the table to give us a fair deal.”