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Writers Guild Tells Members “the AMPTP Playbook Continues” After Meeting With Studios

Representatives for major studios and streamers met with the Writers Guild of America for the first time on Friday since their stalled negotiations led to a strike on May 2 — a meeting that the WGA negotiating committee says produced “no agreement” on the issues.

AMPTP president Carol Lombardini and AMPTP staffers as well as WGA West assistant executive director and chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and general counsel Tony Segall were present at the meeting on Friday afternoon to confer about a resumption of negotiations, the union told members on Friday. Discussed at the meeting was a “potential negotiation protocol” and “a preview of the issues each side intends to bring back to the table upon resumption.” The negotiating committee continued, “As of now, there is no agreement on these items, because the AMPTP said they needed to consult with their member studios before moving forward.”

According to the WGA negotiating committee, Lombardini stated in the meeting that any language in the Directors Guild of America’s newly ratified deal that overlaps with writers’ concerns would be what studios and streamers would push for in WGA negotiations. “She stated they were willing to increase their offer on a few writer-specific TV minimums – and willing to talk about AI – but that they were not willing to engage on the preservation of the writers’ room, or success-based residuals,” the union group said. It added, “She did not indicate willingness to address screenwriter issues, Appendix A issues, and many of the other proposals that remain on our list.”

Per the WGA negotiating committee, Stutzman stated that all “fundamental” issues on the WGA’s priorities list would need to be included in the new contract “and that no segment of the membership would be left behind.” Moreover, Stutzman additionally in the meeting pushed for strike-specific issues including a health care benefit extension and increased benefit plan funding, arbitration of legal conflicts that began during the strike and a reinstatement of striking writers in previous roles.

She also argued for “the right for individual WGA members to honor other unions’ picket lines as they have honored ours during this strike” — in other words, allowing WGA members to honor SAG-AFTRA picket lines if the former’s work stoppage is resolved before the latter’s.

The labor group additionally alleged that the AMPTP had leaked information about the meeting to the press, despite “press blackouts” being a topic of discussion in the allegedly confidential meeting. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the AMPTP for comment.

Concluded the WGA negotiating committee, “Your committee remains willing to engage with the companies and resume negotiations in good faith to make a fair deal for all writers, even with this early confirmation that the AMPTP playbook continues. But rest assured, this committee does not intend to leave anyone behind, or make merely an incremental deal to conclude this strike.” 

Said one studio-side source about the meeting, both sides are spending the weekend determining next acceptable steps. “I anticipate we’ll be back at the table in a week, but we’re not there yet on either side,” this person said.

After days of whispers about both parties potentially returning to negotiations, the WGA announced on Tuesday night that Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers president Carol Lombardini had reached out to the union to meet on Friday to discuss negotiations. In the wake of the news, writers were wary but also optimistic, noting that it was only a meeting about meeting, not a bargaining session: “One hopes that the AMPTP may at long last grasp that the cost of negotiating a fair deal is less than the cost of an ongoing strike. But Friday’s conversation is, quite simply, a single and very preliminary step,” said former Writers Guild of America president Howard Rodman.

Then, one day before the meeting was set to begin, the WGA negotiating committee wrote in a memo to its members, apparently to keep expectations low, that the studios may not be ready to cede major ground on their priorities yet. “We challenge the studios and AMPTP to come to the meeting they called for this Friday with a new playbook: Be willing to make a fair deal and begin to repair the damage your strikes and your business practices have caused the workers in this industry,” the union leaders wrote.

In a tersely worded reply, the AMPTP stated that it was approaching Friday’s meeting as a test of whether it has a “willing bargaining partner.” The group continued, “This strike has hurt thousands of people in this industry, and we take that very seriously. Our only playbook is getting people back to work.”

On Friday, Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass called the news of the meeting an “encouraging development.” Still, she added, “It is critical that this gets resolved immediately so that Los Angeles gets back on track, and I stand ready to personally engage with all the stakeholders in any way possible to help get this done.”

In the meantime, the Writers Guild of America is on day 95 of its ongoing strike against AMPTP member companies. Combined with the work stoppage that SAG-AFTRA called on July 14, the contractual impasse has brought U.S. union production on scripted projects essentially to a halt and complicated promotion for upcoming projects, due to the unions’ strike rules. In the interim, studios and streamers who comprise the AMPTP have begun to delay previously completed films and TV series as the work stoppage is already impacting the fall broadcast season.

The AMPTP, sources say, turned to the writers before the striking performers union SAG-AFTRA, as filming has almost been completely halted and studios and streamers need more scripts before actors can get back on sets.

Kim Masters contributed reporting.

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