I like to imagine that the original manuscript of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” wasn’t too different from the WGA posters I’ve been seeing around Los Angeles. “Ted Sarandos ate my son,” “Wrote ChatGPT this” and my favorite, a Nicole Kidman reference: “Somehow striking feels good in a place like this.”
On May 2, members of the Writers Guild of America, or WGA, dropped their pens and walked out of their writers’ rooms in pursuit of better wages. Their next move might come as a shock: After leaving the rooms behind, legend has it that thousands of writers wandered over to their nearest Starbucks and began working on the pilots they planned to sell once the strike was over.
“When a broke petting zoo keeper realizes that his mule, Dusty, will make the perfect drug mule, his life will be changed forever…”
The writers’ battle for fair pay was brought on by a host of injustices. The advent of streaming has led to a major cut in writers’ earnings from “residuals” — payments made by networks to creatives each and every time their program airs on cable television. Another WGA concern is “mini rooms” — small groups of writers who are tasked with drafting a number of episodes that may or may not be turned into shows. Not only do these rooms hire fewer writers, but the writers involved must write a greater number of episodes for a smaller chance at payoff.
On July 13, the WGA was joined by the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA. Having grown up in LA, I’ve always known that SAG stands for Screen Actors Guild, but I have to admit I didn’t know the meaning of “AFTRA” until five minutes before writing this column. Apparently, the acronym stands for “American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.” Does that mean DJs are striking too? Aw, man!
Google says that puppeteer work also falls into the “AFTRA” union, which is good news to me. I think I speak for everyone when I say that puppets are weird and creepy and I won’t complain about their temporary disappearance from the ether. Muppets, on the other hand, are awesome. And I will miss them dearly.
SAG-AFTRA went on strike because the actors couldn’t handle not being the center of Hollywood’s attention for five minutes (kidding). As it has with writers, streaming has taken a huge toll on actors’ pay. From dwindling residuals to shorter and fewer seasons, most working actors are eons away from that “Architectural Digest” feature they dream of.
Last week, some friends and I went to strike at Paramount, and I was ready to be blown away by the actors’ performances. But when I arrived at the studio, I was disappointed to find a group of happy-go-lucky millennials fighting for the cause. Wasn’t this supposed to be the next generation of Oscar winners? You’re victims of wage theft, people! Let’s see some passion! Show me tears!
Although I am not a registered member of the WGA, I do hope to one day work as a TV writer/producer/showrunner. As it stands, I am just a lowly intern, but in my view, the strike has affected me worst of all. Interning in the field of film development, I am supposed to be reading multiple scripts a day and providing feedback on whether or not they should be made into movies. But with all the writers gone, my supervisors have turned to books for narrative inspiration. Yeah, that’s right — books. I’m doing book reports. And I’m not even at school!
But you can’t talk about the great strike of 2023 without mentioning artificial intelligence. Between ChatGPT and deep fakes, essentially all of Hollywood is at risk of losing their jobs to automation. When it comes to AI and art, two quandaries come to mind: 1) whether or not robots can make art, and 2) whether or not they should.
My answer to the latter is an obvious no. First of all, as an aspiring writer, I don’t want to be put out of a job. And second of all, as a human person (as far as I know), I don’t want to lose the one thing that lets me experience humanity through another lens. An individual lens. A thoughtful lens. A lens that took blood, sweat and feedback from one incredible intern to create.
Now as for whether or not robots can make art, I’ll let you be the judge of that. The following piece about AI and the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strike was written by ChatGPT, in the style of a college student’s personal column.
“As a college student navigating the tech revolution, it’s fascinating to see how artificial intelligence impacts the creative industry. With AI-generated content on the rise, writers and actors are more determined than ever to stand up for their rights and prove that human talent can’t be replaced. It’s like a sci-fi showdown between robots and real emotions! Let’s back our talented artists because, after all, algorithms can’t replace the magic of human storytelling. #HumanCreativityRules.”
#HumanCreativityRules. I couldn’t have said it better. Or faster. Or cheaper.