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On the Writers Strike and resisting AI
A few weeks ago, thanks to an opportunity, I joined the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the union for screenwriters in the United States. And last week, I went on strike.
If you’re reading this here, let me reiterate that the situation has been explained effectively in many other outlets elsewhere. But to put it succinctly, every few years the WGA negotiates a “Minimum Basic Agreement” (MBA) contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major networks and streaming platforms. The WGA owes its origins to the 1940s, when its predecessor, the Screen Writers Guild, forced the studios to accept a contract. Since then the WGA has struck occasionally and usually in reaction to major changes in the business—the advent of television, basic cable, and this time—streaming.
This year, in addition to pay raises and other demands to assure the continued stability of the profession, the WGA is fighting for existential rights for writers. Among other things, the WGA is asking for higher pay, minimum employment of writers in proportion to episode orders, and residuals for streaming. (In the past, payments for reruns of a cable show [residuals] could support a writer long after the show originally aired.)
Perhaps most presciently, the WGA has asked to prevent AI from being allowed to be used in the composition of screenplays and stories. The AMPTP’s response to the AI demand was to suggest “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”
Humans are the best storytellers, and it’s been true since the oral epics of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. A novel written by a chatbot is a cheap way to try and shortchange the art of storytelling with coded, plagiarized garbage. The same would be the case for a chatbot writing a film or TV show.
All film and television programming derives from story. Film and television are both big business and team sports, and they require so many different, talented professionals at every step of the way. Auteur theory, while useful in critical contexts, maximizes the contributions of the director at the expense of just about everyone else. But without the hard work of brilliant writers, the rest of the production cannot function.
The Usonian will still be operating on its usual bimonthly schedule the next few weeks, but I plan to run some older, “evergreen” material for a bit as I reset and re-evaluate after a busy spring. As you might guess, I’ve got other things on my mind. But rest assured, fresh chapters in The Usonian, The Cyprus Files, and The World Planner are in development.
I can’t speak for the WGA, but I’m proud to be a writer, and I’ve worked really hard to get this far. We can’t let corporations outsource our narrative abilities to machines—or continue to take advantage of us.
Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of weeks.
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