Chapter Twenty-Five: Pencils Down
For exactly three months now, we've heard powerful stories from the picket lines on both coasts of a union strike that has been in effect since May 2, 2023. At first, the strikers consisted of about 20,000 screenwriters of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). They have since been joined by approximately 160,000 actors of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The pencils are down and the cameras have stopped rolling, but what is everyone striking for? Only the very future of the entertainment industry and intellectual property itself.
The Strike is On
Visual artists were arguably the first to sound the alarm bells that artificial intelligence (AI) would be coming for all the creative mediums, someway, somehow. They saw how their artistic styles were being utilized through AI to manipulate imagery that could then be sold for a profit by someone who really had no hand in creating it. Now, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents some of the biggest and wealthiest entertainment corporations in the world, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros Discovery, are attempting to cut corners in the creative process in much the same way. A large portion of this strike revolves around the studios’ determination to use AI in place of real writers and actors. One could see why those real writers and actors, those whose writing styles and physical forms would need to be “borrowed,” would take issue with this course of action when they don't see the payout.
On the subject of payout, residual payments are another major sticking point with this strike. For decades, the cable model allowed writers and actors to make a living wage based on the popularity of their shows and films, depending largely on reruns. The streaming model, however, has interrupted earnings. No matter how many times something is viewed on a streaming platform, even if it's in the billions, the people who created it don't financially benefit. With most every other product on the market, money is earned based on consumers choosing that product, with popular products obviously earning top-dollar. Here, the creatives responsible for the product in the first place are cut out of the profits almost entirely after the initial sale, and that's usually after years of unpaid development work.
The Future is Here
Churning out content that prioritizes quantity over quality may be in the nature of a billionaire studio executive, but it is not the nature of a creative. Art takes craft, especially when the expectation is that other people will give their time and money to experience it. To subject audiences to subpar material for the sake of saving a few bucks is insulting, especially when it's well known that these studios have the money to pay the real artists what they deserve, as evidenced by the salaries, bonuses, and stock options the higher ups are touting.
What industries are next? These strikers are leading the path forward that one day, in the not too distant future, many other professionals will have to walk themselves, fighting for the right to their own intellectual property and their livelihoods in an ever-changing output machine, industry by industry. Precedents must be set now, otherwise we can bid farewell to professional crafts of almost any kind.
Noteworthy Communications is firm in our stance on the importance of storytelling. It's right there in our mission statement. Original thought, and the means to communicate those thoughts effectively and meaningfully, is a skill that must be honed over time. Not everyone is a storyteller and not everyone needs to be. After all, that's why we offer our services. Even still, respect for the skill and the creativity is something we should all be able to offer graciously.
For those who scoff at the workers' strike, who wrongly assume that if someone works in the entertainment industry, they must automatically be among the wealthy elite, and as such, a strike is merely evidence of their petulance, we suggest they refrain from absorbing any of their favorite content moving forward. This would of course include films, television shows, music, podcasts, stand-up comedy, novels, plays, short stories, poems, or comic books. After all, someone had to create those stories. Someone had to feel those stories brewing inside of them and then, the really hard part, they had to sit down and bring those stories to life so we could experience them too. That is what is at stake. That is why so many people are standing up and shouting out, because quality storytelling is worth fighting, and paying, for.