OPINION: It’s time to stand with striking writers, not blame them

Call me Nicole Kidman because when it comes to movies, I need those dazzling images on a huge silver screen, sound I can almost feel. However, I couldn’t give you the screenwriters of my favorite movies (which might be problematic, but I WILL get back to you on those writers I promise), but I know their importance to the film industry that I love. So, when I heard that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike with a list of demands, I was on their side.

Writers everywhere put down their pencils, picked up their signs and started picketing major studios like Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Disney and many others on May 2, 2023. The issue writers focused on is the residuals — earnings that writers get based on sales performance from streaming services — and the lack of compensation they have been earning. Along with this, writers have started to protect their spot in the writing room by emphasizing the use of artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT and other writing programs as a tool and not a means to replace them.

As the strike continues and shows start getting affected, like “Stranger Things,” late night shows and more, viewers aren’t going to be placing the blame on the studios. Rather, they will be blaming the writers for not complying with the injustices. What people need to remember is that these strikes last a while. The last writers’ strike in 2007 lasted for more than three months. It caused many shows to drop in quality, forcing networks and studios to order new unscripted programming to plug up the holes during prime time.

“Since the rise of streaming, the model of how writer’s room works has changed drastically,” adjunct screenwriting professor Ted Barnes said. “[Television writing] used to be basically a nine-month job, so writers would have a reasonable amount of time. What studios have done is shorten the amount of time they’ll give the writers to write a season.”

Barnes went on to talk about the process for writers as of now. 

“[The problem is the studios] are giving the writers — instead of nine months to do a season, and to be fair those seasons were like 24 episodes, and now they’re more like eight to 10 episodes — but they’re only giving them a month or so to do everything, and then it all falls on to the showrunner,” Barnes said.

 What piqued my interest about this topic itself was the support that writers had with them. That’s why when I saw there was a protest happening in Chicago by the NBC tower, I chose to bring my friend along and join in the protest and see what people had to say.

 “Writers deserve fair contracts, and I don’t think anyone wants robots writing television,”  Kristiana Colón, executive story editor on ‘The Chi’ said.

 This fear of AI taking over the writers’ room is what has many writers concerned. When protesting, many of the signs that were out there had quippy remarks of how AI won’t light a candle to a human in the writer’s room or the lack of soul AI has. Colón is concerned with AI as we enter this unknown realm of possibilities.

 “AI technology is absolutely something that could threaten writers’ jobs and diminish the quality of content,” Colón said. “I think that studios are banking on the future being shows that are mass-produced in a way that the average consumer cannot discern and sort of banking on consumers being satisfied with mediocrity, and I think it’s underestimating our viewership and what is important to people and that is human stories. It’s what keeps humans connected to each other and something we shouldn’t bend on ever.”

Some of my favorite shows talk about issues that only humans could experience to even have a sliver of understanding. Take for instance ‘The White Lotus’ season two, the push and pull of Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan (Will Sharpe) as they compare their relationship to another couple. This comparison and jealousy but also this resentment and disgust that the characters share is so utterly human, and having to train a robot to understand how that conflict makes sense seems like a feat harder than getting a man on the moon.

 While some people are worried about the future, some aren’t too concerned with the technology just yet.

“I think it’s like every form of technology in that it can’t be ignored,” screenwriter Shannon Barnes-Colleary said. “It has to be incorporated in a way where it’s a tool and a prompt. Look, I haven’t used any AI so I’m not familiar with it, but I think it would be difficult to write a serialized television show without humans. You’re just not gonna get ‘Breaking Bad’ out of it. You might get a lot of great prompts or suggestions or outlines or you might even be able to print out a full script, but you’re going to need a human to make it human. I’m less worried about television writers, but feature writers are where my concern lies.”

While the WGA continues to strike, I think it’s an important time to appreciate some of the writers of your favorite shows and movies. If it weren’t for Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, Victor Miller, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, I wouldn’t have my favorite movies to nerd out to (I told you I would get back to you with those writers).