Charlie Brooker, Jesse Armstrong, Russell T Davies Turn Out to Support Global WGA Day of Solidarity

From Argentina to New Zealand, support for the Writers Guild of America is officially going global.

Wednesday marks an International Day of Solidarity for the writers strike that is being branded “Screenwriters Everywhere,” with events taking place in major cities including Paris and London.

The Writers Guild of America has enlisted members from the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds, Federation of Screenwriters in Europe and UNI Global Union to demonstrate global support for the union’s strike against Hollywood’s largest producers. The unprecedented rallying behind the WGA is especially relevant during this strike given the globalization of content, and the fast-growing international outposts of many “struck” companies, such as Netflix and Prime Video.

The WGA’s strike against the major studios and streaming platforms, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), began on May 2. The guild’s demands include higher wages for TV and film writers, protections around the use of AI in content production and guaranteed levels of staffing and weeks of employment on TV series to address systemic changes in episodic production.

“Screenwriters Everywhere” will see pickets and other actions carried out in more than 20 countries. They will take place at locations including the Netflix offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the European Parliament in Brussels; the offices of Apple and Amazon in Toronto, Canada; FoxTelecolombia in Colombia; the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France; the Tel Aviv Central Library in Israel; Estudios Churubusco in Mexico; Netflix offices in Seoul, South Korea; Filmoteca de Catalunya and Valenciana in Spain; the Riksdag in Sweden; and Leicester Square in London, U.K.

Social media takeovers are also being planned by India’s Screenwriters Association, Spain’s Sindicato de Guionistas and New Zealand’s Writers Guild, among others. (For the full list of planned activities, click here.)

LONDON

Titans of television turned up for the U.K. rally in support of WGA: “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker, “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong, “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies and “His Dark Materials” writer Jack Thorne were among those who came to show solidarity with their U.S. counterparts.

“As a writer I’m here to show my support,” Brooker told Variety. “I worry for a living and I’m very worried about AI and the use of ChatGPT and things like that so that’s a particular concern to me so that’s why I’m here.”

Coincidentally, the first episode of the newest season of “Black Mirror,” titled “Joan is Awful,” touches on a heartless streaming company using AI to generate content. ” That was written and wrapped before ChatGPT and stuff like that launched,” Brooker admitted. So it was just Brooker predicting the future again? “Unfortunately in this case,” he said. “But it’s a very valid concern, not so much it just generating a full script but that people will generate a list of shit ideas and then hire a human. Because I think they’re powerful tools as long as human writers are using them.”

Brooker said he has never been a member of WGA and finally joined the WGGB earlier this year to lend his support.

Armstrong, who is a member of the WGGB and WGA, also told Variety he had attended the London protest to show his support of the strike. “I’m here today to be with lots of my colleagues in the Writers Guild of Great Britain showing support for the WGA and their action in the U.S. It’s just lovely to see so many people being supportive in the U.K.”

Over 200 people – including writers, crew members from broadcast union Bectu and members of both Equity and SAG-AFTRA attended the protest in central London’s Leicester Square, often dubbed the “home of cinema” in U.K. due to the many theaters in the vicinity, which regularly host world premieres. Meeting beneath a statue of William Shakespeare beneath an unusually clear sky and bright sun, attendees spoke to each other about their concerns, listened to speeches from WGGB leadership and waved placards with slogans including “Even Logan Roy paid his staff!” and “Don’t be cheap, Netflix! (ChatGPT wrote this).”

WGGB chair Lisa Holdsworth, who is also a screenwriter, said she was delighted with the turnout. “I knew we had a lot of support because we’ve seen it on social media and through the Guild, but actually getting feet to come down, stand in the sunshine, I’m absolutely over the moon,” she told Variety. “It’s a show of solidarity. It’s happening across the globe today, our partners in Europe and elsewhere are standing with us today.”

Russel T Davies was typically forthright about why he had made the effort to come down to London for the rally. “This is a fight to the death for drama,” he told Variety. “We’re looking at processes and software and attitudes and hostility that could drive these people into other jobs. These could be teachers and clerks and shop assistants in a few years time because our jobs are being erased. Absolutely erased with a happy smile on the accountants’ faces.”

“His Dark Materials” and “Help” writer Jack Thorne, a member of the WGA, said he relished the chance to express his solidarity, saying he thought what the Guild is doing is “extraordinary.” Thorne said his key asks are for writer minimums and looking after writer rooms. “I came through as part of ‘Skins’ [writers room]. Writers need to learn how to be writers,” he told Variety. “And if we are denying them that opportunity, for reasons of commerce that’s got to change. The industry has got to come together to realize in 20 years we won’t have the right sort of voices writing television because they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn.”

“Downton Abbey” actor Daisy Lewis, who is working on writing her debut feature having recently completed a short with Andrea Riseborough, told Variety she was there to show her support for writers while “The X Files” writer Frank Spotnitz also stopped by to show solidarity. “Obviously all my colleagues and friends are on the picket line every day in Los Angeles, and here in London this is the first opportunity we’ve had but I think the turnout has been incredible,” said Spotnitz. “Because I think everybody recognizes, whether you’re an American writer or not, the values that the American writers are fighting for are values that we all hold as writers.”

WGGB chair Sandi Toksvig gave a speech during the rally, telling the chanting crowd: “How appropriate to be here in the shadow of Shakespeare as we call out for the basic rights and remuneration of writers everywhere.”

“This is a battle for all of us and our voices are united.”

PARIS

Spearheaded by La Guilde des scénaristes and the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe, the event in Paris gathered under 50 people, some of whom were visiting members of the WGA. Wearing dedicated T-shirts with the banner “Solidarité avec la WGA” (solidarity with WGA) the French supporters in attendance included La Guilde des Scenaristes’ general delegate, Marie Roussin (“Lupin,” “Mixte”), and board members such as Olivier Szulzynger (“Plus Belle la Vie”) and Jean-André Yerles (“La cage dorée”).

“We’re always in a dialogue with the WGA because we share the same concerns and it’s important for us to show our American cousins that we’re standing with them,” said Roussin. She said a number of French screenwriters have been approached to replace WGA members on strike. “I think the WGA is concerned that American producers will start working with European talent during the strike so they’re also here to make sure that we’re not letting them down,” she added.

One of the WGA members on the ground in Paris is Ben Pack, who has been teaching in the writing program at USC for 13 years, and most recently worked on “Shelter,” Harlan Coben’s show, which will be coming out this August on Prime Video.

“I think it’s really important to show the studios that you can’t just go to other guilds and other countries and hire other writers to replace us. Everybody is in the same boat. We all see the same issues. We all want to be paid fairly and correctly for our work,” said Pack, who is currently teaching a class for USC students in Paris.

He said it’s also “super critical to have support and solidarity from guilds all around the world because we’re putting out shows in these different countries and we deserve to be paid equitably in a fair rate for that work.”

A primary concern shared by both U.S. and French screenwriters is A.I. which Roussin describes as a “real danger.”

“We’re not yet seeing so many French producers using A.I. but we need to be prepared for it because it’s coming. We don’t want them to start offering screenwriters €1000 [$1083] to rework six episodes written by an A.I. app. The WGA is fighting so that writers will get credited and paid for their scripts even when A.I. is involved, and we want to do the same in France,” she continued.

Pack predicts A.I. is “going to affect people here in France and other countries so we need to set the rules now and make it very clear to the streamers, especially, that these are not issues that are going away.”

Pack says the DGA wants to “make sure that in the next three years, when we actually go back to negotiate the next contract, there will still be jobs for writers that we haven’t all been replaced by bots.”

“The studio system has worked for over 70 years to produce great TV and great films. We don’t want to lose that system just because we’ve changed the way that we watch the TV shows,” Pack continued.

Roussin said the show of solidarity with the WGA is happening at a crucial time where French screenwriters have just made a “giant step forward” with a milestone agreement signed by two major producers guilds (USPA and SPI) that sets minimum fees – covering their work in fiction and animation – for the first time, starting on July 1.

“The gap between the work conditions and remunerations of American and French screenwriters has never been more flagrant. Theirs are deteriorating while ours keep progressing,” said Roussin, who pointed out the deal setting up minimum fees is a culmination of negotiations which started two years ago and followed roughly 15 years of lobbying efforts.

In the last few years, the country’s collective management society for authors and composers, called SACD, was also able to strike deals with major services, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney, to allow authors and composers to receive royalties on their content in France and in other countries with whom the SACD has agreements in place. Since the U.S. doesn’t have a pact with the SACD, it means French screenwriters didn’t get royalties on French shows which were huge hits in the U.S., for instance “Lupin” or “Call My Agent!” Still, Roussin says French screenwriters are still much better protected than their American counterparts. “The WGA’s battle is absolutely vital. Screenwriters there are getting squeezed out of profits from their shows that are being watched across 140 countries and are driving subscriptions.” Roussin said the situation for screenwriters elsewhere in Europe, for instance in Spain and Italy, is also alarming.

A couple members of the French guild for actors and performers (SFA) also turned up at the Paris event. Jimmy Shuman, an American expat who has been living in France since 1969 and represents the SFA said the guild was also worried about A.I. and has demanded that actors get paid properly by streamers.

“Two key points of negotiations for the WGA, SAG and DGA are similar to ours at the SFA even if the scale is different,” said Shuman. He said actors in France working with streamers aren’t receiving royalties as do local screenwriters and composers who are covered by the SACD agreement.

When it comes to A.I. French actors are also threatened by the increased use of this technology for dubbing and commercials.

And while France is famous for its strikes and protests, Shuman said folks in the film and TV industry seldom join strikes because guilds aren’t as powerful as in the U.S.

“In the U.S. pretty much everyone is unionized because the guilds provide them with essential coverage, insurances, etc,” Shuman continued. “In France, the guilds are just lobbying tools that are used to obtain better rights and conditions, that once voted on, apply to everyone, whether or not they’re part of a guild.”

LOS ANGELES

Outside Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles, WGA leaders said they were appreciative of the support from sister guilds around the world.

“More and more writers in the U.S. and around the world are working for the same streamers, including this place, Netflix,” said Michele Mulroney, vice president of WGA West, drawing boos from the picketers. “As these new U.S. streamers move into international territories, their goal is simple: to pay writers as little as possible while maximizing their profits.”

Chris Keyser, the co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee, said that they chose to focus on Netflix and Disney — where another rally was held — because they represent the globalization of the industry.

He said that Netflix was “once known for producing some of the best shows on television” but is now responsible for the pernicious trends the guild has been fighting, including mini rooms and failing to pay writers during post-production.

“They began years ago as a haven for writers. It’s the biggest bait-and-switch in the history of Hollywood,” Keyser said. “Say this for Ted Sarandos — he really understands how to turn a plot. He’s known how to turn a hero into a villain, and he’s done it very well.”

He said that picketers will not move from outside Netflix headquarters until writers get a fair deal.

“Nothing starts without us,” Keyser said. “Everything stops with us, and it will not begin again until we are paid.”

Howard A. Rodman, a past president of WGA West, said that writers around the world recognize that “we’re all working for the same vampire squid.”

“There are two worldviews in the entertainment industry,” he said. “One is that what we do is create value, and the other is that what we do is a cost. One of those two worldviews will triumph and the other needs to die. We’re going to stay out here until that decision is made the right way.”

The sentiment was echoed at the sturdy gathering outside of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The gloomy weather and drizzle didn’t stop the crowd of picketers from continuing to show a strong front. The issue of wages and artificial intelligence continued to be a topic of conversation as various people on strike walked with signs reading “fair wages or no pages” and “The Only Good A.I. is Allen Iverson.” Those on the front lines seem to have various thoughts on how long the strike could continue, but remain steadfast in the fact that they’re committed to seeing it through.

Gene Maddaus and BreAnna Bell contributed to this story.

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