Writers may be on strike from writing, but they still can talk. On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Vanessa Ramos, who created the new streaming series Blockbuster, for which she is also the showrunner. She’s also was executive story editor for Superstore, and wrote on such sitcoms as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Kenan, Mr. Mayor and Borderown. She talks about all that and more.
One of the notable issues in the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike against the AMPTP companies is the use of artificial intelligence in the Industry. It’s a substantial concern for writers and actors alike.
That's why I quickly sat up when a news item caught my eye on Friday, though it seemed to fall through the cracks and didn't get much coverage for how it relates to the strike. Perhaps it’s because it appeared on a Friday afternoon, when most people’s focus is elsewhere. Maybe it’s because in Los Angeles people were putting more attention on Hurricane Hilary headed our way. But -- it seems a significant story that could have impact on the strike...and the future of filmmaking.
The story is that on Friday, a federal judge upheld a U.S. Copyright Office ruling that a work of art which is created by artificial intelligence is not open to copyright protection.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that copyright law has “never stretched so far” to “protect works generated by new forms of technology operating absent any guiding human hand.”
That’s pretty blunt, but one other particular sentence in the judge’s opinion stood out even more – “Human authorship is a bedrock requirement.” A concept that she said “rests on centuries of settled understanding.”
All this would seem to be a major roadblock to studios who (much to the long-chagrin of writers) hold the copyright on the works that they paid for, but did not create. More to the point, studios have historically gone to great lengths to protect those copyrights. If the use of AI in making those films and TV shows and series would render the copyrights on those works moot, it would seem that using AI in them would be the last thing a company would want to try.
But the judge went even farther, in great detail, writing that the very purpose of copyright law is to encourage “human individuals to engage in” creation. She explained that when copyrights and patents were established “it was understood that recognizing exclusive rights in that property would further the public good by incentivizing individuals to create and invent.” She added even more pointedly that “The act of human creation — and how to best encourage human individuals to engage in that creation, and thereby promote science and the useful arts — was thus central to American copyright from its very inception.”
Judge Powell even focused on technology itself, indeed on entities that are not human, writing how “Non-human actors need no incentivization with the promise of exclusive rights under United States law, and copyright was therefore not designed to reach them.
Finally, another passage in her ruling underscores all this still more, even when recognizing how the world and the needs of the law has changed. She wrote, “The understanding that ‘authorship’ is synonymous with human creation has persisted even as the copyright law has otherwise evolved.”
For those interested in such things, you can read the full court ruling here.
To be clear, as pointed as Judge Howell’s ruling was, the issue of AI isn’t as completely simple as that. Though the foundational substance is.
Back in March, the copyright office ruling that was the foundation of the court challenge being filed, had that stated that most AI-generated works are not copyrightable – however, they left open that, under some conditions, works that used AI-assisted materials could qualify for copyright protection. They said that if a work was created along with the additional help of artificial intelligence, copyright could possibly be granted if it was shown that a human “selected or arranged” the work in a “sufficiently creative way that the resulting work constitutes an original work of authorship.”
That said, though this position of the Copyright Office does leave open the use of some AI in copyrighted work, it still would require the “substantially creative” involvement of a human. So, general, random material couldn’t just be fed into AI software and claim copyright. The creative process of a writer or actor who specifically “selected or arranged” the material would be needed. Which, in many ways, would defeat the purpose of a studio using AI to cut writers or actors out of the process to save money.
Wiser legal minds than mine will be arguing this in the near future, and beyond. But it would none-the-less seem with such legal phrases as, “Human authorship is a bedrock requirement” and that this is a concept that “rests on centuries of settled understanding,” those would appear to be high hurdles that should terrify studios that live and breathe on the existence of copyright when trying to justify the unbridled use of artificial intelligence as the hill during a strike they want to die on.
This episode of the show is a two-fer, though oddly it’s the guest who’s not the Mystery Guest who caught my eye. And that’s Erle Stanley Gardner. While he’s not officially the Mystery Guest, the panelists are blindfolded in small part because they might recognize him, but more I’m sure because they’d recognize his name as the author of the Perry Mason novels. Oddly, though, that's not noted, and he’s only identified on screen as “Mystery Writer.” He’s a fun guest for his outgoing brusqueness – and also for playing the game really well, giving hesitating unsure responses when the answers are obvious. And he gives one of the funniest replies at the 9:40 mark, even getting a hug for it from host John Daly. Interestingly, this seems to take place not only before the Perry Mason TV series premiered, but just days before (which is likely why he’s a guest), since he has to very quickly rush mentioning the show as Daly bids him goodbye, adding “or we’re both going to get fired!” Also worth noting that Jim Backus is one of the panelists. If you want to jump to it, it begins at the 2:45 mark.
The official Mystery Guest is George Sanders, who comes along at the 20-minute mark. Though he does an acceptable job with a disguised Russian voice at the beginning, eventually that slides away, however he has an answer to one question that, while surprisingly correct, is unexpected.
(For the record, this is George Sanders below.)
I've been holding on to this article for a while, not knowing when to post since since it's pretty long, and also there was so much political news to write about. There's still a lot of politics to write about now, of course -- even more than back then -- but I realized that with the Writers Guild strike (along with the strike by SAG-AFTRA) it was probably a good time. It's not about the AMPTP, the ownership organization on the other side of the strike, just about the reality most people never see of working with the studios. In fairness, it touches on some others areas beyond just studios, but mostly, yes, it's about one of the many behind-the-scenes realities for writers in the film industry. And it's about why, at a core level, movies tend to be the way they are, whether you love or bemoan the state of movies. (The full reality is, of course, significantly more complex than just this -- despite this look here being as admittedly long as it is…) And if this is not what the Writers Guild strike is about -- and it isn't, nor intended to be, in fact it was written before the strike -- it's a map that points you some of the way to it.
And to be clear, writers are not without flaws and annoyances. A Guild friend once said, "If you gave writers free money, they'd complain it was the wrong denomination." Alas, that's likely true. A producer once said to me, "You're the most difficult writer I've ever worked with." (In fairness, he might have said that to every writer he worked with -- accurately. Though of course, his sample size was small compared to the breadth of Hollywood. And he never worked with Harlan Ellison...) I did though say to him that for all the times I challenged his comments, I ended up giving him about 95% of what he'd asked for. He thought a moment, smiled and replied, "Actually, that's true." But not being without flaws doesn't mean the dynamic is a 50-50 proposition. And further, of course I'm biased -- but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. In the end, though, any studio is free to release their own version. Though, of course, they'll likely have to hire a writer to tell it. And then, to cover themselves, bring in a couple more to do rewrites -- after giving it to their neighbor's children to see if they understand all the words. Or to save money, they'll just put it through AI. Whatever the result, at least AI won't argue with them and complain about no nuance and subtext.
Hey, like I said, I'm biased. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.
Five months back, I posted the video here of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s speech upon receiving the Writers Guild’s Laurel Award for lifetime achievement, in which he shredded studio executives for getting in the way of writers turning out their best material, training writers (and critics and even audiences, too) into following the needs of executives, which are very different, often even at odds. “They’ve tricked us into thinking we can’t do it without them,” he said of writers. “But the truth is that they cannot do anything of value without us.
(If you haven't seen the video, I highly recommend it. Especially as a foundation for what's to follow here. It's not at all necessary. It just will add perspective.)
After linking to the speech on social media, I got some supportive comments about being in total agreement with his words.
As indeed his words are spot on. And yes, I’m biased – though that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. But, oh, my, and that “total agreement” reaction is from people who, for the most part, only see the end result of the process in movie theaters or streaming into homes, having no idea of what's said and done behind the closed walls to get to that point.
I once had a memorable meeting with a potential manager. At one point, he said the thing that most studio executives also say because it sounds All Wise and Knowing, that all movies have to be about something Big and Important. I said to him, "Well, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, it's about how Steve Martin has to get home by Thanksgiving." (That's because what a movie -- or pretty much any story -- has to be about is not something that is "Big and Important," but rather something that is big and important to the main character. If an audience is deeply interested in the main character, they will be invested in what he or she cares about.) The manager looked at me and said, "You're very argumentative." When I got home, I sent him a rejection letter.
And that's a minor, insignificant story to the truly hellish dealings with studio executives I've had and been told by fellow writers.
By the way, this supposed “Rule” about how a story must be about something Big and Important is related to something that has always been perhaps my biggest bugaboos from executives. It’s their corollary: “Something BIG has to happen by page 10,” they say, oh-so-knowingly. (They say such things so All Wise and Knowingly because they likely took a weekend seminar by some Story Guru who gave the “Rules” of how a screenplay must be written, and now understand in two days what most writers have taken decades of work to learn.) I heard that so often that I finally wrote a screenplay where the world blew up on page three. Whenever I’ve told this opening to an executive, they breathlessly ask, “Well, what happens next???!” To which I reply – "You have to read the script."
(It hasn’t sold yet, but there’s a reason. I actually got my first agent off the script – a relationship that ended soon after when I couldn’t get through to her on the phone for months… That aside, she had started making phone calls, pitching the script and getting ready to send it out. And then September 11 occurred. You will not be shocked to learn that going out with a comedy about the world blowing up on page three after 9/11 was reeeeally bad timing. So, I put it on the shelf for a decade or so. At which point, I'd moved on to other scripts. However, I periodically have thought about bringing it back to life. We’ll see. I quite like it.)
I should add that the studio executive rule that “Something BIG has to happen by page 10” exists as a rule solely for studio executives, not audiences. It’s certainly a good rule of thumb to have something happen that's involving early on, but that’s it. “Something BIG” is totally different. The reason it’s a “Rule” for executives is that they have an eternal mound of scripts to read, and if something BIG doesn’t happen early to grab them by page 10, they’ll likely put the script aside and reject it. An audience is different. How often have you seen someone leave a movie theater after 10 minutes of a movie? They’ve taken the trouble of going to the theater – and bought their ticket, they’re not about to leave after 10 minutes. In fact, people rarely leave a move at any point during it. With streaming movies at home, that dynamic has changed, but I feel certain that most audiences (by far) still tend to give movies much more than just 10 minutes. Indeed, if I had to put down cash money and make a bet, I suspect most audiences watch movies all the way through, even if they’re only moderately interested. It’s how they planned to spend the evening, and therefore keep at it.
By the way, in full disclosure, I myself was briefly a studio executive at Universal. Albeit a low-level one, hired as an assistant to the president of the studio. So, when I speak of the beasts, I know from whence such creatures come. In fact, I’m a weird anomaly having seen the "issue" from both the studio and writer perspectives. (Something which perhaps also explains why I was less successful at it than I might otherwise have been. Though, in fairness, a much more important factor in me being fired is that there was a major studio shake-up, a new head was brought in over my boss, who then departed. And so I was left there dangling alone amid a new regime bringing in their own people. Fun Fact: that’s never a great position for Hollywood job security. I remember being called in to be let go, and as the executioner was laying out the reality of the landscape, I had the presence of mind to quip, “I realize that this is not a debatable conversation.” He sardonically shook his head, and said, “No.” But I digress...)
Anyway, when I was a studio executive, I was called into a meeting between a producer and the writing team. At one point, they had a disagreement on how the script should go. The producer asked what I thought -- certain that I (as a studio executive) would unquestionably agree with him. But he didn't count on me being me. I said, "Well, I think the writers should get the chance to do it the way they think will work best, and we'll see if it does." The expression of horror on the producer's face at that concept was only exceeded by the look of shock on the writers'...
As I writer, I once had a screenplay of mine optioned that took place in 1893. The producer, Tamara Asseyev (who had produced Norma Rae) was very supportive, but then a new studio executive was brought in and wanted it updated to present day. I tried to explain that this would make the naïve, innocent main character seem like a brain-dead idiot, and the story wouldn’t possibly work either. But that’s what the studio executive insisted on. So, I did it – and it was terrible. And they dropped the project. (I should add that this ace studio exec had earlier passed along one of his own pithy Rules: the movie couldn’t take place in the winter. That’s because, he insisted, "No successful comedy ever had snow in it." Alas, Planes, Trains and Automobiles hadn’t been made yet, so I couldn’t use it as an example again…)
Oh, and the executive had also wanted to change the naïve hero’s real world-savvy female sidekick, with whom the audience suspects an unlikely romance is blossoming, and instead make the character a guy and make it a buddy picture. That one I actually refused to do. And told Tamara that if the studio executive insisted, then I’d leave the project. To her credit -- because she was a very good producer -- she said she would quit the project, too. The suggestion was conveniently dropped.
To be clear, there’s a big difference between studio executives and producers. Some producers can certainly be in the exact same league as studio executives, without question, though most are freelancers actively looking for projects they will likely be spending years on and therefore generally believe strongly in them, and some can be wonderful and understand making movies and love storytelling. A writer may have huge disagreements with them, though the dynamic is different -- you're dealing with a person who, at heart, dearly loves the protect he or she personally optioned and wants to help develop the best script they can (even if they may -- I say subjectively, though not necessarily incorrectly -- be wrong-headed about how to do so...), rather than a studio businessman, who is a cog in a corporate structure. For perspective's sake, it's worth noting that I lucked out big time on my current project with a producer who is smart, creative and terrific. And even when I don’t agree with his suggestions, I always understand them, and they're thoughtful. Studio executives, though, are essentially salaried, white collar office workers, businessmen trying to guess what their bosses want, predict the unknown by following the box-office religiously, and wary of saying “yes,” out of fear of losing their job, often with no background in the arts, literature or film. (The Hollywood line is "No one got fired for saying, "No.") And yes, all of that is a huge generalization, and not true for everyone. But it’s a generalization based on reality.
As Charlie Kaufmann said in his Laurel speech, “Don’t get trapped in their world of box office numbers. You don’t work for them, you don’t work for the world of box office numbers. You work for the world.”
Steve Martin has talked about trying to sell his script for Roxanne, a modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, and how no studio executives knew the play. It was only when Steve Martin – being Steve Martin and able to meet with the head of a studio – was explaining this when the president got up and started walking around the office quoting from Cyrano…and the wonderful movie got made.
A friend once told me about pitching a Sherlock Holmes story, and the studio executive didn’t know who that was, and thought it was a real person.
Another friend pitched a story based on the classic tale “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” and the studio executive asked, “What’s that?”
My favorite story may be when a friend went in to pitch a buddy movie, and the studio executive got all excited and said she was a huge fan of buddy movies, a real expert, so let’s talk about our favorite, great buddy movies – and my friend started with, okay, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And the studio executive who prided herself on being a huge fan of buddy movies and a self-proclaimed maven, said, “I haven’t seen that.”
Now, to be clear, it is not even remotely essential for everybody to know Sherlock Holmes, the Pied Piper, Butch Cassidy or Cyrano. If you don't, fine. It would be good to be aware of such things, but it’s hardly necessary. But – and this is an important "but" – if your job is to be a gatekeeper of popular culture for what is probably not only America’s biggest export industry to the world, but also America’s biggest platform of cultural identity to the world…then, yes, it’s essential that you know these things. It’s Basic Job Requirement 101. If you don't know them and don't care to, that's okay, but you should find another job. Because those things are about as core as it gets when it comes to overseeing what could be $150 million projects. Or $5 million projects.
As a result, most studio executives push ideas based on what I call “myth perceptions,” things they might have heard from other executives or agents, or things that seem like they should be true (even if they aren’t), or things that would be convenient for them to be true. Like that the sequel to Bridget Jones Diary only made a paltry $40 million in the U.S. and was declared a huge flop at the studios – except that worldwide it made $262 million. And The Polar Express was such a known disaster after its opening that studio executives were actually fired – never mind that worldwide it ended up making $301 million. Back in 2011, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post (and reposted it here) that was about a galling Hollywood myth that kept getting repeated, “Audiences don’t want to see an action movie with women.” Doing basic, easy research, I showed this was not just untrue, but ludicrous – which, of course, has since been shown to be the case and, in fact, "female action movies" opened a new, massive genre.
But when you really don’t know movies, or literature, or creativity, but are pretty much business executives trying to seem like you know what you’re talking about, you grasp at straws to put on a dog-and-pony show and cover up that you’re not the creative force you want to appear.
William Goldman (who, as whimsy here has it, wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, along with The Princess Bride and won an Oscar for All the President’s Men) has a great opening chapter in his book about Hollywood, Which Lie Did I Tell? – a title that was a comment he heard an executive say after putting on hold a phone call he was in the midst of and then buzzing his secretary to ask. The very short version of Goldman’s opening story is him being in a meeting with a studio executive and the manager of the actor who would be starring in the movie Goldman had written. The meeting was for the two executives to go through the script and tell Goldman their thoughts, and after two hours (with Goldman now starring at his watch, having a plane to catch), they were still stuck on page two because in the script he had described the character as having a yellow tie. (The manager insisted his client would never wear a yellow tie.) On the surface, to people who are businessmen, their relentless analysis of this emotional point about a big star who needed to be protected probably sounded insightful. When, at one point, though, the studio executive replied to the manager “That’s a good point,” Goldman writes about how what he was thinking was, “NO, that’s an idiot point! Because when we make the movie, we will have a costume designer who will decide what color the tie is, or if the character will even wear a tie. And in fact, after all the rewriting that gets done...this scene probably won’t even exist!!!”)
That’s the difference between people who understand making movies and people who understand making deals. Again, I’m generalizing here – there are exceptions. There have been some wonderful, creative studio executives. But at their foundation, those are the core job differences.
One would think that when your job – and skill – is to make deals, you would make the best deals to hire the best people you can find, and let them do their job. The job that you hired them for. If it doesn’t work – well, most movies don’t become big hits. But at least you could let it “not succeed” with a level of craft and artistry, rather than because you thought you could do someone’s job better than you have no training for and didn’t try to twist something into what it was never intended to be and shouldn’t be, thinking a yellow tie mattered and audiences won't watch a comedy with snow in it.
(The return argument is usually, “I’m protecting the studio’s money.” Except it’s really the stock investors’ money. And I suspect that while most investors want The Suits to carefully watch over how money is spent efficiently, if they were asked who they wanted making creative decisions on the movies they’ve put money into, they would almost always say, “The creative people making the movie,” and not the business executive.)
When you make deals but have to come across like you seem to know what you’re talking about with people who actually do know, you pass along comforting “Rules.” Like how the star has to show up in the movie at the very beginning. Never mind that in one of Humphrey Bogart’s iconic roles as ‘Captain Queeg’ in The Caine Mutiny, he doesn’t appear for a half hour. Or in Oliver!, Ron Moody got an Oscar nomination as Best Actor despite ‘Fagin’ not showing up for 45 minutes. And as most film fans know, the noire classic The Third Man is about ‘Harry Lime,’ played by Orson Welles – except that he doesn’t show up until the movie is two-thirds over. And he’s only in it for 10 minutes! For that matter, in the musical Peter Pan, Peter Pan doesn’t fly into the show for 20 minutes.
These aren’t just random examples. The point is that these “Rules” force inappropriate structure on stories that risk weakening them. (“You have to move the character’s entrance up 20 pages to page 3.”) The problem is that when you don’t understand storytelling, you don’t understand how withholding an entrance can build up interest in a character, sometimes so much until that’s all an audience is waiting for, which is what carries them through the film.
Or there can be a wonderful joke that only 25 percent of the audience will get – so the studio executive, no doubt one of the funniest folks around and an expert on comedy, says, “I didn’t get the joke,” and the “Rule” is it has to be cut. Lost in this is the reality that it’s not that the joke wasn’t good (yes, some aren't and those do have to be fixed), but that not everyone has get it – Fun Fact: if everyone from 8 years old to 80, men and women, from different cultures around the world, gets every joke in your movie, you’ve dumbed it down to the lowest common denominator, and the joke (and movie) probably won’t be funny. Moreover, sometimes when people do get a joke others don’t, it creates an emotional connection and draws them further into the film. Furthermore, there not only will be a lot more jokes coming, but if an audience laughs at even just 80% of them, you're probably going to have a bit hit.
(I remember once watching a documentary that had a segment on a preview house that tested audience reactions. They printed out a chart showing the highs when the audience was laughing, and lows when they weren’t. “If only we could get that graph to be all highs,” a studio executive had once told the filmmaker being interviewed. To which the filmmaker commented to the interviewer, “He didn’t get that ‘the lows’ are the set-up to the joke.”)
Rules. Ah, rules. I know of one studio that has a “Rule” it won’t accept a screenplay if it’s more than 120 pages, apparently because then the movie would be too long and more expensive. Unfortunately, this shows a near-total ignorance of the writing process. After all, the issue isn’t if the first draft is over 120 pages, but rather how long the final shooting script is. More to the point, it shows ignorance that a writer can spend an entire page on description that doesn’t add one second to the movie's length or budget, but can write a single sentence, “The chase begins and takes us through the city, crashing into cars that explode,” that requires days to shoot, 10 minutes of screen time and costs multi-millions of dollars.
The point of all this is not the more surface complaint we hear of “Why do studios keep making sequels?” Or just movies for teens? Or violent movies? Or "have all that sex in them"? Or…or…whatever. They’re valid questions, though there are semi-valid answers. And those are more personal taste questions. Not everyone has to like every movie. And if there’s an audience for a type of film, studios will try to make them – just like any company will make its product for the market. This isn’t to defend it, because you can develop your markets, too. Indeed, I’m sure most people didn’t know they’d love pizza before the first pizza was made. (And it still probably took a lot of pizzas to get there.) But it does explain it, in part.
While any member of the audience might complain that they didn't like a particular movie, or find a comedy funny, or thought a story was sort of stupid and blame the filmmakers for not going a good job (which might actually be the case -- or not), what doesn't tend to get pondered are all the decisions that came before, that got that movie selected and then filmed in the first place. The issue is more what is done by studios to those projects they approve and put into production. If you’re going to make a violent sequel for teens, make it a great one. Not one micro-managed by those looking at a flow chart. Not one where someone who has himself never actually written is telling a writer how to write. Not one where you’re arguing if the character should wear a yellow tie and think that’s a creative story decision. Not one where you keep firing and bringing in new writer after writer after writer to “get it right.” Sometimes it does help. Usually, it’s like an undertow, dragging you away from the firm ground of the shore. If that was the way to tell a story or make something artistic, publishers would bring in writer after writer after write to rework a novel. Or painter after painter would be hired to change a watercolor landscape to “make it work.” Or symphonies would keep replacing the composers.
(This is not always the studio’s decision. Productions often get in their own way. And yes, writers do screw up and need to be replaced. But that should occur when they’re turning in poor work. Not because “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”)
The final point of all this, indeed probably the main point, is somewhat surprising. The point is that it’s not writers – or directors and producers – who should be the ones only upset, whether because of their knowledge of craft, skill, artistic temperament or ego. Or necessarily even the ones most upset. It’s also audiences. The people in the seats who paid money and are being shortchanged not just by the kinds of stories get told, but even far more importantly how they’re told. By people, as Charlie Kaufman, explained, who have their own interests not always or often in the same direction.
“We writers are trained by the business. We are trained to believe that what we do is secondary to what they do. We are trained to do the bidding of people who are motivated not by curiosity, but by protecting their jobs. And we lose sight of what our work is. It is not to contribute to their fortunes. Or our own. It is not to please them, or critics, or even the audience who has also to be trained. Our work is to reflect the world. Say what is true, in the face of so much lying. The rest is window dressing at best. Triumph of the Will at worst.”
You hope -- writers, directors, actors, producers, and yes, even studio executives -- that audiences will like the work. Audiences hope they will like the work. And the thing to remember, that too often gets overlooked, as Charlie Kaufman pointed out, is that the best chance of that happening is not by guessing what others might like two years from now based on counting beans, but by doing the best work you believe in.
The other day, NBCUniversal trimmed the city trees outside the studio which were providing shade to striking writers and actors in 95-degree heat.
The was a major outcry to this action, and the issue was taken to the city -- not just for the physical abuse it called in such brutal heat, but also because the trees don't belong to NBCUniversal and are actually owned by the city.
?Here's the before and after.
NBCUniversal was just fined by the city for the unpermitted trimming of the trees that provided shade to picketers. The fine was $250 dollars.
Really. No, I didn't leave out any zeros.
Well, that sure is going to put the fear of God into NBCUniversal next time they try to cause physical harm to strikers!!
At least NBCUniversal was called out for doing this -- in a brutal heat wave. So, that's good.
But it's a shame that "unpermitted tree trimming" was the worst they could be charged with.
Two things to note.
1) L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia said “outdated laws limit fine amounts and aren’t equitable" and will recommend these laws be reevaluated.
2) It's not the end of the story, since the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have filed labor complaints to the National Labor Relations Board.
The complains says that NBCUniversal has “interfered with, coerced and restrained employees in the exercise of their rights” during the strike. Grievances also include putting up construction fencing that has obstructed the designated picket locations. This has caused picketers to walk in the streets where two picketers have been hit by cars.
The studio insists they've done nothing wrong, releasing a statement --
“That was not our intention. In partnership with licensed arborists, we have pruned these trees annually at this time of year to ensure that the canopies are light ahead of the high wind season,” NBCUniversal continued. “We support the WGA and SAG’s right to demonstrate, and are working to provide some shade coverage. We continue to openly communicate with the labor leaders on-site to work together during this time.”
Now, that sounds extremely nice and noble and good. Indeed, downright decent of them. Almost kumbaya. The problem is, though -- in their effort to "openly communicate" with the labor leaders, AMPTP studio heads have largely left town and gone on vacation, and haven't actually negotiated in many weeks. Moreover, assuming that NBCUniversal has, in fact, previously trimmed the trees annually, as they say, no doubt they got permits to do so first. Had they tried to get permits this year before trimming the trees, it seems likely that they know they wouldn't have gotten them, given the presence of picketers, and the shade the trees provided. And as the pictures above show, that is not tree-trimming, that is denuding.
(In fact, the founder of a local group group dedicated to educating the public about trees, Jerry Rubin, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s unhealthy to give them a cut like they’re joining the military. It’s ludicrous. Any arborists worth their weight will tell you that.”)
Oh, by the way, that high-wind season in Los Angeles that NBCUniversal is concerned about, known as the Santa Anas, it doesn't begin until -- September. The studio's unpermitted tree-trimming in supposed preparation for that was done in mid-July.
It's also worth noting that this "Oh, gee, it was a total mistake, we totally support the strikers, totally" statement wasn't NBCUniversal's first response to the complains. In their first try, they replied --
“We strongly believe that the company has fulfilled our legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act and we will cooperate with respect to any inquiries by
the National Labor Relations Board on this issue. While we understand the timing of our multi-year construction project has created challenges for demonstrators, we continue to work with public agencies to increase access.”
So, when that seemed crass, cold-hearted (y'know, given the 95-degree heat and two strikers hit by cars) and unbelievable, they realized that perhaps they had better try a second time.
On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Carlton Cuse who created the series Nash Bridges, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr;, Martial Law and developed the series Bates Motel and created for television the series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. And was the executive producer of Lost. He talks about his career and co-developing the AppleTV+ drama series Five Days at Memorial, chronicling the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath at a local hospital.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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