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Op-Ed: Writing, AI, Screenwriters Guild strike, and making a mess of media

These writers are generating good, saleable content. What the hell is the problem?   

The Writers Guild of America represents 11,5000 screenwriters, and ordered a strike after talks with Hollywood studios and streamers over better pay and conditions collapsed
The Writers Guild of America represents 11,5000 screenwriters, and ordered a strike after talks with Hollywood studios and streamers over better pay and conditions collapsed - Copyright AFP/File Kena Betancur
The Writers Guild of America represents 11,5000 screenwriters, and ordered a strike after talks with Hollywood studios and streamers over better pay and conditions collapsed - Copyright AFP/File Kena Betancur

There wasn’t a problem. Then there was. The Screenwriters Guild of America unintentionally tapped into a sector-wide psychosis. In a multi-billion dollar industry, nobody should earn a living wage is the basic idea.

Meanwhile, on the very slightly more distant side of this very stupid situation, the Authors Guild is trying to create model contracts for publishers to manage AI content. AI will infest screenwriting, sooner or later. One of the sage kings of Hollywood will think it’s cheaper.

…Or to put it simply, the sectors will miss the point entirely. They’ll also miss their markets entirely.

Short of actually putting remedial media workshops in kindergarten, let me explain:

  1. What do you remember about any show? Characters, scenes, lines, and visuals. Characters, scenes, and lines have to be written to work at all. Visuals are the direct products of the writing.
  2. The writing underpins the fundamental rights of any media production. It includes your entire spectrum of copyright. It’s your unique selling point. It’s the entire identity of every media product.  Would you say that was value for money, however insulting that money may be?
  3. Close-ups of someone going “…Duh…” do not necessarily translate into sales.
  4. Storylines need words to explain to the production team, let alone the audience.
  5. On the pure authorship side, AI cannot visualize. It can’t manage storyline problems, but it can easily create them. That’s relevant because a lot of media products are derived from books and other media.
  6. Writing and production have to work together. A writer may need to patch gaps in continuity, simply to get from Scene 1 to Scene 2.
  7. High-quality content is now more important than ever just to be competitive. Your entire multi-million dollar production is just a click away from oblivion.
  8. Just about every facet of core writing skills are involved in this work. Adaptions for screenplays for example are tricky at best. AI could do them in theory, but in practice…? Try adapting Gone with the Wind using AI. “Frankly, Ma’am, I don’t give a typo” doesn’t quite cut it, does it? There are so many storyline contexts to that one movie.
  9. Writing means rewriting, for whatever reason. This type of writing is actually two jobs at least, and the second job is fixing everything for production reasons. This has to be done right, or no production.

So much for the absolute basics of media writing.

Meanwhile back on the picket lines – To do this writing, writers need to eat, and perhaps have some form of shelter like a hut or a scenic grating somewhere. Prices have gone nuts. Living is expensive at best. In California, you do have a few examples of what happens when people can’t afford to live.

On paper, the average money for screenwriters looks good… If this was at least 10 years ago. The current negotiated pay is hopelessly out of date to the point of fossilization. It has nothing in common with real costs. That’s not even arguable.

California is the most expensive state in the US, but this isn’t about just California. The other states are catching up thanks to the maniacal price rises for anything and everything. The SGA has a very valid point. You could live in a tree in Louisiana and still be losing money.

Another point to be made – The writers aren’t asking for incomprehensible amounts of money. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about a film or TV budget and someone said “The writers sent us broke”? The writing budget is a small part of any production budget.

Just one more point that might mean something to someone. These writers are generating good, saleable content. What the hell is the problem?   

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Disclaimer
The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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