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Op-Ed: Writing the future of media – Writers and actors have got it right

The only option is sanity.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher was swarmed by fellow actors outside Netflix as the Hollywood actors' strike began - Copyright AFP VALERIE MACON
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher was swarmed by fellow actors outside Netflix as the Hollywood actors' strike began - Copyright AFP VALERIE MACON

The writers and actors strikes are hitting a lot of critical targets. The issues being raised are fundamental to the future of media and the arts as a whole. In an interview with MSNBC, Fran Drescher spelled out the problems and now the industry is trying to avoid the issues.

There are a lot of extremely important issues in the disputes, and they’re all new. Streaming rights, residual royalty payments, AI, basic income considerations, and even ownership of the likeness of your own face are all on the line.

We’ll leave out the bit about existing rights deals automatically generating residuals. Rights typically include “electronic media rights”, which automatically include streaming. Class action, anyone?

This is an even weirder situation in less obvious but equally destructive ways. Unions and conservatives are never friends, and there are a lot of big money media stakeholders who are essentially right-wing. This sort of mindset is rabidly anti-union by default on any and every issue. In polarized America, they do have a lot of influence.

Now reality finally gets a word in. This is a huge revenue sector. Profitability  depends on turnover. The sector has to create new products 24/7/365 to make the sort of money it needs.

As Drescher said in her famous speech, the executive echelons make big money. A huge amount of money goes straight into very few pockets. That’s also directly pulling big money out of revenue and out of production.

Meanwhile, the all-important revenue is hitting a very solid stone wall. Huge rises in the cost of living aren’t helping Hollywood or subscription-based revenue business models. People don’t have money to spend. The widening vulnerabilities of the revenue base are all too obvious.

The production base will dissolve for the same reason. If people can’t make enough money in writing, acting, or production, they’ll go. The skills base will deteriorate severely over time.

Producers need not think this dispute doesn’t involve their own bottom lines. Having “economized” on the workers, production is the only surviving next target for economizing.

How do you feel about dealing with a fixed budget where all costs are on you? How about managing a few hundred subcontractors for your next production on that basis?  

…Because that’s exactly what you’re asking the writers and actors to do. Does it look good to you?

There is a high level of institutionalized delusion involved in this mess. You can hear the sycophants: “AI can do it. Digitization can do it. A sort of One Size Fits All production can do it.”

No, it can’t, and it never will. None of that tech can deliver much more than a content recycling service and a lot of breach of copyright lawsuits. It’ll be like anime, stagnation with a side dish of lawyers.

AI is also not a creative thing. This very clunky generation of AI simply can’t deliver creativity. By definition, it’s dependent on the creativity of others through the large language models. It’s a cut-and-paste thing in many ways.  

So is the corporate response so far: “Who do these people think they are, anyway, wanting to live in buildings and eat and breathe?” You can almost hear the Marx Brothers taking the mickey out of it. The original Hollywood was no fountain of generosity, either.

Production is now at a standstill. That will cost big money.

The only option is sanity.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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