Quebec authors are closely following the fight of Hollywood screenwriters, who could soon start a strike and torpedo the production of a number of long-awaited films and series. Because despite different realities, they share many concerns.
Last week, members of the American film and television writers’ union, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), voted overwhelmingly (98%) in favor of a work stoppage. Voter turnout was 79%. A record.
The agreement that unites the association with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major studios (Disney, Sony, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros.), video-on-demand services (Netflix, Apple TV, Prime Video) and all mainstream channels (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) in the US expires May 1. After this date, a strike could break out at any time.
At home, negotiations over the working conditions of American screenwriters have caught the attention of the Canadian union of French-language screenwriters, the Society of Radio, Television and Cinema Authors (SARTEC). The discussions surrounding the reduction of writing deadlines in the United States concern the director general of the organization, Pauline Halpern, probably because she knows that they must be even tighter in Quebec.
“Today more than yesterday, authors are asked to write extremely quickly, in extremely short deadlines”, she summarizes.
The speed of execution required in youth production in Quebec is of particular concern to Pauline Halpern. “The mental health of the authors is really, really important. The risk of burnout is real,” she insists.
Other American demands resonate elsewhere than in the United States. Among them, royalties for the exploitation of works occupy a special place, especially with the recent emergence of online viewing platforms. In Canada, the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD), responsible for negotiating, collecting and distributing screenwriters’ royalties, is closely following this hot issue.
“Currently, we have agreements with ICI Tou.tv and Club illico, and that’s it,” says Elisabeth Schlittler, the group’s general delegate in Canada. American platforms are resistant. According to them, the rights for the exploitation of works are completely incidental. They refuse to offer compensation. This is what we are fighting for. »
In the United States, the WGA believes that it has not benefited from the explosion of television series in recent years. Platforms are springing up everywhere, the number of soap operas is skyrocketing, but nothing would have changed on the side of the authors, who nevertheless create the raw material.
“The Americans’ system does not reflect the extraordinary development of the video-on-demand services sector”, explains Pauline Halpern.
Artificial intelligence and the increase in the minimum wage are also among the points that monopolize the discussions between screenwriters and producers. Again, SARTEC understands their relevance.
“Inflation is international,” observes Pauline Halpern. It affects the United States, and it is very, very present here. We are talking about 7% to 8% on average. And when we look at everyday consumer products or even rents, it is even greater. We must increase the minimum fares. »
If they exercise the option of a strike, American screenwriters will cripple Hollywood. During the last work stoppage, in 2007, the seasons of many hit shows like Lost, The Office and Big Bang Theory were cut short. To make up for this lack, the broadcasters had ordered a number of reality shows, a genre that does not require any script. Additionally, all of the late-night talk shows had gone into rerun mode, with no writers available to write jokes about the news. The same will happen on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show and others on Saturday Night Live, the WGA warned in a memo released Friday.
Could a writers’ strike possibly occur in Quebec? Yes, answers SARTEC. Indeed, the Act respecting the professional status of artists allows artists’ associations to take “concerted action” in the context of collective agreement negotiations, but only in certain circumstances.
Furthermore, SARTEC shows its solidarity with the WGA. It invites its members to refrain from accepting a writing contract that would fall under the jurisdiction of the American union for the duration of a possible strike.
“Among our members, many are bilingual and could be called upon,” explains Pauline Halpern. They are encouraged not to take any actions that could interfere with their efforts. »