Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery this week sent a letter to the models employed by the various companies’ studios to remind them of the amazing writers and producers that they are still expected to perform their contractually binding non-writing services.
The letter from the legal department of ABC Signature, which is owned by Disney, reads: “We specifically want to assure you, as showrunner or other writer and producer, that you are not exempt from performing your duties as showrunner and/or producer on a series as a result of a strike. WGA Your personal services agreement with [the] The studio requires that you perform your showrunner and/or production duties even if the WGA attempts to fine you for performing such services during the strike,” Bob McPhail, assistant chief counsel for Disney-owned ABC Signature, wrote in the letter to the showrunners that got on her Hollywood Reporter. “Your duties as showrunner and/or producer shall not be relieved, suspended or terminated until and unless notified to you in writing by the studio.”
The letter is dated May 3, the second day of the Writers Guild of America strike against members of the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which represents studios and broadcasting companies. Writers hit picket lines in front of major studios and screens in Los Angeles and New York this week as they seek increased pay floors, viewing transparency from signs, protection from small rooms, and the use of artificial intelligence.
A similar letter sent by Max (formerly HBO Max) on May 2 said to WGA members who also serve in product functions, “HBO/HBO Max respects your membership in the WGA, and will not do anything that puts you at risk of violating WGA rules. However, we believe that some services, Such as participating in the casting process and/or contributing to non-written productions and post-production work are clear examples of non-WGA required services that should continue to be provided during this time.”
The memo added, “The WGA cannot prevent you from providing Productive Services pursuant to your Personal Services Agreement so long as you provide non-writing services.”
Disney’s letter (read it in full below) features a Q&A informing showrunners that they are “required” to perform duties that may include responsibilities that may not align with guidance provided by the WGA to its approximately 11,500 striking members.
The memo specifically states that in showrunner and/or writer-producer roles, “you may be required, along with other non-writing services, to perform services commonly referred to as ‘a. flour h. services as a producer,” such as time cuts, small changes to dialogue or narration before or during production and “changes in artistic direction or in stages.” These are the duties that, according to the WGA contract, non-writers can perform on covered projects.
However, the WGA’s strike rules expressly prohibit union members from performing these activities during the 2023 work stoppage. “The hyphenated rules prohibit (members working in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including jobs” (a) to (h),” the rules state, putting the showrunners, writers and producers in a difficult position, caught between the dictates of their employers and their union.
“A lot of it sounds… wrong? The union has specifically defined AH duties as things you can’t do,” said one longtime showrunner of the Disney memo. That person didn’t receive that memo, because he doesn’t have a deal with Disney. “But legally I’m sure there is a lot of controversy surrounding these things. Long story short, this document is not fooling any writer. It’s weird because it’s almost written as if we were trying to organize a company that wasn’t really a union. Like, we’re all in the union already, man.”
Max’s letter, in specifying that the company believes “certain services” during casting, production, and post-production are “services not required by the WGA,” also potentially opens up showrunners to being caught between their union’s ban on “(a) to (h) )) “Tasks and expectations of the company.
Max’s letter also argues that exhibitors should come to work, though the union insists that “no member should cross a WGA picket line or enter the premises of an ill-fated company for any purpose.” Max’s communication calls this “misleading,” as the WGA cannot penalize author-producers for performing only non-writing services: “HBO/HBO Max expects you to continue to come to work to perform non-writing duties under your contract during the WGA Strike unless and until the formally suspend or terminate these services,” it states.
May 5, 2:41 p.m Updated to include Max letter contents.
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