The recent Hollywood strike is almost over!
At 148 days, this strike was the second longest in the union's history. While Hollywood can seem like a far away place to many pockets of the country, there are many things that we can learn from the recent Hollywood strike about issues directly related to our careers as creative entrepreneurs regarding the use of AI, negotiation strategies, and demands for fair pay.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND | The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a group that represents roughly 11,500 creative writers who write all the television shows and movies. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is the organization that is tasked with representing the collective studios and production companies in Hollywood. Every three years, the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) between the two organizations expires and is open for negotiation of new terms.
After the Covid-era in Hollywood, many writers were struggling to afford basic necessities, with many experiencing up to a 25% reduction in pay while inflation goes up by historic levels. The change in how Americans consume entertainment has caused dramatic changes for writers. Rather than being hired to write a 22-episode season of a network television show, they are now being hired to write 6-8 episode seasons with smaller groups of writers, causing shorter spans of employment and fewer writers being hired.
THE DEMANDS | The demands by the WGA were for, generally speaking, equal pay, royalties from streaming services, benefits, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the creation of television and movies. The WGA has more power than most union organizations in that the guild IS the workforce. In many instances, there is an option whether to join, but in Hollywood, that isn't the case, thus creating a power balance in favor of writers that is often not found in other industries. MUCH of Hollywood is unionized, which ensures that even those who are regular working actors but not necessarily headline actors can still make a decent living, as this is the bulk of who are considered to be "working actors" in the industry. While a few in Hollywood make it big and bring in huge piles of money, many are struggling to maintain a middle income existence, which has been made even more difficult with the rise of streaming services and the popularity of reality television series.
A large misconception of writers is that they are all overwhelmingly wealthy when, in reality, most entry-level writers make barely around $30,000-$40,000 annually. The average member of the WGA has an annual salary of less than $100,000.
But perhaps one of the more interesting inclusions in the WGA's demands is their requests of the studios to expressly agree to not use AI technology as a replacement for human writers but rather as a tool. The reluctancy of the studios to agree to such a provision highlights a concern for all of us - those in charge of the profits of corporations are going to start turning to AI as a way to save labor costs by replacing humans. In this instance, the WGA is working as an institution to put guardrails on the use of AI technology. The point is this... AI must work for people rather than being used to increase profits and marginalize people.
WHAT WE SHOULD LEARN | One of the reasons this stuck out to me is that in such a divisive political environment like we have experienced in recent years, I find it fascinating that the artists are the ones who banned together to make positive change for all of us. (Side rant: Invest in artists.) But since we are both business owners AND artists, we can learn from both sides of this situation. As business owners, we have lessons to learn in how to properly value our employees, as they are our greatest assets. As workers who have multiple clients, create art, and are facing the struggles of increased inflation with decreased work opportunities, we also have lessons to learn in how we hold our own value.
LESSONS FOR BUSINESS OWNERS
1. LEARN HOW TO APPROPRIATELY NEGOTIATE | As artists, this can be a difficult one, but get used to it. Business ownership requires negotiating of all kinds - client contracts, vendor relationships, your employee compensation, and more. Many people have a fear of saying "no", but when your core values are at play, it's a word you must become comfortable using.. For example, the WGA asked for regulations in the use of AI in content creation, and the AMPTP responded by suggesting they hold annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology. Nobody likes being ignored or looked over, especially when their livelihood is on the line. Be sure to respond to the core concerns of your employees. You may not be willing to give everything they are demanding, but at least be open to discussing the core values of their concerns.
2. MONITOR NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN YOUR INDUSTRY | New technologies are consistently making their way to the forefronts of every industry, revolutionizing them over and over again. One screenwriter has been in the industry for 46 years has been involved in five strikes, with each representing a shift in the business - from the entrance of DVDs into the marketplace to the popularity of current streaming services. As an old saying goes, "The only constant is change." Embrace it and learn it rather than fighting it.
Business owners should constantly be on the lookout for new technologies that could potentially affect aspects of their organizations, including possible downsides and how to mitigate them. Regardless of the technology, it should be thoughtfully contemplated from all sides before bringing it into your organization.
3. ALIGN COMPENSATION WITH PERFORMANCE + GROWTH | This can be one of the grand benefits of owning a business but can also be a breeding ground for hurt feelings among employees as well as frustration as a business owner. Consider paying employees with commissions, merit pay, profit sharing, and bonuses. As creative entrepreneurs, many of us operate small teams. In a small work environment, teams are responsible for the benefit of the whole and should be compensated as such. Implementing these types of pay scales make employees feel valued and solve the dilemma of pay for business owners.
LESSONS FOR CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS:
1. YOU HAVE MORE POWER THAN YOU THINK. OWN THAT. | Imposter syndrome runs rampant in our industry. Creative entrepreneurs have unlimited ability for income. The sky is truly the limit. When you are free from financial stress, you have more of your creative spirit available for use. Further, that creative spirit is an asset that belongs specifically to YOU. People want what you have to offer, and you offer a singular asset as it's something only you can create. Don't be scared to charge what you need to be able to build your business and live a life you love. And the WGA strike shows us that being in community with others is helpful in establishing worth as a group.
2. MAKE FRIENDS IN OTHER ROLES IN YOUR INDUSTRY | Looking to the WGA as an example, they obviously were successful, but... all of Hollywood is unionized. If they had potentially engaged other organizations, they would have had more strength in numbers and could have perhaps been able to make a significant impact sooner. The Crew Members Union (IATSE), the directors union (DGA), and the actors union (SAG-AFTRA) were not included in the strike despite SAG-AFTRA nearing a strike and the DGA barely avoiding a strike of their own. Likewise, find ways to network in your local community of professionals that are not doing exactly what you do. In Chattanooga, I regularly attend WINO (Wedding Industry Night Out), where various members of the local wedding industry meet for a happy hour every other month. This has helped establish a large network of vendors who are friends, referral sources, and we also advocate for one another. If you can't find a meetup in your area, make one! Don't overthink it. Find a restaurant with some happy hour specials and set up an online event to meet there at a certain time.
3. KNOW YOUR WORTH! THEN, ADVOCATE FOR OTHERS. | This is the part where I have one finger pointed at you and four pointing back at me, but I said what I said.
Technology is rapidly advancing, and I have personally seen photographers freak out at any new development in photo technology. The message boards fill up with "Is this going to put us out of business?!" For the writers involved in the strike, this has become a VERY real concern as AI has developed to unprecedented levels. Veterans in the industry express have expressed their concern for their own livelihood but even more so for the livelihood of the up and coming writers coming behind them. Additionally, veterans noted that new writers don't get the full experience due to the shrinking number of writers working together on a script as well as dwindling pay and a lack of opportunities for work. Veterans are expressing concerns that the next generation is particularly vulnerable to economic decline.
Bringing this back to the photography industry... One of the things I find vital for professional photographers to do in establishing their worth is to do an evaluation for their cost of doing business. Know your bottom line on that, and don't settle. The WGA members did exactly that - they established their worth and how they expected to be treated and would not settle for anything less than that very specific baseline. In a day and age when more and more people are choosing the path of entrepreneurship, it's more vital than ever before that you establish your own worth and refuse to settle for less. Ultimately, freelancers are responsible for ensuring their own success by guaranteeing they are providing for themselves with a pay and duration of work that reflects their value as a creative professional.
Did I teach you something new?
Awesome!! Tell me what it is in a comment!
Paige Ivey Evatt (MrsPIE)
Love the photos in this blog?