Negotiating Committee’s Chris Keyser On Failed Talks – Deadline


Outside the Fox lot in Century City this afternoon, WGA Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Chris Keyser appeared amongst over 150 members who were on site to picket following the breakdown of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers and the expiration of their contract.

The WGA Award nom, known for his work on series like The Society and Party of Five, is heading up negotiations this year alongside his fellow former guild president David Goodman, having held the post himself between 2011 and 2015.

Christopher Keyser speaks with press outside the Fox lot

Chris Keyser speaks with press outside the Fox lot


In conversation with Deadline this afternoon, he spoke to the atmosphere in the room with AMPTP members last night, the stakes in these negotiations and how the current strike compares with that which took place all the way back in 2008, his concerns about studios’ unwillingness to broach the subject of AI, how long he sees the labor stoppage lasting, how it’s affected work on his own series Julia for HBO Max, and more.

DEADLINE: What led negotiations to fizzle out early last night, around 8 p.m. PT? What were the AMPTP’s biggest sticking points? 

CHRIS KEYSER: The companies continued to refuse to move on, or even discuss a long list of our core proposals. In fact, what they did at the end is they said, “Listen, we’ll give you a little bit more on some things if you agree to drop everything else.” And we said to them, “No, we can’t do that.” And they said, “Well, then we have no more moves.” And that’s how it ended a few hours early. 

DEADLINE: Were there areas where they were willing to make worthy concessions?

KEYSER: We made some progress on some minimums, and in some ways on a premium for pre-greenlight rooms, and a little bit of stuff in comedy-variety, though with enough provisos, it made it much less useful. And by the way, much of what they offered, they had workarounds for. But they wouldn’t discuss all of the structural things that really go to the heart of what our problem is — that in a world in which writers are writing at minimum, even showrunners are writing at minimum, we need a guarantee of a certain number of weeks of work, and that writers are going to be hired in the first place, and that writing continues through production, and that post is paid for, at least at minimum, and that screenwriters actually have some relief from the endless abuse of free work, and that they have some protection when they write the exact same movie for streaming as they did on theatrical, and comedy-variety writers have the MBA terms that apply…Anyone who’s in Appendix A has the terms that apply without the carve-outs that they wanted. No day rates for comedy-variety writers, all kinds of things.  

And AI, by the way. They would not discuss AI. I think you get a really good sense from the companies about where they see the future based on what they say they won’t talk about. Because the stuff they’ll say yes to is the stuff they feel like they can absorb so easily, or maybe not pay in the long run. So, we see a real risk of an attack on weekly pay for writers, term deals. That means that they’re trying to turn us into a guild of freelancers…and treat the screenwriters terribly.  

DEADLINE: How do you see the situation with this round of negotiations, compared to that at the time of the last strike in 2008? 

KEYSER: Obviously, the business landscape is something different. Every one of these is somewhat different from the one before. It’s more complicated, what our leverage may be, in some ways, and maybe we have some advantages in another. That room may well be, I mean the AMPTP, more divided than it’s ever been because their interests are so much more diverse. I don’t really know how much Netflix has in common with Paramount+ or NBCUniversal. Disney’s different also, and Amazon and Apple, so they’re going to have to work through all of that, and I think that’s going to play out interestingly. 

DEADLINE: You see it as to the guild’s advantage that the studios and streamers have come to the table from such different places, with distinct priorities and resources available to them? 

KEYSER: I think it goes both ways. I think it’s harder to make a deal in the short run if they allow each other to stand in the way. At some point, the pain of this will be maybe so different for some than for others that they decide they can’t possibly stand together. I wouldn’t want to be one of the broadcast networks waiting around for Netflix to decide when it’s going to stop taking advantage. 

DEADLINE: How has the strike affected the series you’re currently a part of, Julia

KEYSER: I don’t know. We’ve finished production and post [on Season 2]. I won’t have anything to do with any of the promotion. But I have something that’s in development that I’m making a deal with at Peacock. That, obviously I’m not going to have any conversations about. 

DEADLINE: How long do you see this strike going? 

KEYSER: You never…know. But I will say that up until this morning, we only struck once in 35 years, and we only do it when we see an existential threat to writing as a profession, as we did when we contemplated the idea that streaming would not pay us adequately, where we had no projections there. So, I think writers understand that they need to hold together, and we’ll hold together until we solve this problem. 

DEADLINE: Do you have a sense of when you might get back to the table with the AMPTP? 

KEYSER: It’s up to them. 

DEADLINE: How have you personally experienced the issues that precipitated the strike? How have they affected either you or those around you? 

KEYSER: The younger writers who work for me talk about how difficult it is to make a living year after year because jobs are so brief, and it’s such a low pay, and few and far between. I know myself, as a showrunner, that I work for a year and a half or two years for very few episodic fees until my fees get amortized down. No one needs to cry for me. But there are young showrunners who, when they are told this is the best it’s ever going to be…You get your own show. If you reach the pinnacle, you can work for minimum for endless hours with no writers to help you, on your own…You know, have fun. So, it’s just very difficult.  

One of the reasons why we got a 9,000-vote approval on our strike authorization is because this is affecting everybody in every corner of the business. So I was talking about television, episodic, but it’s true just as much in features and comedy-variety. There’s no one who’s unaffected by it, or doesn’t know somebody they care about deeply who’s affected by it. And that matters just as much to us.  

DEADLINE: The WGA is often in the difficult situation of having to figure out how to approach negotiations on topics like AI, where our understanding is still evolving, as far as business implications. How have you framed that challenge for yourself? How do you approach that? 

KEYSER: Right now, I think we have a pretty simple philosophy, which is AI can’t be literary material. It can’t be a draft that we have to rewrite. It doesn’t mean that companies won’t use it in some ways. It can be research material — but it can’t be literary in material. I’ll say this, no one knows exactly what AI’s going to be, but the fact that the companies won’t talk about it is the best indication we’ve had that we have a reason to fear it.  

DEADLINE: What’s your vision of how the strike may play out, in the best- and worst-case scenarios? 

KEYSER: I hope you’ll forgive me if I am not going to give you a worst-case scenario, because that worst-case scenario is not, in our minds, going to happen. We can’t let it. Our best-case scenario is, we make a reasonable deal — not everything we’ve asked for, but enough to protect writers and make this a viable profession going forward in all sectors of the business. 

DEADLINE: It seems to me that a success in this negotiation would mark a substantial paradigm shift in the business. How do you see a win transforming it? 

KEYSER: Here’s the thing, the things we’re asking for is stuff we had before. This is just an attempt by writers to maintain a livable career, a working career, and that’s it. So, I don’t think we’ve made the argument, and I think it’s true, that these costs are absorbable into film and movie budgets, by and large. They’re small compared to these overall budgets. I think we are arguing to keep a system going that’s worked really well for decades. I don’t mean going back to the old broadcast model. I mean, where we write the stuff that makes them millions and we’re allowed to earn a living that permits us to stay in this business. 

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