Disney sent a letter this week to showrunners employed by the company’s various studios, reminding the striking writer-producers that they are still expected to perform their contractually obligated non-writing services.
“We want to reiterate to you as a showrunner or other writer-producer that you are not excused from performing your duties as a showrunner and/or producer on your series as a result of the WGA strike. Your Personal Services Agreement [the] “Even if the WGA tries to fine you for performing such services during the strike, the studio requires you to perform your showrunner and/or producing duties,” wrote Bob McPhail, assistant general counsel for Disney-owned ABC Signature. Hosted by and received by The Hollywood Reporter. “Your duties as a showrunner and/or producer may not be waived, suspended or terminated unless notified to you in writing by the studio.”
The letter was dated May 3, the second day of a strike by the Writers Guild of America against members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and streamers. Writers picketed in front of major studios and streamers in Los Angeles and New York this week as they demand increased pay platforms, audience transparency from streamers and protections against mini-rooms and the use of artificial intelligence.
The letter (read in full below) states that a question-and-answer show organizers are “required” to perform duties that may include responsibilities for 11,500 members that do not match the guidelines provided by the WGA.
The memo specifically states that in showrunner and/or writer-producer roles, “You may be required to perform services, commonly referred to as ‘a’ along with other non-writing services. Complete h.’ services as a producer,” such as reductions in time, minor changes to dialogue or stories made before or during production, and “changes in technique or stage directions.” These are the duties that non-writers can perform on covered projects, according to the WGA contract.
However, the WGA Strike Rules 2023 expressly prohibit union members from performing these activities during a strike. “The rules prohibit hyphenates (members working in dual capacities) from performing any writing services, including ‘a) through (h)’ functions,” the rules say, putting showrunners and writer-producers in a difficult position. Caught between the dictates of their employers and their own union.
“Sounds a lot… right? AH duties are specifically outlined by the guild as things you can’t do,” said one longtime showrunner, who did not receive one of the memos because he did not have a contract with Disney. “But I’m sure there’s a lot of fighting over this stuff legally. Long story short, this document doesn’t fool any of the writers. It’s weird because it’s written like we’re trying to organize a company that’s not already unionized. We’re all already unionized, man.