Image C/O Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
By Andrew Martinez Cabrera
On May 2, 2023, The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) announced that all 11,500 union members were going on strike, effectively halting all film and television productions that require a writing staff. The strike authorization was preceded by a month of deliberation between the union, and once the contracts with the studios lapsed on May 1, the strike officially began.
The last time the WGA went on strike was in 2007, which lasted from November 5 to February 12, when writers were seeking an increase in residual rates from DVD sales. The issue now is still focused on residual rates, but concerns streaming services. What used to happen prior to streaming, to use the contemporary example, was that when a show was a success, it could get a lot of air time and stay in syndication. Whenever a particular episode would re-air on television, the writer would get compensation via a check from the studio. This continuous revenue stream was especially fruitful since most shows’ seasons would have an average of around 20 episodes per season, give or take. For these long seasons, writers are present for longer periods of time after the writers’ room has concluded, getting to learn the actual production aspects of making something. It ensured financial and career stability for writers, like Michael Schur, who started off writing for “The Office” before transitioning into being a showrunner for projects such as “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation.”
What happens now is that streaming service companies like Netflix order about 8-10 episodes per season, which means less hired time for writers. Adding on to that, streaming companies adopted what is called a “mini room,” a pre-production writer’s room where the show is scripted and produced for the first time. According to The New York Times’ John Kroblin, streaming companies prefer mini rooms because of the semantics of it all, saying “Because it’s not a formal writers’ room, they will use that as justification to pay writers less, even though they’re writing scripts and developing a show.” When a show is a success, however, the companies hide the viewership data so that the writers cannot accurately know how much they’re owed for each episode once it lands on streaming.
The WGA’s demands include viewership-based streaming residuals, regular staff fees, individual health benefits, longer employment periods, regulation on studios using artificial intelligence from either making projects or using writers’ previous works to train it, and many others which can be found on the official WGA website.
Countering or rejecting their proposals is the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents all of the big Hollywood studios such as Disney, Netflix, and Warner Bros. Discovery. Looking at the annual cost the studios would have to pay to end the strikes, each is less than $100 million. For example, Warner Bros. Discovery would only have to pay $45 million, which is 0.104% of its annual revenue of $43.1 billion. Rather than agreeing to the guild’s terms, Warner Bros. Discovery announced that they would lose $300-$500 million from their 2023 earnings instead. Companies have also resorted to making more reality shows since they are not a part of the WGA, a pattern that started in 2007 and gave us the first reality TV boom that remodeled the television industry. Studios are also pushing back major releases in the hopes of having something to bring back their earnings in the upcoming year, such as pushing back Dune: Part Two to March rather than keeping it in its original November release date.
In an attempt to further stall their agreement to the union’s demands, the AMPTP waited for writers to begin losing money and “start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” As the WGA described in a statement, multiple CEOs met with the union negotiators to talk and were “met with a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was.”
Making matters worse for the AMPTP, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Foundation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), a combination of two acting unions, have also gone on strike. Their demands are similar to the WGA’s. On the state level, California’s senate approved unemployment pay for any striking workers, not just the WGA and SAG-AFTRA on September 14, 2023. According to Variety, if signed by Governor Gavin Newson, “the bill would take effect on Jan. 1.”
As of now, the WGA announced that negotiations will restart with the AMPTP this Wednesday. At the time of publication, the WGA strike has lasted 143 days compared to the 2007 Writers Strike which lasted 166 days.
Image c/o ABC News
By Tucker Long
Visiting Entertainment Columnist
On September 1, 2023, Jimmy Buffett passed away in his Sag Harbor home. Buffett was a beloved singer-songwriter, known for pioneering the tropical-rock genre with songs such as “Margaritaville”, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk”, and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Buffett’s musical style blended twangy guitars with steel drums, creating his outlaw-country meets Key West brand of music that was wholly unique. Lyrics of his often depicted scenes of relaxing on a beach, sharing drinks with friends, sailing the high seas, and any other sort of coastal debauchery you can think of. Jimmy Buffett’s island-themed music promoted a laid-back, sun-soaked lifestyle that was adored by his legions of passionate fans, dubbed the “parrot heads”. On top of his musical success, Buffett also found fortune as a writer and businessman. He was a New York Times best-selling author of two novels and a memoir, and launched a nationwide chain of “Margaritaville” themed restaurants, resorts, and casinos.
Buffet’s death was announced on his official website, saying that he “passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs.” The cause of his death was later revealed to be Merkel skin cancer, which is a rare type of skin cancer. He had been secretly battling Merkel skin cancer for years.
The music of Jimmy Buffett has provided the soundtrack to many vacations; his music was a staple anywhere there was sand, salt water, and fun to be had. Buffett’s death is the culmination of a life well-lived, a life consisting of parties, music, dancing, drinking, and fun. Even in death, he remained loyal to his tropical brand, with a report from CBS News saying that a significant risk factor for Merkel skin cancer was sun exposure. Buffett is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, a grandson, and six dogs.
image c/o movie maker magazine
By Andrew Martinez Cabrera
*SPOILERS FOR BOTH*
Barbie harkens back to a time when major Hollywood cinema had color and flair; a vibrancy that radiated through the screen. Greta Gerwig, known for her intimate and naturally stylized (in terms of look and feel) films, goes bombastic in her embrace of walking-and-talking idealistic dolls.
Like The Lego Movie before it, Gerwig and company deal with the meta as a way to critique and demonstrate a love for Barbie. Barbie tells women everywhere that they can be whatever they want to be, while also upholding unrealistic beauty standards. The dolls of Barbieland live in a bubble where they believe that injustice is no more, so when Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) goes to the real world and learns how “ugly” our world is, she is reasonably upset. Her anchor of hope is America Ferrara’s character and her daughter, the stand-ins of what realistic womanhood and sacrifice represent. As much as it is a film about a toy, Gerwig attaches the emotional core to the duo.
However, and perhaps because of its obligation to the IP of Barbie, having these characters serve only as the springboard for Barbie’s dilemma, this real-life mother-and-daughter duo falls short. America Ferrara’s big speech towards the end of the film, which unites the Barbies to pursue a coup d'etat against the now-patriarchy-obsessed Kens, could have packed more emotional weight within the context of the narrative if more time was spent seeing these characters operate outside of Barbie’s storyline. Rather than being fully developed, they are conveniences for the plot, which is a shame considering the film’s emphasis on motherhood. I believe another half-hour or so would have remedied this, showing their relationship grow from strained to fully healed, rather than their situation shown via montage.
Ultimately, Barbie is another genuine and heartfelt statement from Greta Gerwig’s filmography that trades the lived-in ambiance of her previous works for something that is epic-in-scale, hilarious, and richly textured in its visual look. The fear that her artistic voice could be lost dealing with an existing brand as large as Barbie was quenched when Gerwig proved that her voice could be just as impactful on such a grand scope.
Prior to its release, I would not have thought of Christopher Nolan as a mature enough artist to tackle the paradoxical figure that is J. Robert Oppenheimer. My fear was that complexity would be traded for spectacle. So I was pleasantly surprised when instead of adulation on Nolan’s part, I got damnation.
Oppenheimer is split up into two distinct timelines: “Fission” and “Fusion.” The former, shot in black-and-white, deals with Oppenheimer’s security hearing in the 1950s. The latter, shot in color, deals with Oppenheimer from his teaching days at Berkeley, all the way to his involvement with the Manhattan Project and after.
Despite working within the biographical genre, Nolan actively works against it. Documentarian Werner Herzog in his Minnesota Declaration about truth and fact in documentary cinema wrote, “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication[,] imagination and stylization.” Nolan does not subscribe to the cinéma vérité (truth cinema) notion when telling Oppenheimer’s story but rather distorts the narrative with Oppenheimer’s biased perspective. Oppenheimer builds himself up as a tortured genius forced to open Pandora’s box, as a means to end the rise of fascism in Europe. The black-and-white sections of Oppenheimer then contradict what Oppenheimer is supposedly saying and feeling. The artist, whose career is to manipulate, shares the same tendencies as its central protagonist; a mirror image.
Oppenheimer is a paradox as complex as splitting the atom: self-pitying and constantly seeking validation; the father of the atomic bomb who helped end the war and the linchpin of our self-destruction. Nolan’s greatest strength is having Oppenheimer’s subjectivity hijack the lens from which the film is captured. Whereas the film’s diegesis treats Oppenheimer's greatest victory as the success of Trinity and his greatest defeat not as the consequences of dropping the bomb, but rather as losing his security clearance, which plays like a courtroom drama (tightly edited by the amazing Jennifer Lame, who makes three hours go by like nothing), Nolan comes back around to remind the audience that Oppenheimer, like Prometheus, gave fire to man, and is to be condemned for eternity. Rather than building up a titan of the science world, Nolan portrays the perils of ego and our collective suffering as a result of it.
Barbenheimer’s success can be linked to the diversity of both films in a market saturated with sequels and reboots. Two of our greatest modern filmmakers made movies that were the antithesis of one another, inviting audiences to involve themselves in two totally different worlds. My hope with Barbenheimer is that Hollywood realizes that rather than chasing a trend, a wide selection of films should be offered to a wider range of audience members, rather than satisfying only a pocket of moviegoers. Cinema can be anything, and Barbenheimer was this summer’s reminder.
Warner Bros. Pictures, Mattel: Barbie
Universal Pictures, Syncopy: Oppenheimer
Madison Sciba '24,