Hollywood's Screenwriters Go to War With the Robots

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Hollywood's Screenwriters Go to War With the Robots
Evan Xie

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On this week’s “Succession,” Roman Roy flew to Burbank and met with the head of Waystar Studios, pressing them to greenlight more IP-driven films from major franchises. In the show’s fictional alternate reality, Roy is reacting specifically to the looming failure of sleepy robot-themed sci-fi tentpole “Kalispitron,” and the desperate short-term need to artificially boost the company’s stock price. Still, the scene itself has strong roots in our current business landscape. With media, telecom, and tech companies having recently spent billions creating and selling consumers on shiny new streaming platforms, they now need to actually deliver the quality content they’ve spent the last few years promising and promoting.

Sadly, negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTA) – representatives for Hollywood studios and the conglomerates that own them – ended without an agreement on Monday night. This has led to a writers’ strike threatening to shut down large sectors of the entertainment industry, with picket lines currently active across Los Angeles and New York.

Points of Disagreement

Some of the points of contention between the writers and the studios and networks hiring them go back several years now, if not decades, including debates about the minimum staff you can hire for a writers room and residual rates based on viewership.

Beyond these ongoing debates, which have largely been part of talks between writers and the industry since the last WGA strike in 2007, AI chatbots have also become a major point of this round of WGA-AMPTP negotiations. The WGA proposed new regulations around the use of AI, including guarantees from studio owners that it won’t be used to write or rewrite source material or literary material.

This means no asking chatbots for movie pitches which are then handed off to human writers for a polish, and no asking a chatbot to do its own pass on a script. The AMPTP rejected this proposal; their counter-offer was annual meetings between creative executives and writers to discuss the use of the technology. This was received particularly negatively by WGA members; on Twitter, “Into the Spider-Verse” and “21 Jump Street” vet Phil Lord called the AMPTP counterproposal “unserious.”

Speaking to The New York Times last month, screenwriter and Writers Guild negotiating committee member John August summarized the WGA’s concerns as “The Nora Eprhon Problem.” (It’s named for the late, legendary journalist-turned-screenwriter, who wrote “When Harry Met Sally,” “Heartburn,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and many other classics.) If it’s some day possible to feed all of Ephron’s work into a computer and get a new script that sounds like she wrote it… how do we fairly compensate the original writer? And would that meant the end of screenwriting as a profession?

The Writers Most Affected By AI Chatbots

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Hollywood writers are among the first organized labor groups pushing back against AI tools. The entertainment industry is famous for its attempts to sideline writers and squeeze them for every drop of their earnings. In 1996, John Gregory Dunne famously wrote “beating up on screenwriters is a Hollywood blood sport” while legendary producer Irving Thalberg memorably said “the most important person in the motion picture process is the writer… and we must do everything in our power to prevent them from ever realizing it.”

But this isn’t just about the threat of using a computer to write the next “Tár” or hailing ChatGPT as the new Tyler Perry. It’s unlikely the top creators with large fanbases will be replaced by famous computers, at least in the short-term. These changes will likely impact the lower levels of the industry first, with executives seeking out the kinds of content that can be downgraded in quality by 5-10% without audiences noticing or minding too much. Over time, more and more of entertainment becomes dull and homogenized, perhaps wtihout most of the audience even consciously noticing the change.

However the AI debate shakes out for the WGA, this process will very likely have far-reaching effects. Actors union SAG-AFTRA is considering similar rules around the right to use AI tools trained on an actor’s work to generate original performances, especially voice-only performances. As more and more employees in various industries suddenly find themselves competing with chatbots for jobs, the precedent set by the WGA-AMPTP negotiation could reverberate over the next several years or decades.

Max Merger and AI Incompetence Favor Writers

Fortunately for writers, they do seem to have picked a fertile moment for negotiations, now that their employers are facing the Waystar Studios issue. In just a few weeks, HBO Max and Discovery+ will merge into a brand new extremely high-profile streaming platform, dubbed simply “Max.” By the management team’s own admission, Max sits at the very center of WBD’s overall post-cable strategy. Back in March, WBD CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels called the new service “an absolutely critical milestone” and “one of our big, big priorities for this year.”

And while ChatGPT is certainly impressive technology… it’s not quite ready to write the “Succession” finale or a new season of “Hacks” just yet. AI can take tests, and can hold up its end of the conversation, and can even sometimes make you feel like you’re speaking to a real person. But it’s not particularly funny or skilled at storytelling, and simply by virtue of not having any sensory or life experiences, it doesn’t have much of a personality. It can write a sentence but can it write an insightful sentence? Can it have an insight? These are still theoretical questions.

Despite relying on studios for jobs, this gives writers a certain degree of natural leverage. In April, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos assured investors that the company still had a “robust slate” of content stored up to release in the event of a writers strike. But even a vault full of “Indian Matchmaking” spinoffs isn’t going to last forever. Some form of agreement will need to be reached before subscribers begin bailing on the streamers that run out of content or start churning out lower-quality shows.

Though nothing is for certain, most early indicators make it seem like the strike could last for a while. With the WGA publicly releasing its list of proposals and AMPTP’s responses, it’s become clear that the two groups remain far apart in terms of their expectations.

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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