EXCLUSIVE: Amid growing speculation of internal divisions within the C-suites and a lack of any apparent path forward to end the writers and actors strikes, the chiefs of Hollywood’s biggest studios are set to gather today.
Disney’s Dana Walden and Alan Bergman, Amazon Studios’ Mike Hopkins and Jennifer Salke, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Universal’s Donna Langley, and Warner Bros Discovery’s David Zaslav are among those scheduled to attend the virtual sit-down later Wednesday, we hear.
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Mouse House CEO Bob Iger will not be participating in this meeting, reverting to his earlier stance of having Walden and Bergman be primarily hands-on over the labor actions. Part of that for Iger, we understand, was an overall CEO approach to keep some distance to be ready for the appropriate time to get more directly engaged.
It is unclear whether AMPTP President Carol Lombardini will be present at this afternoon’s meeting.
As the blowback intensifies from the disastrous August 22 meeting with Iger, Sarandos, Langley, Zaslav, the AMPTP’s Lombardini and WGA negotiators, and subsequent release of the studios’ latest proposal, there are no new talks set with the guild. Add to that the WGA rejection the deal and on August 24 calling it “neither nothing, nor nearly enough,” mistrust between the parties is at an all-time high, we hear. That translates into the WGA and the AMPTP being nowhere near a deal to end the 121-day scribes strike — not to mention the SAG-AFRTA strike, which is in Day 48.
The AMPTP said it is waiting the official response from the WGA to the August 11 offer. The guild says it made a counter on August 15 and that the ball is in the studios and streamers’ court.
All of which means, newly hired crisis PR firm the Levinson Group might find that its principal task right out the gate is handling the tension between studio CEOs as the writers strike goes deep into its fourth month.
“Before some wanted to blame Carol, accused her of being stuck using a pre-streaming playbook,” an individual familiar with the divisions among the studio and streamers bosses. “Now that have only themselves to blame for how bad things look. That’s why they brought in the Levinson Group, and that’s why they are squabbling.”
According to several sources, for instance, it was streaming kingpin Sarandos who lectured WGA leaders at that gathering last week about why they had to take the AMPTP’s latest offer. Others say that, while Sarandos certainly wasn’t pliant, it was Iger who was “the loudest voice in the room” with the other CEOs and the WGA brass on August 22. “That approach spectacularly flamed out, and then they made it worse by putting their offer out in public the same night,” one industry vet states of the outcome of the studio bosses’ browbeating meeting with guild leaders and the attempt to go around the WGA negotiating committee directly to members.
In particular, “thin skinned” Iger and Zaslav are “stunned,” according to one insider, that they have been so vilified by the guild and its members over the past several months. “Almost everyone is looking for someone to blame,” another insider says of the backbiting among the core CEOs. “They’re paralyzed, even as the clock is ticking, and it’s Ted’s fault, Iger’s fault, even Tony Vinciquerra’s fault, depending on who you ask,” the source added, name-checking the Netflix co-CEO, the Disney CEO and the Sony Pictures chair and CEO. “It’s not helping the situation, or anyone.”
Following a weekend where a number of top tier showrunners were contacted by agents unsuccessfully urging them to support the latest AMPTP proposal, today’s get-together is in part to ensure that CEOs don’t stumble into a position where they’re negotiating against themselves. While there have been reports out there that Netflix could be willing to bend toward the WGA on a number of points, others say that Hollywood’s top brass are on the same page when it comes to their approach with the guilds.
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Additionally, the fear for some major studio leaders is that if even if there is a deal in the coming weeks and production resumes on movies in the new year, a dry spell in the theatrical release calendar will exist, much in the way it did last year between August and October due to the post-production logjam created by Covid. Some movies on the near horizon for Q4 and Q1 are in need of ADR and, if the strikes continue, could get pushed. For Hollywood’s top leaders, the longer the strikes go on, less product in both film and TV is apt to be made in the next calendar year. Less product means fewer jobs.
“These guys are worried about what comes next, after the strike,” another well-placed source states. “Remember, they’re competitors, they’re always thinking about how to best each other. The strikes don’t change that.”
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