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HomeColumnsUnion Roundup: The WGA Strike is This Year's Cine Gear's Subplot

Union Roundup: The WGA Strike is This Year’s Cine Gear’s Subplot


Photo via Mark London Williams

Cine Gear returned to its old haunts on the PARAMOUNT lot, as May morphed into June, with two days of exhibits, and the studio’s old New York street sets once again lined with vendors, who also filled the soundstages, just as they did before the show’s pandemic-era relocation to downtown L.A.’s Convention Center.

And while there was a general sunny sense among the throngs that were there, both Friday and Saturday, aligned with an actual break in the clouds, there was still a specter or two haunting the enterprise, or at least providing a subtext for many of the conversations.

Chief among these was the ongoing WGA strike, whose picket lines all around Paramount provided tangible proof for any out-of-town visitors that things in Tinsel Town were not quite as they were – or are still not quite as they were – the last time they attended this annual gear gathering. 

Of course, Cine Gear itself wasn’t being struck, as the show advised exhibitors in an email a few days ahead of the event. And during booth put-in on Thursday, one pair of indie writer-directors – setting up displays for the local film festival they oversee – mentioned an official advisor from the WGA that said the same thing. There was also considerable speculation that the thicker-than-expected crowds on Friday were also a result of the strike, there being scarcely much in-town production left to keep people otherwise busy as the work week wrapped up. 

One well-known ASC member told us it was likely a summer to settle in for some beach reading, rather than getting overly worked up about dynamics that were out of the hands of anyone actually there at the show. 

Photo via Mark London Williams

Later, at the ASC Barbeque at the Society’s storied Hollywood clubhouse, which always serves as a concluding bookend to the event, there was even more speculation about how long a strike everyone should gird for.

The consensus, increasingly common around town, seemed to be that at a minimum, the S&S’s – studios and streamers – were going to wait until force majeure clauses kicked in, in another few weeks. It would allow them to shed many of the overly-enthusiastic production deals they made at the height of the perceived streaming boom. Most felt the end of September-ish was a likely window for resolution (which also infers – no Emmy show this year!). One award-nominated DP was heading home to rest up for the fast food commercial that comprised his main work for the week.

Some of those very same people, though, started to cross paths again Sunday morning and onward, for the also-now-traditional post-post Cine Gear events (various combinations of open houses, panels, beer and ice cream quaffing, gear sales, and more bbq) at Tiffen/Steadicam, Matthews Studio Equipment, and the “Big Daddy” Roth-inspired folks at Hot Rod Camera, with their “CineBeer” gathering. Indeed, with each located in Burbank, it was possible to make your way across that particular terrain in a way akin to Burt Lancaster swimming his way home across suburban pools in The Swimmer and getting a certain read on the landscape. Which, this year, was the spreading news that while everyone was swapping their alternate summer plans at the Clubhouse, the DGA had settled with producers overnight.

It explained, certainly, why there was no DGA presence at the earlier Unions Strike Back rally timed to coincide with the state Democratic convention.

And while the WGA had already preemptively announced that the circa ‘07-’08 AMPTP playbook of settling with directors first, to force a general contract template on everyone else wouldn’t work this time, the putative settlement – coming so suddenly – still left everyone wondering, at least briefly, if maybe there’d be less time for summer reads on the beach, after all.

As general details continued to emerge about the proposals, it appeared the DGA did manage to secure some pay raises for its members – including in formerly “free” prep time for films – though specifics remained sketchy. More has come out, now that the guild’s executive board voted unanimously to approve the terms, which members will be voting on it over the next couple of weeks.

However, in the interim, SAG-AFTRA, about to enter into their own talks with producers, voted almost unanimously – a hair under 98% – to authorize their own strike. Some DGA members have taken to Twitter and elsewhere to urge the membership to vote “no” on this contract, particularly since, of the emerging issues important to writers – and particularly actors, wary of what unchecked digital replication could mean – the DGA seems to have more or less punted on the whole question of AI (along with more transparency at looking at the books on streaming revenue).

Photo by Mark London Williams

While the initial DGA release that Bleary Sunday touted they had “won” a concession on AI, calling it a “groundbreaking agreement confirming that AI is not a person and that generative AI cannot replace the duties performed by members,” it turns out that the contract actually voted on says “the employers may not utilize G(enerative)AI in connection with creative elements without consultation with the Director or other DGA-covered employees consistent with the requirements of the DGA Basic Agreement.”

The emphasis is ours. Oh, and also there’ll be two meetings a year with the AMPTP to discuss any “updates” on the technology, too.

So directors get a raise, no real look at the books, and the right to “consult” on the use of AI in various productions (what happens to those directors who say “no,” by the way?)

We’ll leave things there for this week. But if anything, in the days since Cine Gear wrapped, the DGA’s moves may have actually made an actors’ strike likelier.

So the beach reads, and the fast food commercial shoots (other gaffers and DPs at the BBQ discussed airborne “commutes” – flying in and out of Atlanta and elsewhere – for short shoots, just to keep the workflow somewhat flowing) may become the hallmarks of this smokey summer after all. And for those filling along Paramount’s New York streets, the wait for a Cine Gear show to happen when things are fully “back to normal,” continues. 

Mark London Williams
Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood and its contents and discontents in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark’s Union Roundup column will appear regularly, and he welcomes both tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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