Sony Chairman Tom Rothman On Possible WGA Strike: “We’ve Always Worked Our Way Through These Things”

By Antonia Blyth, Anthony D'Alessandro

WGA Strike 2008
WGA members on the picket lines in 2008 Phil Mccarten/EPA/Shutterstock

As we close the book on one of the most truncated and stressful Oscar seasons in history, the mindsets of many studio and network executives will soon turn to another case of agita: AMPTP’s upcoming contract negotiations with the WGA and the possibility of a writers strike.

Speaking to Deadline on the Oscars red carpet, Sony chief Tom Rothman said he wasn’t overly concerned about a potential work stoppage, because he believes the situation will yet be worked out.

“I’m not ultimately too worried about it,” he said, “but that’s because I’m an old hand and an old veteran, and we’ve always worked our way through these things, and I’m sure we will in the end this time as well.”

Rothman’s positive outlook comes two days after the WGA leadership on Friday announced that the guild’s members had voted overwhelmingly (91%) to approve a Pattern of Demands for the upcoming negotiations that could trigger a strike if not met.

While stockpiling scripts is standard precautionary step studios take in anticipation of a strike, Sony is not taking that route. “We’re not doing that,” Rothman said. “We’re proceeding with business as usual, but as the old expression goes, we’re hoping for the best and planning for the worst.”

Also approached for comment on the Oscars red carpet, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos politely declined to comment on the WGA situation, saying only, “I don’t want to talk about that tonight.”

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As one of the biggest employers of writers in Hollywood that is not a member of the AMPTP, Netflix is tipped to potentially play a key role in the WGA-studio negotiations this time around.

At the WGAW Awards last weekend, guild President David A. Goodman did not back away from the idea of a strike, “Everyone seems to think a strike is happening,” he said. “In part it’s an effort by our employers…to force and calm everyone down and say we won’t, and thus give up our greatest leverage. Well, I’m not going to say that. It’s dangerously naïve to think that a strike is never necessary”.

Like Rothman, two Oscar-nominated screenwriters are hoping that it will not come to that and both sides will be reasonable in their negotiations. The Two Popes scribe Anthony McCarten said on the Oscars red carpet, “I’m like everybody, just praying that the people we’ve charged with resolving this can find common ground,” he said. “My whole movie was about people with entrenched positions, that don’t look like they can find common ground, and actually doing so. There’s only one way there, and it’s compromise on both halves. Digging your heels in and putting heads in sand and stuff just doesn’t get anyone anywhere, so I hope they can work together.”

1917‘s co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns agreed that talks and compromise are the way forward. “I know one of the tools in the writers’ arsenal is the strike,” she said, “and I sincerely don’t want that to happen. I hope everyone plays ball. There’s enough money to go around everywhere. Everyone’s getting quite rich, Netflix, all of us, so why not share the wealth? That’s my thinking. I think we just need to sit down and hash it out. I love to write, I do this because I want to write. The last thing I want to do is to have to strike.”

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One of the just approved by membership WGA Pattern of Demands would “require signatory companies to negotiate only with agents franchised by the WGA,” That demand alone could spark a strike come May 1, when the guild’s current contract expires, because the AMPTP already flatly rejected a similar proposal last March.

Several prolific scribes at the WGA Awards, including Taika Waititi, Charles Randolph, Dan Gilroy and Damon Lindelof, made it clear that one of the primary wants of scribes nowadays are better residuals from streaming.

Backstage at the Academy Awards, Waititi, Adapted Screenplay winner for Jojo Rabbit, struck a lighter note when addressing the upcoming WGA negotiations.

“As laptops get newer and newer, the latest new iMac, keyboards are worse. I’ve got shoulder problems [from that], that tendon which goes from the forearm down to the front,” he said. “Just fix those keyboards. The WGA needs to step in and do something.”

Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report. 

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