If you were a major entertainment conglomerate in the wake of a merger which saw controversial layoffs and disappearing content and had recently caught flack for a less-than-smooth app launch in the midst of a historic writers strike with the looming threat of other guilds following suit, you might think twice before pissing off the people at the top of the film and television food chain. But that’s what makes Warner Bros. Discovery unique; its bold IDGAF energy is perfectly suited towards an era of utter dismissiveness towards the laborers who create the art being distributed.
“Create” is the operative term here, because WBD’s new Max platform attempted to lump large groups of industry professionals under one catch-all descriptor. “The new HBO Max (MAX) has eliminated writer/director credits in their interface in favor of a vague ‘Creators.’ This is what Raging Bull currently looks like,” Twitter user John Frankensteiner shared an example on social media. “It’s so fucking over.”
In the above example, Raging Bull lists Peter Savage, Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin, Robert Chartoff, Paul Schrader, Jake La Motta, Irwin Winkler, and Joseph Carter as the film’s “Creators.” The same principle applied to the rest of the streamer’s library of content; according to The Hollywood Reporter, for television this could be found under the “Episode Details” pull-down menu, which put writers, executive producers, and actual creators all under the same “Creators” umbrella. The designation makes these individuals’ contributions to the work indistinguishable, and given that streamers also usually offer “skip intro” buttons, the move further distances the audience from the actual people making their favorite film and television series.
The label “Creator” not only flattens the contributions of individuals into one amorphous designation, it also seems to devalue the labor that goes into a particular position. “Content Creator” is the title usually given to social media influencers, which—while labor may indeed be involved in that sector—is an entirely different role than being the director of a feature film. It also isn’t necessarily accurate; a director might be involved in the creation of a television episode, but they aren’t usually the person who “created” the script or “created” the series as a whole.
It’s a provocative decision from Warner Bros. Discovery, especially given that its CEO David Zaslav has in some ways become the face of the writers strike, given conversation surrounding his salary, his recent appearance at Boston University’s commencement, and the whole Batgirl debacle, to name a few reasons. However, upon receiving backlash, the company quickly walked the move back. “We agree that the talent behind the content on Max deserve their work to be properly recognized,” a Max spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “We will correct the credits, which were altered due to an oversight in the technical transition from HBO Max to Max and we apologize for this mistake.”
The Directors Guild of America is currently in negotiations for its own contract with the AMPTP, and has been criticized by some for showing less support for the strike than other guilds. A move like this—even one quickly corrected—illustrates how directors are literally in the same boat as writers in regards to how they’re viewed by the studios. To that end, it seems to have inspired greater solidarity amidst Hollywood’s laborers exactly when the AMPTP is seeking to divide and conquer, if the joint statement from the WGA and DGA on the subject is anything to go by.
“For almost 90 years, the Directors Guild has fought fiercely to protect the credit and recognition deserved by Directors and the work they create. Warner Bros. Discovery’s unilateral move, without notice or consultation, to collapse directors, writers, producers, and others into a generic category of ‘creators’ in their new Max rollout while we are in negotiations with them is a grave insult to our members and our union,” said DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter in the statement. “This devaluation of the individual contributions of artists is a disturbing trend and the DGA will not stand for it. We intend on taking the strongest possible actions, in solidarity with the WGA, to ensure every artist receives the credit they deserve.”
“Warner Bros has lumped writers, directors and producers into an invented, diminishing category they call ‘Creators.’ This is a credits violation for starters. But worse, it is disrespectful and insulting to the artists that make the films and TV shows that make their corporation billions,” WGA West president Meredith Stiehm added. “This attempt to diminish writers’ contributions and importance echoes the message we heard in our negotiations with AMPTP — that writers are marginal, inessential, and should simply accept being paid less and less, while our employers’ profits go higher and higher. This tone-deaf disregard for writers’ importance is what brought us to where we are today—Day 22 of our strike.” And so, “Creators” may be out, but the tensions between the Hollywood union and the studios is only ramping up.