Starting today, thousands of Hollywood television and film writers are going on strike for the first time in 15 years.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) voted unanimously to strike Tuesday after contract negotiations with major Hollywood studios fell through. The WGA is trying to get thousands of people to get higher wages and better working conditions from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – a group representing about 350 major studios and streaming services like Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple and Sony. of film and television writers representing the union. Picket lines are expected to emerge from Tuesday afternoon.
The last WGA strike in 2007 and 2008 lasted 100 days and is believed to have sent California into a recession, resulting in a loss of approximately $2.1 billion to the state’s economy.
Shows like Saturday Night Live And The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will be the first to be affected and are expected to stop production immediately. Other TV shows, such as scripted dramas or soap operas, are also expected to be affected, either by cutting production (thus reducing the number of episodes per season) or shutting down completely. Movies could also be affected depending on how long the strikes last, though studios, networks and producers have saved scripts and boosted international productions in preparation for this outcome.
The WGA is trying to win a new three-year contract for its 11,500 members, arguing that the shift to streaming has made it difficult for writers to make a living. There are many complex reasons for this, but the main problems boil down to the fact that TV shows on streaming services have shorter seasons, residual payments are lower than those for broadcast TV, and the emergence of “mini-rooms” – small groups that quickly produce scripts – that make writers more disposable.
A report released by the union on March 14 found that half of TV series writers currently receive the basic minimum rate, up from 33 percent between 2013 and 2014. lowering writers and separating writing from production, deteriorating working conditions for serial writers at all levels,” the WGA said, adding that more writers are “working at a minimum, regardless of experience.”
The union’s demands include raising minimum wages and residual payments, tackling the “misuse of mini-rooms” and increased contributions to the union’s health and retirement plan. The WGA also wants safeguards to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in script writing, to prevent it from being used to generate content or rewrite work already contracted by human writers.
The AMPTP issued a statement claiming it had offered “generous compensation increases”, including an improvement in streaming residuals, and had been willing to “improve that offer”. It was unwilling to compromise on the union’s demands for “mandatory staffing” and “length of employment”, but saying these “primary sticking points” would require companies to staff shows with writers, even if they don’t needed.
“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy within a unionized workforce, and their staunch stance in these negotiations betrays their commitment to further devaluing the writing profession,” the WGA West said Monday. “From their refusal to guarantee a certain level of weekly employment in episodic television, to creating a ‘daily rate’ in comedy variety, to their impediment of free work for screenwriters and of AI for all writers, they have closed the door for their workforce and opened the door to writing as a wholly freelance profession. Such a deal could never be considered by this membership.
Tensions over contracts between the WGA and AMPTP have been rising for several years. The last full-fledged contract negotiations took place in 2017, reaching a preliminary agreement minutes after the previous contract expiration date had passed. The covid pandemic subsequently made it difficult for both parties to negotiate terms for the next three-year contract deal in 2020.
Today’s strike may be just the beginning of Hollywood’s woes, as contracts with The Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA) expire on June 30. Should SAG-AFTRA and the DGA also agree to strike action after their own negotiations, the production of scripted shows and films could be completely halted for the foreseeable future.