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The Writers Strike: WGA’s Fight Against Streamers Explained

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is currently on strike, primarily due to pay disagreements with Hollywood producers. The strike began on May 2, 2023 with picketing taking place at studios in Hollywood and New York. More than 11,000 writers of the Writer’s Guild Association (WGA) have gone on strike. The board of directors, which consists of both the East and West Coast councils, called for an immediate strike after they couldn’t come to an agreement with Hollywood studios about the terms of their TV and film contract that was expiring.

After a week of negotiation and still no agreement, writers went on strike which is the first strike since 2007. The previous 2007 strike lasted 100 days and cost LA $2.1 billion dollars.

What Is The Writers Guild Of America?

The Writers Guild of America refers to two unions, the Writers Guild of America, East and the Writers Guild of America, West, which represent writers in film and TV. They work together to negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents large production companies such as Disney and Paramount and streamers like Netflix and Apple.

Why Did The Writers Vote To Authorize A Strike?

One of the strike’s key demands is higher compensation. 

Every three years, the WGA negotiates a new contract with the AMPTP, which needs to be authorized by its membership. The members of the WGA voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike as a bargaining chip if they couldn’t reach an agreement with the AMPTP by the end of their current contract, which expired on May 1, 2023. 

One of the main points of contention is the payment of residuals to writers. Residuals are payments made to writers when shows and movies are rerun or made available on streaming platforms. In the traditional TV model, writers would receive a share of the profits generated from reruns.

However, with the advent of streaming, companies have increasingly turned to monthly or annual subscriptions for revenue. Because contracts with writers mostly account for revenue from reruns, writers receive only a tiny cut from their shows that are available to view on streaming platforms. 

Another issue is the use of “mini rooms” in the industry. These are smaller groups of writers working on script ideas for potential TV series. Mini rooms are often contracted differently from traditional writers’ rooms, leading to lower pay and job insecurity for writers.

Previously, broadcast networks would order upwards of 20 episodes for a show that would span over a timeframe of 10 or so months. Over the last few years, the number of episodes has decreased to 8 to 10 episodes. This means that more writers are having to find more gigs frequently to make ends meet rather than a fixed amount of time spent on one project.

The guild proposed that the use of AI is regulated on Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) covered projects. This would mean that AI cannot be used to write or rewrite existing and covered MBA projects. Instead of agreeing to this, the AMPTP offered annual meetings to discuss how technology is advancing in the field. This provides zero security for the length of a project, streaming or broadcast, and makes writers fear that their jobs are unnecessary with the use of AI.

How Is The Writers’ Strike Affecting Tv Shows And Movies?

The strike has immediate effects on late-night programs and may lead to programming delays in the fall as shows that would typically be written during May and June are affected. During the previous WGA strike in 2007-2008, some shows had shorter seasons, and others were postponed to the following season. If we reflect on the last strike that happened in 2007, we can expect that this current strike will cause a significant ripple in the tv and film industry and could cost LA and Hollywood a lot of money. Without significant writers, the backlog of content will likely dwindle quickly.

As of now, the strike has led to production halts on several major TV shows, including “Saturday Night Live” and late-night talk shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Some other shows have also paused production, and even movies like Avatar and Marvel Studios productions have been affected and delayed. Soap operas may continue airing fresh content for a while due to backlogged episodes.

If a studio has fully bought a script that has already been written, they are still within their rights to use that script. The only issue with that is if there needs to be a rewrite. If a director or actor doesn’t particularly like a line of dialogue, there isn’t anyone to turn to during this strike to fix the script.

Why Does This Matter For Hollywood?

The strike has a significant impact on the entertainment industry as writers are crucial to the creation of content. The WGA argues that writers deserve fair compensation and better treatment, considering the industry’s profitability. The transition to streaming has already made writing work more precarious, and the strike aims to address these issues.

The strike affects not only workers but also audiences. Some shows and movies may be delayed or disrupted, and viewers may experience a difference in quality between previous seasons and content filmed during the strike. Furthermore, the strike highlights the importance of fair compensation for writers and its potential impact on diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The negotiations between The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the  Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) are crucial for the industry, as the outcome will not only affect writers but also set standards that can impact other entertainment industry unions. The strike brings attention to the evolving nature of the industry and the need for fair treatment of writers in the streaming era.