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Movies & TV

03rd May 2023

Explained: Hollywood writers strike for the first time in 15 years

Simon Kelly

Writers strike 2023

Writers are on strike for the first time since 2007.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced on Monday night that all 11,500 members will begin a writers strike from Tuesday, after failing to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that represents most major studios and streaming services.

To anybody who cares about movies and TV, this is a big deal. With the streaming boom of the last decade and the industry changes and demands that have come with it, writers and creatives have been brought to breaking point. The strike will send huge ripples throughout the industry that will be seen over the next few months and even years.

As negotiations broke down between the two groups this week, there are fears that this strike could go on for a while. Let’s look into the details surrounding the situation.

Why are the WGA striking?

The strike itself is not due to one main issue, but rather multiple areas.

The first issue is residuals. It’s a complicated matter, but in a nutshell, writers are paid in residuals for broadcast and streamed shows. However, there are major differences in how these two formats pay out.

With broadcast shows, writers are paid on the basis of how much of a success the show is. The more of a hit with audiences it is, the more they get paid. Whereas, with streaming, writers are paid the same amount regardless of how successful the show is.

The WGA are arguing that, with the huge uptick in streaming over recent years, writers deserve to be paid on the success of their shows by streamers and should abide by the same model used by broadcast companies.

“Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business,” the WGA stated in its message announcing the strike to members. “They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy. But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love. We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation. Now we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice.”

Half of guild members are currently on minimum level salaries, compared to a third just a decade ago, according to WGA statistics.

The WGA are also looking for safeguards to be put in place about the threat that AI has on the future of Hollywood. With huge strides forward in the technology with software like ChatGPT, writers are worried that they’re roles may be diminished in the years to come and are looking for preventative measures around that.

What happens now

The WGA holds strict rules for strikers. There is to be no writing, revising, pitching or negotiating with the more than 350 television and film companies in the AMPTP, which include the likes of Netflix and Disney.

Members of the guild must also picket in designated locations while the strike goes on.

All late-night shows like Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live have ceased production immediately and broadcasters will have to rely on re-runs to fill the air.

While the AMPTP agreed to pay demands before strike action, it was the adjacent issues which led to a breakdown in negotiations. It’s unclear when agreements will eventually be made.

What happened the last time writers held strikes

History can be a good barometer of how long these strikes could potentially go on for. 2007 was the last time the WGA held strikes, which led to a 100 day stalemate. It doesn’t seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but the resulting state of TV and film over the next year or so spoke for itself. Essentially, it was quite bad. Shows such as Breaking Bad had seasons cut down by a number of episodes with various script changes to accommodate it.

Talk shows were a nightmare, with Conan O’Brien reverting to literally spinning his wedding ring on his desk to fill time. It’s worthy to note here that O’Brien paid his staff out of his own pocket during the strike.

Another infamous casualty of the 2007 strike was James Bond film Quantum of Solace, which had no writers on set for production. This led to lead actor Daniel Craig trying to rewrite the script on set, later saying that the movie was “f*cked”, adding “a writer I am not.”

All we can do is hope that writers’ demands are met and a resolution can be found quickly. Hollywood needs fairly-paid writers and the fallout from the current strikes will be enough to prove that.

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