Photo: Writers Strike
The guild has been unhappy with their current contracts and as part of the members’ re-election campaigns has heavily focused on the strike. The WGA talks to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to discuss the topics that are of concern on May 1st of next year, and there’s no telling how long negotiations could last. Other craft unions, Directors Guild (DGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) also are up for contract negotiations later next year on June 30th as well. Pushback is expected, as studios have been through this before but the willingness to give will be based on the negotiating powers of the former WGA presidents David A. Goodman and Chris Keyser.
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WGA Announces its Contract Negotiating Committee as They Prepare for a Fight
The writers guild represents the thousands of writers in motion picture, television, digital media, and radio programs. The guild is made up of two divisions, WGA East and WGA West. While there is no difference, as you are subjected to the same rights regardless, the west just deals with more of the political actions. As of now, the guild has around 20,000 members that all rely on the union for their paydays.
A feeling amongst the WGA is that there must be gains in consideration of the stagnant climate. In 2020, the WGA’s previous contract was set to expire, and the deliberations the guild had hoped for became impossible to achieve when the threat of a strike was off the table. The industry faced shutdowns across the entire industry that made no room for advancement.
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The issues at hand for the WGA reflect the current state of record-high inflation and the emergence of streaming platforms. The residuals writers receive are next to nothing when it comes to streaming and the minimum rates for TV shows are dramatically low. A wide range of issues needs to be discussed ahead of next year. Proposals include higher minimum pay rates, bigger streaming residuals, more secure pension, and health benefits, greater equity and inclusion, elimination of free work, and stopping mini-rooms.
Very few writers are in the upper echelons of the industry earning millions of dollars for their work. Most writers get their money from freelancing gigs, writers’ rooms, and the residuals from the shows they worked on. The rise of streaming services has made that increasingly difficult because they are not held to the same standards as other companies. They are able to cut writers short on the earnings they make. It has only been a year since the writers from the hit movie “Birdbox” received earnings in an arbitration deal with Netflix.
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Mini-rooms are where writers come together before the production of television series to write outlines and create the storylines that will happen in years to come. Issues arise when configuring contract details. All the work gets done at one go, but the series goes on for years and can live long beyond the writers who came up with the work years before.
On top of that, the current environment for how shows are run is completely different than a decade ago. For one, shows now are not the standard cable twenty-two episodes per year with huge writers’ rooms of twenty-plus writers. The seasons go on to collect every last iota of payday they can. Today, shows are not just on cable but streaming services where the rules are different. Series now often have fewer episodes. The emergence of mini-series and bingable long episodes has gotten rid of long seasons. Not as many writers are being hired as a result of this. Considering some series are completely written from the get-go, this leaves little room for writers trying to break into the industry.
The writers’ strike of 2008 was not too long ago. Acting committee members still remember the fight and know how effective it can be trying to pursue a greater standard for its members. It can be seen as a tactic to be open to the notion of a strike this far out from negotiations. This shows the WGA’s belief in what a strike can do and how effective the process can be.
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Studios Stockpile Scripts to Prepare for the Pending Writers Strike
In response to the WGA, it has been reported studios are beginning to stockpile scripts in case there is a holdout. Studios will use the backlog they have built up and look at foreign markets more for content. To assure production environments don’t close up, producers are already coming up with solutions in case a strike happens. Winter breaks for shows are being postponed so that series can finish shooting to assure the completion of projects.
With no influx of content coming in from the U.S., it is possible executives will try to hold out using content from other markets. Some streaming services like Netflix and HBO already have broad appeal internationally, regularly releasing content that is from other countries. With international content becoming popular with shows like ‘Squid Game’ and movies like ‘Parasite,’ executives may be more willing to dig into these areas for content. As long as streaming isn’t losing subscriptions they will be happy.
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What Does It Mean for the Industry if a Strike Happens?
The strike cost the Los Angeles economy nearly $3.1 billion dollars the last time a strike happened. Although that was a historic experience, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. The system can fall apart without the influx of new content. Crews do not get paid, actors can’t work, and theaters have nothing to show.
At the moment it looks like a similar climate to the 2008 writers’ strike. The last strike was the longest that Hollywood had faced, with a hundred days of no work. The content that gets put out will also change. With no writers to come up with the next installments of our favorite characters, we will fall into the world of unscripted television. Reality shows became a popular source of income for the industry during the 100 days before.
It is unlikely that the industry will go into another shutdown as we just experienced a similar blow in the community with the pandemic. Although both sides may be hard to press in their positions, a likely compromise is what we can hope for.
By Devon James
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Devon James is a screen and media writer determined to provide readers with engaging and informative content. His film industry background gives him an adept knowledge in the entertainment industry. This complies with The Hollywood Insider’s mission to educate readers. Devon likes seeing hidden voices in film that provide new cultural perspectives. He enjoys the conversations cinema creates; hoping through his writing to open up topics for discussion.