Why Hollywood Writers Are On Strike For The First Time In 15 Years
The writers' guild asked for a living wage, AI regulation, and
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) are officially on strike for the first time since 2007. Here’s what happened and why writers in Hollywood have had their last straw.
After six weeks of negotiations with the major Hollywood studios, the WGA has voted unanimously to strike. According to the Guild’s Twitter account, “the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.”
“Picketing will begin tomorrow,” they tweeted. So, how did we get here?
What Happened During Negotiations?
Around every three years, the Writers Guild (WGA) negotiates a trade contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The AMPTP is the major negotiating body representing the major US studios, including Disney, Apple, Amazon, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Fox.
On March 20, the WGA and AMPTP entered negotiations. According to interviews with WGA negotiators, the WGA’s demands “fell on deaf ears” and they were “stonewalled” by the studios from the off.
The WGA asked its 11,500 members to vote on authorising a strike on April 3. A strike was authorised on April 17. A staggering 97 percent of members voted in favour of a strike beginning on May 2. This gave the negotiations between the AMPTP and WGA a deadline of May 1. As you’ve probably guessed, negotiations failed.
“The biggest problem we had in this negotiation was that the companies would not engage on a slew of core issues that affect the ability of a writer to maintain a career,” WGA negotiating committee co-chair David A. Goodman said.
In a statement the AMPTP released at the conclusion of negotiations on May 1, “The primary sticking points are “mandatory staffing,” and “duration of employment”. Guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.”
The AMPTP refused to negotiate core proposals from the guild. While the AMPTP allegedly offered increased payments, this did not even scratch the surface of what the WGA was asking for.
So, What Were Their Demands?
Apart from increased wages, the WGA is demanding job security, regulations relating to the use of AI, accurate residuals relating to streaming syndication, and regulations that would prevent studios from turning writing into a “gig economy.”
Among many other things, the WGA was negotiating for a major overhaul to the current compensation formula relating to residuals. The current formula did not include accurate residuals for streaming content. The scaling for residual payments relating to streaming has not been adjusted for inflation, nor has it been adjusted for streaming as the primary way shows are syndicated.
As the Guild explained in their demands, while series budgets and the amount of content being produced has risen exponentially over the past decade, median writer-producer pay has droppped up to 15 percent across the industry.
Another major problem is that many of the major studios were attempting to create a “gig economy” with a practice known as the “mini-room.” In these rooms, a group of writers produce stories for a full season of a show before a full writing staff is hired. This effectively means that writers end up doing doing a full season of work for far less pay. The WGA is demanding an end to the practice through requesting guarantees for secured writing staff positions.
The impact of AI was also a major point of negotiation. According to the demands document shared by WGA members, the WGA requested that AI be regulated and that AI “can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.” This proposal was rejected.
Demands also included increased minimum compensation in all areas of media, increased residuals, appropriate TV series-writing compensation from pre- through to post-production, increased contributions to pension and health plans, the strengthening of professional standards, and the overall protections for writers.
Your Favourite TV Show Will Probably Be Affected
We all know that none of our favourite TV shows would exist without writers. While many of us will no doubt be frustrated when our treasured sources of entertainment end up being delayed or cancelled, the problem here lies with studios refusing to pay writers fairly.
The stuff that we watch being impacted by the strike is only proof of how vital writers are to this incredibly lucrative industry. Writers are not striking because they do not want to work, they are striking because the value of their work has been ignored and disregarded.
Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers’ late-night shows will shut down production on Tuesday as Hollywood writers have agreed to go on strike. pic.twitter.com/qu8SVJ82tG
— Pop Base (@PopBase) May 2, 2023
Several celebrities including Jimmy Fallon, Amanda Seyfried, and Quinta Brunson were asked about the strike at yesterday’s Met Gala. Brunson, who is a WGA member, expressed support and explained, “no one wants to strike, but I hope we’re able to rectify this, whatever that means.”
“It should be this beautiful rags-to-riches story, right? [But writing] is a very regular, working-class existence. And the only future I’m seeking financially is to enter that middle class, which has always been rarefied for someone who comes from poverty.”
As Alex O’Keefe, a staff writer from FX’s award-winning series The Bear, told The New Yorker. “It should be this beautiful rags-to-riches story, right? But [being a writer] is a very regular, working-class existence. And the only future I’m seeking financially is to enter that middle class, which has always been rarefied for someone who comes from poverty.”
Ted Lasso star and writer Brett Goldstein told The Hollywood Reporter from the picket line this morning, “it’s time writers were paid a fair wage. It is a real shame that all the stuff that is made is made by writers and those writers are genuinely struggling to afford to live. It’s insane.”
Support for the strike is strong, with international writers’ unions standing in solidarity with the WGA’s decision. According to Deadline, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) has sent out guidance to its members over the strike, reminding them not to work on US shows for its duration. The Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild have also expressed their solidarity, releasing statements that their members may also strike depending on their respective negotiations with the AMPTP.
Haven’t We Been Here Before?
If you were a telly lover in the mid-00s you may recall the last major Hollywood writers’ strike. The 100-day walkout in 2007.
That strike was an effort to picket for increase in DVD residuals, protection for union members working in on-demand and streaming, and residuals for digital downloads, which were then, new. The strike was successful in securing most of the WGA’s demands.
During the 2007 strike, writers’ rooms “went dark.” Shows affected included but were not limited to Saturday Night Live, Lost, Heroes, Breaking Bad, Conan, and Pushing Daisies. Now in 2023, late night shows including those belonging to Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert have already announced they will be going dark, airing re-runs in the interim.
The longest strike in the Guild’s history was in 1988. Then, the WGA went on strike for 153 days, demanding wage increases as well as residual and royalties for home video. While there is no way of knowing how long the current strike will last, history indicates the Guild will stand strong until their demands are met.
More information, and ways to support the WGA are available through their website.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.