LOS ANGELES — This week, 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Since talks with the Hollywood studios began on March 20, the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement to replace a three-year film-TV deal that expires on Monday.
A prolonged strike could affect not only film and television production, but also the economy of Southern California. The impact is likely to be felt in Georgia, New York, New Mexico and other manufacturing centers across the country. Without writers, scripted television shows would struggle to continue filming and late-night live shows would quickly shut down.
Here’s a primer on what to know about the first union strike in 15 years.
How did we get here?
The roots of the current labor conflict were laid during the previous writers’ strike in 2007-08, the first major clash over the so-called new media. Since then, the rapid growth of Netflix and other online platforms has dramatically changed how entertainment is consumed, and the authors who create that entertainment. How is payment made?
Even as streaming content has grown, however, writers say new models have permanently reduced their pay and their ability to make a living in Hollywood.
There were early signs of stress.
WGA leaders have signaled for some time that this round of bargaining will be tough because, they say, many guild members are working at minimum wage levels.
In a 2021 interview with The Times, WGA President Meredith Stamm called the situation a financial emergency.
“It’s like a turning point, like it was with the Internet in 2007,” Stamm said.
Less than a week before negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers began on March 20, WGA leaders warned of an “existential” threat to writers.
They presented a package of demands to the studios — from raising minimum wage levels to higher streaming royalties — worth about $600 million.
By early April, the WGA said progress in negotiations had not been sufficient, and it called on members to vote to authorize a strike. The WGA strike was authorized by a historic margin — 98% to 2% — (out of 9,218 ballots cast.)
The writers returned to the bargaining table on April 14. Still, by the May 1 midnight Pacific Time deadline, no deal had yet to be struck.
So what are the top tips for writers?
In short, the authors argue that their wages have not kept up with the rapid pace of technological change.
They say they are working short-term and have to find several gigs a year to make ends meet. Typically, broadcast networks order about 20 episodes for shows that will be worked on for more than 10 months. But in recent years, studios have focused on streaming short-order series, often with eight to 10 episodes.
In particular, writers have complained that royalties — the royalties they collect when shows they create are rebroadcast — are much lower in the streaming age than when they worked for broadcast networks. , when successful shows run in syndication for years.
Another key point is the growing use of minirooms, where small groups of writers lay the groundwork for a series before it goes into production and are often paid close to the minimum level.
According to a recent WGA survey, half of series writers now earn a scale (minimum episodic or weekly rate), compared to 33% during the 2013-14 season. The median screenwriter salary has not increased since 2018 and, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 14% over the past five years. And the union said the average weekly pay for writer producers fell 23 percent over the past decade when adjusted for inflation.
What are the rules for writers during a strike?
The WGA last month issued a long list of instructions to members about what they can and cannot do. Film, TV, animation and fiction podcasts will be affected.
During the strike, WGA members or their agents cannot meet or communicate with studios and cannot write or sell or option material, according to rules sent to members seen by The Times.
Additionally, an author cannot revise existing work, start a new project or assign work to an affected company, whether working from home or from an office. Writers also cannot discuss work with studios, and must save a digitally date-stamped copy of all unproduced literary material within 24 hours of the strike.
Even writer-producers or writer-directors are very limited in what they can do as showrunners during production and post-production. For example, they cannot make cuts for time, make minor changes to dialogue or even change stage direction.
While the WGA cannot prevent members from doing purely productive work, they are encouraging members not to do so as a show of support. According to the WGA, during the 2007-08 strike, many exhibitors refused to do any work for the affected companies.
Who is on strike?
So far, only 11,500 WGA members are on strike, but that could change as a result of other potentially contentious negotiations.
SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America have contracts that run through June 30, meaning their members cannot legally join any job walkouts until the contracts expire.
However, the Teamsters have already said they will join WGA members on picket lines. Local 399’s 6,500 members include drivers and transportation dispatchers, location managers and casting directors.
“Teamsters Local 399, as well as the rest of Teamsters across the country, within the motion picture industry, are in full support of the WGA’s fight,” Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 general secretary Lindsey Dougherty told The Times. “We will certainly respect picket lines.”
SAG-AFTRA, the DGA and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents the staff, also issued statements expressing strong support for the WGA, even though the DGA told its members last month that their current contracts Under, employers can replace them if they choose. not working.
The solidarity is in contrast to previous rounds of bargaining, when other groups sometimes clashed with the WGA over strategy, and could strengthen the authors’ advantage in negotiations.
How long will this strike last?
No one knows, but history suggests it won’t end soon.
The WGA’s longest strike was in 1988 and lasted 153 days. The last WGA strike, in 2007-08, lasted 100 days.
The contract and terms that both parties have to renegotiate—such as sorting through a range of work and distribution platforms through Byzantine residual calculations—are complex and time-consuming.
Macro situations do not point to quick fixes. It’s unclear how willing the studios would be to cut deals at a time when many entertainment giants like Walt Disney and Warner Bros. are suffering cutbacks and layoffs as Wall Street investors pressure them. are investing to increase the profits of their streaming platforms.
Some studios may even see a walkout as an opportune time to terminate unprofitable writer deals through so-called force majeure clauses in contracts.
The walkout could last weeks or months, depending on how negotiations with other Hollywood unions go.
AMPTP is scheduled to begin negotiations with the DGA on May 10, followed by SAG-AFTRA, which is scheduled to begin bargaining a month later.
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