Writers Strike 2023 explained: how it will affect movies and TV shows

The WGA could go on strike against the studios if no deal is reached by May 1. Find out why they fight.

If the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) fail to reach a minimum bargaining agreement on May 1, Hollywood is days away from severely disrupting the film and TV industry. I write let’s say they want a living as streaming devalues ​​their work, even if it requires more of their time. Studios say the guild is asking too much at the wrong time — streaming should focus on revenue when it previously valued subscriber numbers.

Of course, there is much more to it than that. No one “wants” a strike, but the clock is ticking fast before the union’s contract expires on May 1st, both sides are digging in their heels, and there is little optimism that some sort of work stoppage will not occur.

Over the past few weeks, IndieWire has been approaching the writer’s strike from the ground level, speaking with writers from a variety of backgrounds—including a feature writer, a broadcast and broadcast TV writer, and a veteran late-night comedy writer—each facing a different face. challenges. Here’s what’s at stake, how we got here, how long a strike can last, and what it means.

What happened before the May 1st deadline?

On April 17, WGA members overwhelmingly approved a strike authorization vote, which gives the union permission from its more than 11,500 television and film writers to initiate a strike if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. The vote on strike authorization was approved by 97.78 percent of the voting members, which is a record for the unity of the guild, but also for the number of members who cast ballots. This gives the guild a lot of leverage in the remaining days of negotiations with AMPTP and proves they mean business.

During the 2017 negotiations, there was a similar mood in the city, and the strike authorization vote was almost as high… but the union and studios avoided the strike at the last minute. It can still happen here.

In the last few months, the producers have started piling up the scripts. Studios green-lit projects and raced to begin production while pitches for other new ventures dwindled and the market has slowed down. Not great signs.

So what happened the last time the writers went on strike?

Back in 2007, the WGA was fighting for regulated pay for “new media,” meaning streaming content before anyone called it streaming. At the time, Netflix was a DVD company just getting into streaming, but there was enough content online that writers knew they had to move. In a 100-day work stoppage that lasted until February 2008, talk shows and other variety shows stopped. TV series such as “30 Rock”, “The Big Bang Theory” or “Heroes” have had their seasons cut short, while others such as “24” or “Entourage” have been postponed altogether.

That meant lots of reruns, reality shows, and game shows. Some late-night hosts have found ways to keep their non-writing staff paid for a while; some late-night shows returned to the air without writers until the strike was resolved. A 2008 report in the Los Angeles Times estimated that the strike cost the local economy $2.1 billion, and did not take into account the impact on other industries across the country or how it affected individual staff members.

What was the result of the last strike?

Following the strike, broadcasters were required to hire WGA writers, and writers were paid 1.2% of the distributors’ gross revenue for hire. For ad-supported streaming, writers received 2% of gross revenue after the first 17 days. Attempts to bring reality and animation writers under the WGA have failed. There was no decision about subscription streaming, because it barely existed at the time.

Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter

“Abbott Elementary”


What will happen to the movies and shows I watch today?

If a strike begins, it means that writing work will stop immediately for movies, television and streaming. Just as before, late-night talk shows would stop producing new episodes almost immediately, and variety shows like “Saturday Night Live” or “Last Week Tonight” would be forced to shorten their seasons.

While many of the highest-profile broadcast or cable series are already in the box, it may not take long for viewers to notice the impact and see the fall season and show returns delayed, as writers typically return in May or they start working in the season in June. . The WGA sent a letter to media analysts and investors last week ( read here ) indicating that the 2007-08 strike lost nearly 25 percent of prime-time scripted programming in that network season, highlighting programs such as “Abbott Elementary,” “NCIS,” or “Chicago Med,” which may be delayed.

This would largely not affect reality shows, game shows, news, sports and other unscripted programming. If streamers and studios have more leverage now than they did in 2007, it’s because streamers now have more options to rely on international programming outside of the WGA. IndieWire also reported that the recent slump in the market for documentaries and series could lead to a resurgence of interest if networks and streamers are forced to turn to more unscripted documentaries for content.

In the case of films, the effects will be felt not this year, but next year, if the projects currently being made are delayed or do not start according to schedule due to a work stoppage. The longer the strike lasts, the more pronounced these problems become.

Compared to 2007, what is the difference in the studios facing the writers’ strike?

They may be under less pressure to begin with: sixteen years ago, streaming was still in its infancy and viewing options were much more limited. A constant feed of on-demand content means no one faces rerun burnout

However, the problem of not having TV shows and movies to increase subscriber numbers and retention remains. All streamers count on revenue, and the reality is that making money with these resource-intensive platforms is more challenging than it might initially seem.

Most of the broadcast or cable content people watch the next day is on streamers like Hulu, Peacock or Paramount+, any delays in the broadcast season can have an impact, and that can affect streamers’ subscriber growth and bottom line. However, many streamers, especially Netflix, will be able to weather the storm for longer periods of time by planning months in advance.

What do writers want?

Writers are demanding higher wages that keep pace with inflation, content spending and corporate profits. The streaming boom has led to waves of content, but writers feel they’re being asked to do more for less. The WGA announced before the talks Median weekly pay for writer-producers has fallen four percent over the past decade; Adjusted for inflation, the drop is 23 percent. The average number of workweeks for TV crew writers, hosts and screenwriters has increased, even as the number of episodes in an average season has dropped from roughly 21 in the old days to eight to 12 today. Writers paid per episode have seen their average pay drop — sometimes to, if not below, minimum wage.

WGA West Building

Getty Images

Many writers rely on rebroadcasting or distribution of remnants of their work as a long-term source of income, but these, too, evaporate. The dominance of streaming means fewer TV episodes are available; for programming like reality shows or variety shows, late-night shows, and made-for-streaming talk shows, residuals range from inconsistent to non-existent. In the film, the remnants are completely gone, as streamers cling to the content; there is no afterlife in syndication, cable or DVD.

Another trend the WGA wants to curb is the “mini-room,” in which a group of writers come up with stories for an entire season of a show before hiring a full writing staff. This format allows a single writer or showrunner to hatch a show’s entire arc, but as one miniroom writer recently explained to IndieWire, in practice it means writers do the full amount of work for much less pay. If storylines are developed well in advance, a streamer or network may only have to pay if the show is picked up for a second season.

And then there’s the AI ​​question. The technology is still in its infancy, but the guild sees how studios can see AI as the scriptwriting workhorse they’ve always wanted. The results of AI-generated material are often based on guild-protected, copyrighted material, but this work is published without credit or payment. The guild is fighting to prevent AI from being scripted or a robot from being subject to the guild’s bargaining agreement.

What can writers do during the strike?

THE The WGA has released a long and detailed list about what writers not possible can do when the strike begins, including writing or casting scripts and negotiating or discussing projects. They are required to request the return of spec scripts, tell their agents not to negotiate for them, respect picket lines and inform the WGA of any strike-breaking activity.

What about the other guilds?

The Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild contracts expire on June 30. DGA members support the strike, but there is a “no strike” clause in their own contract, which requires them to come to work and pass a bracelet even when other guilds are on strike. The Teamsters said they won’t cross guard lines. The strike is also supported by IATSE, SAG-AFTRA and the Art Directors Guild.

What is the studio’s side of this?

Writers point to rising executive salaries, huge investments, content spending, production budgets and annual profits and say, Why don’t we see this money? Big companies have their own challenges: For Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, their flagship streaming services aren’t yet profitable, despite spending years chasing subscribers. Disney is currently facing layoffs of 7,000 employees and hundreds or thousands of layoffs and reorganizations from their rivals. Streamers like Netflix and Amazon are tightening their belts and not increasing their spending on content; the global box office is still far behind its pre-pandemic performance. So maybe now is not the ideal time to fight for money, but as the guild learned from painful experience: it never is.

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