Writers strike

The writers strike explained

6 mins read

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced on Tuesday that they were beginning strike action with immediate effect, shutting down Hollywood.

The strike comes after a failed deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the representative of many top Hollywood studios. Talks centred around how to compensate writers in a new age of streaming services and AI-generated content.

Why are the WGA striking?

Many writers make their money through residual checks from repeat broadcasting on network television. However with the explosion of streamed content now available readily, writers are being paid less or not at all.

Also a problem for writers is the increasing use of AI technology in the creative process. Writers fear they may be brought in to polish the AI’s messy first drafts and thus receive a lower second-draft wage. There are also questions of intellectual property theft being allowed when existing scripts are used to train artificial intelligence.

In a statement the WGA announced their intent to strike after failed negotiations, saying:

“Over the course of the negotiation, we explained how the companies’ business practices have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions.

“Our chief negotiator, as well as writers on the committee, made clear to the studios’ labour representatives that we are determined to achieve a new contract with fair pay that reflects the value of our contribution to company success and includes protections to ensure that writing survives as a sustainable profession.”

The statement also suggested that low wages for writers were despite studio profits steadily rising. It said:

“Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business. 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.”

Every major studio was consulted throughout negotiations including, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony. Following a failed deal these same studios now must face the picket lines.

Writers strike
Image Credit: Writers Guild of America

Has this happened before?

This is not the first-time writers have taken industrial action in America. The 2007/08 strikes lasted for 100 days and forced many productions to reduce their seasons or cancel their shows completely. It is estimated to have cost the local L.A. economy more than $3 billion.

At the time they faced a similar changing media landscape as negotiations focused on royalties from DVD sales.

Late-night shows famously struggled during the 2007 strikes as many relied heavily on writers to come up with topical and to-the-minute punchlines. This meant many hosts had to choose between the quality of their show and their loyalty to their staff. For Ellen DeGeneres this meant crossing the picket line instead of resorting to redundancies. However Conan O’Brien managed to pay his employees salaries out of pocket and aired often mundane segments to highlight how important writers were to his show.

This time around, Late-Night comedy shows such as The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert have already stopped production. Saturday Night Live will air repeats instead of their iconic weekly live show.

Many networks pushed their unscripted or reality shows to fill a scheduling gap left by the ’07 strikes. Shows like Big Brother, The Apprentice, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians have the strikes to thank for their longevity. Today, the endless choice already provided by streaming services may leave American networks struggling for content.

Who has shown their support?

The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) was one of the first to issue a statement of solidarity. They said in a statement to their members:

“We understand that these are difficult times and that many writers are in need of work but we are advising our members not to work on projects in the jurisdiction of the WGA for the duration of the strike.”

Film and TV unions in Australia and Canada have also pledged their solidarity. It is thought this may stop Hollywood from turning to international writers during the strikes.

Local projects are not affected by this move of unity if they are not WGA-affiliated.

If no deal is reached soon American audiences will soon start to see disruption to Soap Operas, which write not long before they film, and network television, which usually starts working now ahead of the Autumn premiere season.

For writers and audiences, all they can do now is wait for the next instalment.

Featured image credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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