As the three-year contract of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) reaches its expiration date, the entertainment industry is on the edge of its seat to see if the union has struck a deal with Hollywood studios and streamers or whether it will call its first strike in 15 years.
The WGA represents around 11,500 film and television writers working for streaming services such as Disney and Netflix. The WGA could call a work stoppage as early as Tuesday if it cannot reach a deal.
Negotiators for Hollywood writers and film and television studios engaged in 11th-hour contract talks on Monday after a weekend of back and forth to try and avert the strike. The negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the union created rumors and increased tensions in Hollywood.
“I spent all weekend working trying to turn things in today while I can,” says one writer. “And I am not alone. Every writer I know has been working overtime to turn things in today, furthering the trend of our labor being exploited.”
Writers have greatly suffered financially as the internet has transformed the television and movie business. The world of streaming dominates the entertainment world, especially after the pandemic.
Traditional television relies heavily on viewership. Movie studios have retreated almost entirely to franchise spectacles, and Netflix will no longer send out DVDs starting Sept. 29.
Writers say they have suffered financially during the streaming TV boom, partly due to shorter seasons and smaller residual payments. They are seeking pay increases and changes to industry practices that they say force them to work more for less money.
“Writer compensation needs to evolve for a streaming-first world,” said Rich
Greenfield, a founder of LightShed Partners research firm.
Half of TV series writers work at minimum salary levels. According to Guild statistics, median pay for writers at the higher writer/producer level has fallen 4% over the last decade.
The way that it’s looking now is that there won’t be a middle class in Hollywood,” said Caroline Renard, a Guild liaison and writer who worked on Disney Channel’s “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” and other shows.
Should the strike take place, late-night shows like “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Saturday Night Live,” which use teams of writers to craft topical jokes, are expected to immediately stop production, the New York Times reports.
The last WGA strike in 2007 and 2008 lasted 100 days. The strike cost the state of California nearly $2.1 billion and tipped its economy into a recession, according to the Milken Institute.
The last thing that Hollywood needs or wants is a disruption in production after the Covid-19 pandemic, but budgets are tight. Additionally, studios have laid off thousands of employees and curtailed spending on content. “The writers have legitimate issues here,” said one talent agent close to the bargaining process. “But the studios and the producers have very legitimate issues also. Their stock prices are down. They’ve overspent on content. They need to show profits to their shareholders.”