After May 1, TV and film scribes can put down their pens indefinitely.
The Writer's Guild of America's three-year contract expires on that date. It was signed with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade association representing Hollywood studios like Disney and Netflix.
Ana Gasteyer on creativity
Since late March, negotiations between all parties are ongoing. If new terms cannot be reached in the next two week, writers may go on strike. On Tuesday, April (April. The WGA asked its members to vote on a strike authorization. The results show that 98% (9,218) of those who voted in favor of strike action.
In a tweet posted on February 4, WGA-West, based in Los Angeles, said that over the past decade companies have adopted business practices which have slashed compensation and weakened working conditions. "We ask for the restoration of writer pay and conditions that reflect our value in this industry. Our profession's survival is at risk."
The writers' strike vote could make them more aggressive in their negotiations.
Their biggest issues are about a beast that they have been trying to control for over a decade now: streaming. The WGA report from March states that "the companies have used the streaming transition to underpay authors, creating more precarious and lower-paid models of writers' work."
Studio owners have been stockpiling scripts to be prepared for any eventuality. Even if screenplays are not completed, TV shows and movies with scripts written can still be produced.
The writers of late night talk shows will be expected to come up with new and timely perspectives.
The writers are hired for shorter periods of time - 6-8 episodes as opposed to the 20-24 episodes that were popular in TV's glory years. Writers are now working for less, no matter their experience level, or in exploitative "mini-rooms", which gives a gig economy twist to the profession.
Separating writing from production can lead to gaps in employment. The WGA is campaigning for "appropriate television series writing compensation during all phases of production, pre-production and post-production."
Lack of a calendar for the season can lower wages.
Comedy writers who work on streaming series do not have the basic protections of a minimum agreement, despite the fact that episodic writers at these same companies are protected by those minimum standards.
The varied release strategies of streaming services for feature-length movies have "created confusion about the contract conditions applicable to writers in these projects." These writers are often paid less, and their pay is spread out over several months or they're held hostage by producers who demand free work. The WGA wants to standardize the pay of screenwriters regardless of whether they work on films released in theaters or streaming services.
Hollywood writers unionized at 11,000
The last Writers Guild of America Strike lasted 100 days between Nov. 5, 2007, and Feb. 12, 2008 The strike had many casualties, including the cancellation of Saturday Night Live, late-night hosts such as Conan O'Brien and David Letterman, who paid their non-striking employees out of their pockets, and shows like Gossip Girls, Heroes, Breaking Bad and 30 Rock that were forced to broadcast shortened seasons.
Simple majority approval is sufficient to declare a strike. However, overwhelming support sends a powerful message. Hollywood avoided a WGA walkout by striking a deal at the last minute that met two union demands: increasing the health insurance and improving pay for TV writers.
The longest WGA strike in history lasted 153 days. It happened in 1988
How much the median weekly pay for writer-producers has decreased over the past decade. After adjusting for inflation, this decline amounts to 23%
60,932 dollars: Minimum for a non-original first draft screenplay. This is just 1.2% of a minimum budget of $5 million, or 0.3% of an still modest $20 million budget.
Half of the series writers who work on streaming now
David Young has been the executive director of WGA West since the strike in 2007. He has led union negotiations for more than a decade and is known for his ruthless style. He announced at the end of February that he would be taking a medical break.
Ellen Stutzman is the assistant executive director at the guild. She was appointed as the guild's chief negotiator a little over a month back. Stutzman, a relatively new member in the spotlight, has been with the guild since 1998 and as assistant executive director from 2018.
The WGA filed a lawsuit against the three biggest Hollywood talent agencies, WME, CAA and UTA. They were accused of price fixing and breach of fiduciary duties.
The union argued "packaging fees", which are 3% of the license fee for a project charged upfront by talent agencies, encourage agents to prioritise deals that will increase revenue for their agency over aligning their interests with the writers that they represent. The WGA won a war against these fees for future projects.
Ashley Nicole Black, who writes for Apple TV's Ted Lasso and HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show as well as TBS's Full Frontal, a late-night talk show, explained that "writing flops doesn't earn you more money!" in a Twitter thread on April 12.
"Back in the old days, when Friends was a big hit, they sold it to another network to re-air. When you watch Friends on Nick At Nite, (yes, we are old), the writers still get paid. They should, because we still enjoy their work. Now, if you're a writer on a hit that a network produces, they won't sell the work to another network. They will sell it directly to their streamer. If you write it for a streaming service, they don't sell it anywhere. Even if the song is a big hit, they decide its value and send you a $1.25 check. The residuals are almost non-existent. "When you combine that with wages dropping at all levels, smaller writer rooms, and shorter work periods, writers and producers are squeezed from all sides and don't have the savings they need to survive between seasons (even of hit shows).
Mike Royce, creator of Netflix's One Day at a Time, which Netflix canceled but Pop TV revived, replied to Black's post, saying that the definition of a hit is becoming more ambiguous as streaming platforms are reluctant to share data about the success of their shows.
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Disclosure: Quartz’s US-based journalists are represented by Writers Guild of America East (WGAW), which is affiliated with WGAW.
This article has been updated to reflect the results of the election.