Writers Guild of America goes out on strike, screenwriters downing pencils

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The WGA calls on its members to take strike action for the first time since 2007, as final talks with the producers alliance fail. 

As was widely expected, the Writers Guild of America has ordered its members to strike after negotiations with the American Motion Picture and Television Producers were unsuccessful. Talks between representatives from the WGA and the AMPTP (which represents hundreds of production companies like Netflix, Disney and Amazon) have been going on for six weeks now, with strike action always believed to be the probable outcome.

This is the first writer’s walkout since 2007-8 when the WGA last resorted to strike action. On that occasion, the shutdown lasted 100 days and was believed to have cost the LA economy an estimated two billion dollars. Further fallout from the strike included the rise of unscripted reality TV to cover the shortfall in programming, and instances where non-writers had to polish scripts such as the famous incident of Daniel Craig rewriting Quantum Of Solace. 

How long this strike will last is anybody’s guess, but we suspect it will have to be another extended action for the WGA to get anywhere. We’ve seen streamers and film studios tightening their belts of late amid rocky economic conditions and shareholder unhappiness over excessive programming spend. Studios have cut their cloth accordingly of late and the last thing the producers alliance wants to do is then give up those hard-gotten gains by paying writers (and by extension when their renewals come up later this year), directors and actors more.

Likewise, the WGA is unlikely to budge as its members have serious grievances about writing being downgraded to a minimum wage profession. The union released some statistics a while ago, stating that ‘companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work”. This has been done by harnessing the uncertainty over so many different distribution models to find loopholes in contract terms that were not designed to cope with the many ways that a film can now be distributed and exhibited.’

In terms of the effect on their numbers, the WGA states that writers are making 14% less on average than they were five years ago with many working 50% more than they were in that time period. That’s in a time period where everything else has become more expensive too. On that trajectory, it’s certainly not a sustainable profession for many, so don’t expect the writers to be breaking the strike anytime soon either.

Also, the use of artificial intelligence is another point of contention with the WGA claiming that the AMPTP has been ‘stonewalling’ its demands to regulate the use of the technology in scriptwriting. We offered our thoughts on that matter here.

Picketing of studios will begin tomorrow but in terms of the effect on programming and film production, the strike will have to last for a couple of months for audiences to even begin to feel the impact. Immediately feeling the sting will be the writers of course, plus the residents of Los Angeles who depend on Hollywood’s economy being up and running to earn their living. Hopefully all involved can return to the negotiating table soon and hammer out a deal. We’ll bring you more as we hear it.


Image: BigStock

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