Fifteen years of labor peace were shattered in Hollywood on Tuesday as film and television writers went on strike, shutting down several productions and dealing a blow to an industry rocked by the pandemic and sweeping technological shifts in recent years.
The unions that represent the book said in a statementHours before their three-year contract expired at midnight PST, they “voted unanimously to call a strike”. Writers will begin walking the strike lines on Tuesday afternoon.
The Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which negotiates on behalf of Hollywood companies, said in a statement that its offer included “generous increases in writers’ compensation.” The organization added that it remained willing to continue negotiating.
The primary sticking points, according to the studios, include syndication proposals that would require companies to staff television shows with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time “whether they are required or not.”
The unions representing writers, the eastern and western chapters of the Writers Guild of America, said that “the companies’ behavior has created an economy of labor within a unionized work force, and their steadfast stance in these negotiations has demonstrated their commitment to further devaluing the writing profession.”
“We’re a long way off both philosophically and practically,” Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, said in an interview.
The dispute has pitted 11,500 screenwriters against major studios, including entertainment longtime companies like Universal and Paramount as well as tech industry newcomers like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
The WGA described the dispute in stark terms, saying that the rise of streaming services and the proliferation of television productions had eroded their working conditions. This has been described as an “existential” moment, and that “the very survival of writing as a profession is at stake in these negotiations.”
The entertainment companies, which previously said they were approaching the talks with “the long-term health and stability of the industry as our priority,” are facing a rapidly changing business with declining viewership for television and cable networks.
For viewers, the immediate impact will be seen on talk shows and sketch shows. Late shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” are likely to get dark right away. Reality series and some international shows, not covered by the syndicate, will be broadcast in heavy rotation.
It will take a long strike before there is a slowdown in the arrival of new TV shows and movies, because the production process for them can take months or more than a year.
Prolonged production shutdowns can also hurt local economies, particularly workers who help support production, such as drivers, dry cleaners, caterers, carpenters, and lumber yard workers. When the book last hit, for 100 days in 2007, the Los Angeles economy had lost an estimated $2.1 billion.
Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s 12:30 AM Late Night Show, referred to the devastation of the latest strike in another segment last week.
“It doesn’t just affect writers,” said Mr. Myers. In web video only. “It affects all of the amazing non-writing staff on these shows. And it’s really going to be a miserable thing for people to go through, especially considering we’re in the aftermath of this terrible pandemic.”
Mr. Myers said he was a proud member of the WGA, and that he felt strongly that what the writers were asking was “not unreasonable.”
“If you don’t see me here next week,” he said, “know that it is something not done easily, and that I shall be sad that I miss you, too.”
The book has raised many grievances. Moment by moment, the book seeks to place significant protection barriers around the use of AI. But the most pressing issue for them is compensation.
Over the past decade, a period often referred to as Peak TV, the number of scripted television programs broadcast in the United States has risen sharply. But the writers said their salaries were stagnant.
In the age of network television, a writer can get work on a show with more than 20 episodes per season, providing a steady living for an entire year. However, in the broadcast era, episode requests have dropped to 8 or 12, and the average weekly wage for a writer and producer has fallen slightly, the WGA said.
The writers also want to fix the remaining payments equation, which has been upended by the flow. Years ago, writers could get residual payments whenever a show was licensed—in syndication or through DVD sales. But global streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have cut those distribution arms and pay a flat residual fee instead.
Guilds have taken particular aim in the so-called small rooms, which have proliferated over the past decade. There is no single definition of a miniature room. But in one example, the studios get together with a small group of writers before the show is given the official green light to pen a script. But WGA officials say writers are often paid less to work in smaller rooms.
The book also said that the sudden growth of miniature rooms has also disrupted the art of learning how to make a TV show for decades. Mike Shore, creator of “The Good Place” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” said in an interview that as a young writer at The Office, he learned how to write a script, rewrite it, edit it, work with actors and become familiar with specialized trades such as design. Positioning and mixing audio.
He said, “These are not things you can read in a book.” “These are things you have to try.”
But because of the small rooms, writers are sent home after less than 10 weeks and often aren’t in production at all, he said.
He said: “These companies do not understand what is the fate of the pike.” “And what will happen is a whole generation of software makers who may be very talented, who may have a lot to say about the world, but functionally don’t know how to do the job that they’re going to be asked to do.”
However, studio executives have said they’ve had their own share of problems, and this isn’t the best time to make big raises.
For several years, Wall Street has rewarded media companies for investing in streaming services at any cost in order to grow their subscribers. But investors soured on that philosophy last year, prompting studio executives to find a way to turn loss-making streaming services into profit drivers.
The repercussions have been brutal. Disney is in the process of laying off 7,000 employees. Warner Bros. Discovery announced and shuffled thousands of titles last year while trying to pay down a debt load of nearly $50 billion. Other media companies have adopted similar cost-saving measures.
However, the executives also said they could weather the strike. Last month, David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, “We set ourselves up, we had a lot of content produced.” Two weeks ago, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos suggested that the streaming service would be better protected than its competitors because of the number of unscripted foreign series being produced. “We can probably serve our members better than most,” he said.
However, he admitted that the consequences of the strike would be significant.
“The last time there was a strike, it was devastating for the creators,” Sarandos said. “It was really hard in the industry. It was painful for the local economies that support the production and it was very, very bad for the fans.”
Screenwriters have dropped out six times over the decades. Historically, they have had the courage to strike long. In addition to the 100-day strike in 2007, the Writers also marched in sit-down lines for 153 days in 1988. The Writers also showed signs of remarkable unity. In mid-April, 98 percent of the more than 9,000 writers representing the unions allowed a strike.
Writers will hold demonstrations in New York and Los Angeles, where most entertainment companies are based.
Pictures of the sit-down banners have already been posted on social media, with slogans like “Texts don’t grow on trees!” and “The future of writing is at stake!”
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