Since May, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has declared a strike to demand improvements in working conditions. The main requirements are increased compensation, better residuals, staffing requirements and protections from artificial intelligence job interference.
With support from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), it is the first time in 60 years that actors and screenwriters have stopped their activities at the same time. The long period of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) already marks the biggest strike in the category since 2007.
THE BEGINNING OF THE WRITER’S STRIKE
Although the WGA’s official announcement took place in May, the association’s members began negotiations with the AMPTP in March. However, communication without commonly agreed contracts led to a writers’ walkout, which got the support from several actors. SAG-AFTRA joined the writers on July 13 and several films and TV shows were suspended, both in production and release, such as Oppenheimer and Blue Beetle.
According to Deadline, Hollywood studios planned to let screenwriters go bankrupt before resuming negotiations in the fall. An anonymous executive stated, “The end game is to let things drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their homes”. However, AMPTP, which represents studios such as Paramount, Warner Bros, Discovery, Amazon and Netflix, publicly refuted the report.
“With SAG by our side, we’re more powerful than ever,” said Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, in a statement reported by the Hollywood Reporter. “There will be no path forward for writers or for actors who do not say, ‘Enough.’ There is no mercy here; there is only a revolution that comes out of our power. And that’s what we intend to achieve”.
WHAT DO SCREENWRITERS ASK FOR?
In general, screenwriters ask for better contracts, in which payments are adjusted to the current form of production. The Writers Guild of America claims that since the 2018 inflation-adjustements, the payment has fallen by 14%, and for writer-producers 23%. The instability of salaries causes great concern, since the minimum value varies depending on the contract for each job.
CORPORATE GREED IN THE STREAMING AGE
With the popularization of different streaming platforms, the financial gains of films and series started to happen in a less transparent way. Profit from productions don’t generate residual payments based on distribution or exhibition anymore, since the new goal is global and unlimited reproduction.
The new models profoundly changed the production dynamics. Series that took weeks or even months to be released are completely released to the public at once. Previously, the writers worked in a more participatory way with the production and earned, in addition to the initial sale, residual payments, which accompanied the distribution of the show. Currently, with the lack of this benefit, many professionals face difficulties in supporting themselves financially between one job and another.
Furthermore, corporate streaming’s greed has led to an increasing pressure from Wall Street to make a profit. After high investments, producers need a return, however, for that, they’ve been using alternatives like cutting expenses, dismissing employees and reducing benefits.
“Current streaming services are largely unprofitable. Only Netflix is making a profit right now,” Hollywood Reporter media and business writer Alex Weprin told CBS News. “These big entertainment companies don’t have a good sense of how profitable these services will be and how much they can pay writers”.
CONCERNS ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Another issue brought by the screenwriters is the use of artificial intelligence. The concern is about the possibilities of reproducing artists’ images and producing texts with these tools.
Therefore, professionals ask for greater protection of their work and their own image. “They propose that our background artists can be digitized, they can be paid a day’s salary, and that their company owns that scan, their image, their likeness, and can use it for the rest of eternity in whatever project they want. they want, without consent and without compensation”, said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA.
WHAT ARE THE IMPACT OF THE WRITERS STRIKE ON THE ECONOMY?
The size of the 2023 writers’ strike is unprecedented for the Hollywood film industry. The scale of the impacts generated by the strike affects several areas of the economy and thousands of professionals involved. For example, SAG-AFTRA alone have more than 160 thousand workers striking. For now, the record of longest strike happened in 1988, lasting 154 days and cost the California’s economy around $2.1 billion, according to the Milken Institute.
However, current demands are totally different from the past, as they result from technological advances in recent years. The 2023 writers’ strike is estimated to cost at least $3 billion, according to Todd Holmes, professor of entertainment industry management at Cal State Northridge. Economist Kevin Klowden, from the Milken Institute, estimates that the loss is even greater, at US$5 billion.
In addition to entertainment professionals, other categories are affected, such as restaurants near studios, florists, set builders, dry cleaners, drivers and even the real estate market. It is important to highlight the high salaries paid in Hollywood, as they represent a significant part of the Los Angeles economy. Thus, spending reduction is another concern for the car, real estate and other sectors.
The almost five-month strike already indicates signs of an end, as after a week of negotiations, on September 24th the writers managed to reach a provisional agreement. “We can say, with great pride, that this agreement is exceptional – with significant gains and protections for writers across all member sectors”, the WGA said in an email to strike captains on Sunday night.
Despite the announcement, the details of the contract, which is expected to last three years, have not been released yet. Both parts await approval from union leaders.
The article above was edited by Anna Maria Prado.
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