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The Writers Strike: What is it and What it Means for You

On the 1st of May 2023, which also happens to be international labour holiday May Day, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced a strike. “We have not reached an agreement with the studios and streamers. We will be on strike after the contract expires at midnight,” the WGA announced.

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On the 1st of May 2023, which also happens to be international labour holiday May Day, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced a strike.

“We have not reached an agreement with the studios and streamers. We will be on strike after the contract expires at midnight,” the WGA announced.

The Writers Guild of America is the unionised body of American screenwriters. The Australian equivalent, Australian Writers Guild (AWG), have also declared their support for the strike.

This strike occurred after six weeks of negotiations with key media conglomerates—including Netflix, Disney and Sony—through the employer's association, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

This strike has been predicted and gossiped about for the past few months due to widespread grievances over low residuals, fears of AI and the casualisation of writer’s rooms.

 

What are residuals?

The television landscape has changed with the advent of streaming, including the payment and compensation of all workers on film and television sets.

Residuals are the financial compensation paid to those who work on films, not just writers, but also actors and crew. Residual pay is compensation that goes beyond the normal wages made on set. Residuals are administered by the industry unions, which include bodies like WGA and the Screen Actors Guild.

Television and film products do not just make money off of their initial screenings. Reruns change their distributors, with streaming being a significant home for old shows and making money when shows are broadcasted. Before 1960, cast and crew weren’t compensated for their work past their time in production. This meant the companies distributing the show profited from the workers’ labour.

The most recent example of a WGA strike for a change to how residuals are paid was in 2007.

 

Why now?

Over 11,000 members of the WGA have gone on strike, including Abbot Elementary creator Quinta Brunson. This is credited to poor residuals, increased casualisation, and overwork as studio profits rise.

According to the WGA’s statement to their members, “Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal—and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains—the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing.”

The proposals include weekly pay and established minimum residuals from streaming.

“The companies’ behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing”, the WGA says.

Since the previous WGA strike in 2007, streaming as a method of content consumption has blown up, making the current mode of residuals outdated. Currently, instead of receiving residuals after the episode airs, workers can receive pay 10-90 days after exhibition, depending on the streaming service.

Streaming residuals are calculated based on the amount a performer was initially paid and the streaming platform's subscribers. According to the Hollywood Reporter, some actors have lost $170 million USD from network residuals. While your favourite A-lister is fine, this could mean some fairly well-booked working actors could still be living below the poverty line.

Writers are some of the most at risk in the current streaming climate, especially with the rising use of AI. When writer Alex O’Keefe won an award for the critically acclaimed show The Bear, he claimed he had a negative bank account balance at the award show. The Bear is currently streaming on Disney+.

 

How will I be impacted?

If you have noticed how seasons of shows in 2007-2008 drop in quality, that could be credited to the writer's strike. This is especially true for comedy shows with a large writer's room, like The Office. This quality drop will likely happen again, especially if the show uses AI to write its season.

Late-night network shows are halting, with some hosts offering to pay for their production staff’s costs. Other shows, like Abbott Elementary, will see shorter seasons. Other actors are also striking in solidarity, which could impact their project involvement.

 

What’s next?

June 30th will be a big teller on the future of the strike, as that is when both the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild’s contract with the AMPTP expires. Both have begun negotiations for similar motives as the WGA: having residuals that reflect the streaming climate. The Screen Actors Guild begins negotiations on June 6th, as their contract with AMPTP expires on June 30th. The board has called for strike authorisation if the contract has not been met.

The Directors Guild of America negotiations also call for increased workplace safety and diversity and inclusion. The Directors Guild does not have a strong history of striking, but if they do, three significant guilds will call for better compensation and rights.

Awards shows may be impacted if the strikes continue, especially if the WGA continues striking. Many awards shows are scripted in monologues and performances, often done by WGA members. The Tony’s will go ahead without WGA members, but the Peabody Awards have been cancelled.

It is Emmy’s season, and as the strikes are more focused on television, the awards shows remain the most uncertain. The Daytime Emmys have been postponed, and now is when Primetime Emmy campaigning usually begins. The rules of striking and solidarity regarding campaigning are a bit blurry. Actors/writers may choose to campaign by ignoring the writing aspect altogether. For example, despite being the show's creator and in the writing room, Jason Segal’s recent Vanity Fair interview for his show Shrinking didn’t speak on the writing process.

What is certain is television will change, and you may see a drop in quality in the shows that become available. If these workers are not compensated, this effect will last for the foreseeable future.

 
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