It’s official — for the first time in 15 years, the WGA has gone on strike, with picket lines set to form across Los Angeles and New York on Tuesday morning.
After weeks of negotiations and months to prepare for them, the guild could not come to an agreement with the AMPTP, which represents Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. Many writers, including Meaghan Oppenheimer (Hulu’s Tell Me Lies), have told those looking to support the strike that “by far the most effective thing you can do is cancel your streaming subscriptions for the time being.”
Episodic television has really been at the crux of these negotiations, and yet, when it came to the WGA’s proposals concerning preserving the writers’ room (at least six writers, including four writer-producers) and duration of employment (staff guaranteed 10 weeks of consecutive work, at minimum), the AMPTP flat-out rejected them and refused to make a counter.
The studios don’t believe that every show needs six writers, and they’re trying to turn writers into gig workers, making it even harder to forge a career.
“The WGA has to draw a line somewhere. It won’t get streamers to increase episode counts or job security,” tweeted Mark Harris. “So it is actually ethical and essential for the Guild to say, ‘We create these scripted shows, and we insist on determining the minimum staff size it takes to script them.’
The strike immediately disrupts all of the late-night shows, as well as John Oliver‘s HBO series and NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
On the feature side, writers were peeved that, rather than engage with the guild’s proposal that would require a second step, the studios countered by offering to set up meetings to educate creative executives and producers about screenwriters’ free work concerns, which is a laughable suggestion.
Meanwhile, screenwriters are currently paid 50 percent of their salary when they start writing, and 50 percent after they turn in a completed draft, but the guild wants 50 percent upon commencement, and the remaining 50 percent paid out weekly over the writing period, which is often 12 weeks. The studios didn’t even bother to counter this proposal, rejecting it outright.
Elsewhere, the WGA wanted the studios to regulate the use of artificial intelligence to ensure that AI can’t write or rewrite literary material or be used as source material, and once again, the AMPTP rejected the guild’s proposal. the org also shot down the WGA’s proposal to establish a viewership-based residual metric that would reward TV shows with greater viewership. That’s because streamers absolutely refuse to provide any transparency, as that could spell doom for their very business models.
As far as tentative agreements go, the two sides have agreed on issues such as script fees for staff writers, broadcast reruns, P&H diversions, and option deals that call for exclusivity.
The two sides still remain far apart, however, as the WGA has lowered its demands from $600 million to $429 million per year, whereas the AMPTP’s offer is for approximately $86 million per year.
“After six weeks of negotiations, with an entire industry hanging in the balance, the big studios’ final offer amounted to $86 million dollars a year for the next three years, to be split among the 9,000 working members of the WGA and WGA East,” tweeted Ghosts producer Guy Endore-Kaiser. “If you want to know why the writers feel like the studios have left them no choice but to go on strike, here is one piece of helpful math. $86 million x 3 years = $258 million. David Zaslav‘s salary in 2021 = $246 million. The studios are crying poverty, all while paying one of their own (who sucks shit at his job) as much money in one year as they are offering our entire profession to split over three years.”
Indeed, when you put it that way, Guy, it sounds pretty damn egregious.
Endore-Kaiser was hardly alone in his frustration, as writer Travis Helwig called the counterproposal “straight-up insulting. They flat-out rejected any mini-room, AVOD, or AI protections. Their increases barely account for inflation. Studios didn’t even TRY to make a fair deal.”
That seems to be the sentiment right now — that the studios didn’t even take the writers’ concerns seriously, which may prompt the WGA to dig its heels in even further in the coming weeks. And while some more pessimistic members of the industry believe that the strike will last all summer, I expect it to be far shorter than the last one, with the studios caving prior to the 4th of July holiday. But hey, who knows? Maybe the two sides will strike a deal sooner rather than later, but I think the studios have been preparing for this day for years, and the streamers have just been looking for an excuse to pull back on content.
Until the writers get what they want — or close to it — they have no choice but to hold out and disrupt the entire industry in order to ensure that writing is still a profession a decade from now. The very future of the craft is at stake.
Strike locations include:
Amazon/Culver Studios – 9336 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City
CBS Radford – 4024 Radford Ave, Studio City
CBS Television City – 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles
Disney – 500 S. Buena Vista St, Burbank
Fox – 10201 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles
Netflix – 5800 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
Paramount – 5555 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles
Sony – 10202 Washington Blvd, Culver City
Universal – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Warner Bros. – 4000 Warner Blvd, Burbank
Broadway Stages – 120 Jewel Street and North Henry Street & Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn
HBO/Amazon Offices – Hudson Yards, specific address TBA
NBC Upfronts – Radio City Musical Hall
Netflix Manhattan HQ – 888 Broadway
Netflix Upfront (on 5/17) – Paris Theater – 4 W. 58th St
And before I sign off for the night, I must quote Charlie Kaufman‘s speech at the WGA Awards earlier this year.
“We are trained to believe that what we do is secondary to what they do… they’ve tricked us into thinking we can’t do it without them. The truth is they can’t do anything of value without us.”
Added TV writer David Slack, “If they could do it without us, they would. If they could break us, they would. They can’t. They won’t. #WGA Strong.”
Amen to that, and good luck to the WGA.