By Constanza Leautaud Grajales
Edited by Yang Ran Cheng
Striking headlines including “First Hollywood work stoppage in 16 years” and “Strike leadership explain how the survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation” are taking people by surprise and causing a reaction from the public. Let’s unpack this situation: the reasons why thousands of Hollywood scribes are on the picket lines which have crippled film production across Hollywood; the agreement that has come from it; and how this has impacted Hollywood television.
The Writers Guild of America, who represent around 11,500 TV and film screenwriters, have complained that their employment contract (which is re-negotiated every 3 years) was due to be renewed on May 1st 2023. The protests started due to Hollywood studios’ failure to reestablish an adequate compensation contract for screenwriters. This issue has remained unresolved since the last contract renewal in 2020 due to the pandemic, and is caused by the rapid growth that Hollywood studios have experienced in the past decade as media companies have invested billions of dollars into streaming services. Importantly, this strike has threatened to bring worldwide film and TV development to a halt.
After a lengthy bargaining process, a deal was finally reached in September 2023, entailing a firm guarantee that artificial intelligence will not interfere with writers’ compensation or work, and an annual raise in all areas of media (over the course of the three-year contract) as soon as the contract was ratified. Overall, writers are extremely concerned about the growth of AI and how it could potentially replace their job altogether.
The impact of the strike on the public? Screenwriters play essential roles in the production of shows and movies we all enjoy, such as talk shows which were on halt during the strike like “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” or “The Drew Barrymore Show.” All of these shows are unable to run without writers, as scripts are often written close to shooting. Not to mention the delay or cancellation in new shows which impacted overall viewership. When writers strike and production is seized, it also impacts people who work on the sets of these film production sites, like background actors, electricians, caterers, set dressers, and others who lost their jobs.
What does this strike say about today’s film industry?
Ironically, the streaming of shows is at an all-time high nowadays with hundreds of shows being released annually. However, this arguably corresponds to a marked decline in the quality of some screenwriters’ work. While the “makeup of the Guild is as diverse as it’s ever been,” lots of writers are working on film and television projects that have no room for growth in the industry. Instead of climbing this industry’s corporate ladder from writer staff to executive producer, “mini-rooms” are now a more popular feature where writers produce a short script which is then overturned to the director or producer. Shows are now characterized by having fewer episodes. Writing for a 10-episode show rather than a 50+ episode show is simply not a sustainable middle class lifestyle for a writer. Not to mention the approximate 3 billion dollar impact on the Californian economy due to halted productions, affecting all kinds of businesses surrounding the industry, like companies that provide catering for productions, restaurants near studios, prop houses, set builders, dry cleaners, professional drivers, and florists. All these factors, combined with inflation as well, have caused the economic impact of this Hollywood strike to be greater than any previous strike.
All in all, it can be said that this massive strike has not only had major economic impacts and changed the nature of the screenwriter career, but the repercussions that came from this conflict have changed Hollywood and its film industry forever.
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Thompson, Derek, and Matthew Belloni. “How Hollywood’s Writers Strike Could Change the Future of TV and Movies.” The Ringer, 30 May 2023, https://www.theringer.com/2023/5/30/23741672/how-hollywood-wga-writers-strike-could-change-the-future-of-tv-and-movies. Accessed 15 November 2023.
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