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  • Writer's pictureJamal Saafir

Writers Strike Still Has Horns

On May 2nd, 2023 The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike was initiated.

If not aware of why the strike exists, here’s a synopsis: The strike centers around streaming and compensation, with a part regarding artificial intelligence in there as well. Both seem to be “stepping on the monetary toes” of the entertainment world in film and music. According to Vulture, The Writers Guild of America asked its writers to vote on authorizing a strike on April 3, 2023 and online voting ran from April 11th–17th. On the 17th, it was officially announced that members had voted to authorize with an overwhelming 97.85 percent “yes” vote.

As reported by TheWrap, Veteran Hollywood writer William Lucas Walker broke down the differences between the WGA writers strike of 2007 and the ongoing battle writers are now facing with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), pointing to streaming services and their reluctancy to bring forth a fair deal. Walker, a writer known for his work on “Frasier,” Roseanne” and “Will & Grace”, said the responsibility lies on Netflix and others.

“Networks and streamers are probably not happy with each other because the networks want to get back to work, but they can’t until the streamers do their thing,” Walker said. “The streamers are the ones who have the most egregious things to address and they don’t want to.”

We are now entering July for a strike that began on May 2, 2023 which came as a result of the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ failure to agree on a new basic contract during their negotiations — an event that occurs every three years. The strike is now the largest interruption in American television and film production since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the biggest stoppage since the 2007-2008 strike, which lasted 100 days. Walker believes this one could be longer.

Walker told TheWrap while joining his fellow writers who were striking in front of Paramount.

“I think the issues this time are so much more complex. The networks are already giving us a lot of what we want, the streamers aren’t. With networks we get good residuals, so you get a lot of episodes per season. Those are a lot of the things I think people who are writers in streaming want.”

The biggest issue is residuals and how much lower the royalty check amount is for writers who work on streamed shows in comparison to broadcast series that air reruns through cable television or syndication given the working conditions writers undergo.

“Over the past decade, while our employers have increased their profits by 10s of billions, they have embraced business practices that have slashed our compensation and residuals and undermined our working conditions,” the WGA said in a memo sent to members back in April of this year.

“The survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation.”

Walker also shared more perspective on the financial compensation and job-stability aspects concerning most writers, “The industry has changed so much since 2007, and streaming has changed, it’s really turning into a gig,” Walker said. “I wrote for a bunch of sitcoms in the ’90s, like ‘Roseanne, ‘‘Frasier’ and ‘Will and Grace,’ and I was able to buy a house three years after I joined the Writers Guild. I still live there. Writers today can’t even begin to think about that.”

How streaming has transformed writers’ careers into gig-like workshops, and the emergence of the so-called “mini rooms,” is another pressing issue for writers. Mini-writers rooms usually include as few as two to three writers, and in them the group writes and develops an entire season of a show or a series pilot with no certainty that they will be brought on for the production process or that the show will even be greenlit.

Walker said he’s spoken to writers who fear the mini-room model is crippling the career growth and living wage for writers.

“A writer said, ‘Yeah, I started out on a Nickelodeon multicam that had 22 episodes,” Walker explained. “He thought that’s what it was going to be like and said all he’s been able to get since then have been mini rooms that last like six to eight weeks. He said he just did a mini-room right before the strike that was two weeks and they told him they’d give him a script and they offered him $2,000 for it.”

Walker continued: “Writers are constantly stressed about where their next job is coming from. When you’re on the standard network show, like I was, you were employed for a year, and they can pick up or not pick up your ops at the end of the year, but you certainly had enough money, and with the residuals that were coming in…I mean, I still get residual checks from episodes I wrote 25 years ago. Writers today don’t have that. It's a whole different ballgame.”

In a statement distributed to media on May 4, the AMPTP said the WGA’s claims that writers’ jobs have turned into a “gig economy” aren’t accurate.

“Employment as a writer has almost nothing in common with standard ‘gigs’ jobs,” the AMPTP wrote. “For one thing, most television writers are employed on a weekly or episodic basis, with a guarantee of a specified number of weeks or episodes. It’s not uncommon for writers to be guaranteed ‘all episodes produced.’ Plus, writing jobs come with substantial fringe benefits that are far superior to what many full-time employees receive for working an entire year, including employer-paid health care, employer-paid contributions into a pension plan and eligibility for a paid parental leave program.”

Another area of concern that I assume will be in the press more and more for the same reasons is the use of artificial intelligence and its contribution to the arts.

An excerpt from the WGA Proposals Chart for Members pdf,

“Regulate use of artificial intelligence on MBA covered projects: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.

It seems to be a long road ahead as the economic landscape shifts at the same time that entertainment and technology are…

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