Voting members of the Writers Guild of America last week authorized their leadership to strike — with 97.85% of members voting yes — if a satisfactory deal cannot be reached by the time their contract expires at midnight Monday, May 1.
As the deadline looms, negotiators for the guild’s film and television writers are working to reach agreement on their next three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents approximately 350 production companies.
While Christine Becker, an associate professor in the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre, believes that a Writers Guild strike is very likely, she argues that it is incorrect to suggest that writers want it.
“More precisely, WGA members feel forced to strike,” said Becker, an expert in film and television history and media studies, “because withholding their labor now is the only way to force the studios to justly support it going forward.”
The needs of the writers in this regard go well beyond fair wages, Becker stated.
“The norms set by the last contract, signed only three years ago, have been fundamentally altered by the rapid development of streaming services, with considerable disruption to how television writers in particular build and sustain their careers,” she said. “The streaming business model is based on shorter and fewer TV seasons, smaller writing staffs and limited residual payments — all of which can result in more intermittent employment, lengthy periods of economic precarity and fewer opportunities to learn the craft and climb the industry ladder for writers.”
As a result, writers increasingly operate like gig workers rather than integrated professionals, she said, devoting much of the time they’d rather spend writing to hustling for work and “even offering free labor on pitches and drafts out of desperation.”
“These problems are only exacerbated for young minority writers,” Becker added, “since the ranks of better-situated senior writers and showrunners are heavily dominated by older white men. It will be difficult for many Hollywood writers to maintain middle-class lifestyles and long-term careers without significant changes to how their work is compensated and supported.”
For their part, the studios point to quarterly losses and debt loads and lament that they’re also in economic crisis as they struggle to forge profitable streaming revenue models. But increasing minimum payments for writers alone “won’t resolve the underlying issues” that motivated WGA members to approve the strike authorization, Becker said. If negotiations do break down after May 1, it will be due to “deep-seated infrastructural issues.”
“A strike is therefore highly likely due to the significance of this situation for the industry’s future,” she said. “The only real uncertainty is over how long the strike will last and what the long-term fallout could be. Two other guilds, the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, wait in the wings with contracts that expire at the end of June, which is quite fitting because directors and actors rely on writers to deliver scripts before they can begin their work.
“Given their crucial role in Hollywood, the writers deserve to have their hardships heard, understood and addressed.”
Originally published by news.nd.edu on April 27, 2023.at