It’s been about a week into the WGA’s strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and a lot has happened. We’ve had picket lines, production shut-downs, and “interesting” decisions by the major studios. However, if you’re just now hearing about this or are confused about what is happening, here is a guide to the writer’s strike, what’s going on, and what you can expect to happen during this time.
For context, the Writer’s Guild of America (the conglomerate of the WGA East and WGA West, respectfully) is the labor union representing writers. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is a trade association comprised of the major TV and Movie studios (Netflix, Warner Bros, Disney, etc.) that exist to give the studios collective bargaining representation when negotiating with the trade unions associated with the entertainment industry. In the simplest terms, these two bodies come together, discuss how business should be done for the next however many years, write up an agreement, and then people go make movies.
So let’s start at the beginning. The Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which will be referred to as the WGA and AMPTP from this point on) negotiated a new contract every three years, which usually leads to better work conditions and pay compensation for writers of movies and television shows. After about six weeks of negotiations, the two bodies could not agree, and thus on May 2nd at 12:01 a.m. PDT, the WGA officially went on strike. The Guild stated that “writers cannot do any writing, revising, pitching, or discussing future projects with companies that are members of the AMPTP.” This “pencils-down” approach is also applied to fiction podcasts produced by companies associated with the strike and literary representatives ending all negotiations for writers.
One of the most significant reasons the WGA went on strike was the studios’ insistence on shifting the payment style of writers involved with the studio and streaming productions. The WGA was fighting for higher weekly, more beneficial residuals for TV writers regarding streaming and assurance from the studios they would regulate the use of programs like ChatGPT. All of which the AMPTP denied in some way or another.
Other issues included using “mini rooms,” a minimized writers’ room with fewer writers hired for quick and cheap adjustments to scripts for only the union minimum. This is contrary to how writers’ rooms have been done traditionally, where usually seven or more writers are brought on for a whole season of a show working to craft a cohesive script while making adjustments as production moves on—all the while being paid their standard rates as writers and being employed for most of the run of the production. Now with this new “mini room” method, a small handful of writers are paid minimum to make script adjustments quickly and are immediately shuffled out. This tactic feels like the AMPTP is pushing writers to work more like “gig workers” they hire for cheap and quickly instead of valued creatives on a project.
This has not been the first time the WGA has gone on strike, the last time being in 2007, which lasted 100 days and cost the industry roughly $2 billion. The big thing to come out of that strike was that streaming shows would have to hire WGA writers at a more reasonable rate, and writers gaining a new percentage of income from digital distribution. The ramifications of this strike were the massive surge of unscripted TV and a few comedically bad movies such as Dragon Ball Evolution and Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen.
This new WGA strike is taking place in a significantly different entertainment landscape. Sure, there are still tons of reality TV on various platforms, but over the last five years, there has been a boom of interest in prestige TV shows like Succession, Barry, White Lotus, Euphoria, The Boys, The Handmaids Tale, to name a few. Not to mention Disney has put out numerous big-budget streaming shows over the last two years, like The Mandalorian, Andor, WandaVision, Loki, etc. All of these streaming shows have lots to appreciate. However, the writing has always been vital to their success, whether writing convincing twists and turns, character arcs, or important world-building for things like the MCU.
Intellectual properties and cinematic universes are made off the backs of writers, so with them on strike, essentially all the major studios are stalled. Another thing to add is the solidarity being felt between the WGA and the other entertainment unions, where many members of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and very notably the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who have been admittedly supporting the WGA by refusing to cross any picket line at any film production.
This union’s solidarity and unity show that this strike is serious business. The studios will have to negotiate a new deal with the WGA or suffer significant profit loss until then. Many writers, directors, actors, and other allies are out picketing daily in front of significant studio offices or at filming locations hoping to disrupt productions peacefully. Suppose you wish to see one of these picket lines yourself. In that case, you can watch this live stream from Twitch Streamer Hasan Piker, who, along with notable WGA member and advocate Adam Conover, live-streamed their experience being on strike and picketing.
You probably will not feel any immediate effects of this strike aside from the halting of the late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live, which are currently airing reruns until further notice. Some shows have already announced they will continue production without writers on set. This means that within the next year, when the shows in production without writers on the scene are released, they will probably suffer from many writing problems, such as odd storylines, improvised dialogue, and weird plot changes. Right now, Stranger Things is possibly the most significant production to come full stop out of the strike, with many more being either delayed or completely stopped.
Stay with MXDWN for more stories on the writer’s strike.