Hollywood screenwriters go on strike

Source: BBC

Thousands of Hollywood TV and movie screenwriters have downed tools after last-minute talks with major studios over wages broke down.

A Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, the first in 15 years, saw more than 11,000 writers – 98% of voting members – walk out from midnight.

Tuesday’s late-night shows are expected to shut down first, while forthcoming shows and films could face delays.

Picketing will begin on Tuesday afternoon, the Guild also said.

In 2007, writers went on strike for 100 days, at a cost of around $2bn to the industry.

This time around, writers are clashing with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – which represents the major studios, including Amazon, Disney, Netflix and Paramount – in demand of higher pay and a greater share of the profits from the modern streaming boom.

On Monday evening, the WGA said the decision to strike was made after six weeks of negotiations produced a “wholly insufficient” response to “the existential crisis writers are facing”.

Key issues in the talks have been how writers get paid for shows which often remain on streaming platforms for years, as well as the future impact of artificial intelligence on writing.

The AMPTP said it had offered a “comprehensive package proposal” including higher pay for writers.

But it was unwilling to improve that offer further “because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon.”Hollywood screenwriters on strike over payHollywood screenwriters on strike over pay

On Sunday evening, the Deadline Hollywood outlet reported that production on late-night live comedy chat shows, including The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will all come to a halt.

Colbert, who taped his show before negotiations halted, shared an image of his writers while expressing support for them in his opening monologue on Monday evening.

Arriving at the Met Gala, Fallon said he hoped the strike would not go ahead, but at the same time wanted to see “a fair deal” agreed for writers. “I need my writers real bad, I got no show without my writers”.

Late Night host Seth Meyers expressed his support for the strike on the corrections segment of his show on Friday.

“I also feel very strongly that what the writers are asking for is not unreasonable,” Meyers said. “As a proud member of the Guild, I’m very grateful that there is an organisation that looks out for the best interests of writers.”

‘Sticking points’

The WGA has criticised studios for creating a “gig economy” that aims to turn writing into an “entirely freelance” profession. “For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice,’ the guild stated in a lengthy document.

It called for a TV staffing minimum, ranging from six to 12 writers per show, as well as a guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment per season.

In their own statement on Tuesday, the AMPTP called those the two “primary sticking points”.

For their part, the collective studios previously said they must cut costs due to financial pressures, while noting how the overall “residuals” payments to writers hit an all-time high of $494m (£395m) in 2021.

The AMPTP also rejected a guild demand that the use of AI bots be banned from writing or rewriting material, instead offering to hold “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology”.

What happened during the last writers’ strike?

Many readers will remember how TV and film productions felt and looked a little different during the Covid lockdown-era, due to strict safety protocols, but some may not recall the similar effects of the last big writers’ strike in the winter of 2007.

The strike saw writers asking studios for new contracts that gave them more money when their work got sold on DVD, downloaded or streamed online.

For viewers it meant that big named late-night talk shows, which rely heavily on writers for their scripts and jokes, dropped off-air. One such name, host Conon O’Brien showed his support for the striking writers while on-air by simply spinning his wedding ring around on his desk for as long as possible. No really.

Production also stopped on major soaps, sitcoms and prime-time dramas, including Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and The Office. The strike cost Breaking Bad fans two episodes of its first season, however (spoiler alert!) it did reportedly also spare the life of one of its main protagonists Jessie, who had been at risk of being written out of the show.

Other productions plodded on without their writers, often with less than desirable effects. Season two of Heroes, shot during the strike using first drafts of their work, was regarded by many as a shadow of its former self and the show arguably never really recovered.

The best example of this though was perhaps the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, as star Daniel Craig recalled in an interview. “We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do,” he said. “We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, ‘never again’, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not”.

As well as busting Bond’s balls, the writers’ strike inadvertently helped to make a pre-presidential Donald Trump a bigger star. Trump’s version of the Apprentice had been on the verge of being canned but the strikes gave it a new lease of life. With fewer scripts around, reality TV had its time in the sun. Shows like Project Runway and the Biggest Loser got bigger slots and audiences; and everybody began Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E!.

More than 31 million watched the 2008 final of American Idol, which helped Fox become the US’s most-watched channel for the first-time.

After a compromise was reached – which saw writers promised a percentage of future profits generated – it took months for TV to get back to normal.

The latest strike, at least, arrives in time for summer.

Alex O’Keefe, writer on the comedy-drama series The Bear and a member of the WGA, told the BBC on Monday that half of all writers were paid the minimum by studios and that there was “a huge underclass in Hollywood right now”.

He said the creative output of his writing colleagues was better than ever, matching the demands of the streaming age, but writers are paid less than ever.

“And writers like me, especially young, black writers, indigenous writers, writers of colour have brought a whole new wave of creativity to the process.

“But we are finding ourselves unable to survive in places like New York City and Los Angeles, where we need to be to be in writers’ rooms.”

O’Keefe went on to stress that while there are some writers who are “doing very well”, many writers, including some showrunners on big shows, were not.

“I wouldn’t classify all writers as being poor or broke, but I can say myself I have $6 in my bank account,” he said.

He said that when he and his colleagues won best comedy series at the Writers Guild of America Awards, he went to the ceremony in a suit bought for him by his friends and family.

“The bowtie was bought on credit, I didn’t have any money, I had a negative bank account,” he explained. The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA and the directors’ union DGA have voiced solidarity with striking writers.

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