Members of Writers Guild of America on strike for 1st time in 15 years after failed negotiations

Jaysha Patel Image
Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Hollywood writers on strike after contract negotiations fail
Thousands of television and movie writers launched a strike for the first time in 15 years after weeks of failed contract negotiations with major studios.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Thousands of television and movie writers launched a strike for the first time in 15 years after weeks of failed contract negotiations with major studios.

The Writers Guild of America said that its 11,500 unionized screenwriters dropped their pens for the picket lines Tuesday afternoon. Negotiations between studios and the writers, which began in March, failed to reach a new contract before the writers' current deal expired just after midnight, at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. All script writing is to immediately cease, the guild informed its members.

"Though our Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, the studios' responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing," the WGA West said in a statement.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, issued a statement at 7:54 p.m. reporting that negotiations concluded Monday without an agreement.

"The studios' profits are enormous and we want a share of those profits because a number of our members now can't afford to live in Los Angeles," said WGA member participating on the strike Justin Halpern.

At issue is how writers are compensated in an industry where streaming has changed the rules of Hollywood economics. Writers say they aren't being paid enough, TV writer rooms have shrunk too much and the old calculus for how residuals are paid out needs to be redrawn.

"The survival of our profession is at stake," the guild has said.

Members of the Writers Guild of America will officially hit the picket lines after weeks of failed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Streaming has exploded the number of series and films that are annually made, meaning more jobs for writers. But WGA members say they're making much less money and working under more strained conditions. Showrunners on streaming series receive just 46% of the pay that showrunners on broadcast series receive, the WGA claims. Content is booming, but pay is down.

The guild is seeking more compensation on the front-end of deals. Many of the back-end payments writers have historically profited by - like syndication and international licensing - have been largely phased out by the onset of streaming. More writers - roughly half - are being paid minimum rates, an increase of 16% over the last decade. The use of so-called mini-writers rooms has soared.

The AMPTP said Monday that the primary sticking points to a deal revolved around those mini-rooms - the guild is seeking a minimum number of scribes per writer room - and duration of employment restrictions. The guild has said more flexibility for writers is needed when they're contracted for series that have tended to be more limited and short-lived than the once-standard 20-plus episode broadcast season.

"The AMPTP presented a comprehensive package proposal to the guild last night which included generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals,'' the statement said. "The AMPTP also indicated to the WGA that it is prepared to improve that offer, but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the guild continues to insist upon."

Dominic Patten, senior editor for Deadline, said the differences between the studios and guild are "significant - hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact, that they're looking at."

"And completely different attitudes towards things like AI - stuff that's almost unsurmountable at this point," Patten added.

The strike will disrupt work on hundreds of movies, scripted television series and streaming productions.

The WGA released a list of times and locations for picketing lines, which will take place outside major studios including Disney, CBS, Fox, Netflix, Warner Bros., Universal and more.

Last week, the WGA issued a list of "strike rules.'' Guild members must stop writing for studios, return any scripts and cannot discuss or negotiate on any future writing projects. If members don't follow the strike rules, they could face fines, censures, suspension or even expulsion from the guild.

The union last went on strike in 2007 and that lasted for 100 days, grinding Hollywood productions to a halt. That was estimated to cost the local economy between $2 billion and $3 billion.

"All the people who provide services and goods to the film industry... they are suddenly going to have no one to sell to. So this is going to have a blast radius throughout Los Angeles County, probably pretty quickly," Patten said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.