Since May 5th, the Writers Guild of America has been on strike from Los Angeles to New York City in protest of their negotiations not being met by the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers. Contracts expire every three years, and the demands for their renewal included higher paid wages that are actually livable (2% percent of margin profits and compensation for residuals), no involvement from artificial intelligence in any crucial part of the writing and production process (take away the risks of mini rooms), and other contributions and protections for the writers. These 11,500 writers have been on the picket lines from sunrise to sunset on weekdays, and the hotter months are approaching which means more resisting on their end. There has not been a WGA strike since 2007, and that lasted over 3 months; in 1988, an earlier strike for almost half a year. It has now been 4 weeks since the current strike began, what does that mean for the future of entertainment and media?
You might've been on a “streaming roll” with broad access to what seems like unlimited options of movies and television series. Maybe your sister has a subscription to HBO Max (or now called Max), your best friend lends you their Shudder account for weekend horror movies to dip into, and you have other streaming services such as Netflix and Peacock. I didn't even want to mention cable because, is that even a thought to many Americans now? I'll get back to that later about broadcast television. There was probably at some point where you felt like you didn't have enough time to watch four or so ongoing limited series and a new movie that was being released on their original studio's streaming line, and that you'll have to binge watch them on a random weekend. With what this is called original writing, this is what many television editors, media journalists, and cinema buffs would predict to be the “peak of television,” an uprising period that seems to already be declining. To us as consumers, television on demand might seem like the modern utility that possibly soon can't give much back. With screenwriters not on set and stopped much participation for the studios, the release calendar for the upcoming year might be in danger if the strike continues past this summer.
This strike has been announced and semi-updated on the news and throughout social media – seeing celebrities and unions in solidarity with the WGA to the Warner Bros. Studio President getting booed off by graduates during his commencement speech as a guest speaker for Boston University's graduation event. However, given more context and a visual or discussion about the realities for writers in an exploding yet pressuring industry can create those connections for us all about the traditional hierarchy of television shifting into an exploitative dead-end. It goes beyond the writers including production staff, security for the studios, and other groups involved, and the history of these strikes scopes into the significance of space for innovation and the future generations of showrunners. This existential moment that we are seeing right before our eyes will determine the age of streaming as long-term media technology.
A main concern that is fairly new and not known for its later development is the impact that A.I. will have on the production line for Hollywood. Even in the last contract negotiation in 2020, artificial intelligence wasn't even an introductory topic discussed by any guild or union in entertainment and wasn't even noticed as a threat in the past year. With its popularity and liking by executives, the probability of it being used for film is increasing unfortunately. Prompt software such as ChatGPT has been seen as both helpful and threatening to many writers, and it has interfered with source material that it boggles with. That means that it can take away from original or literary material and can make adaptations from it. Some argue this can help with their writer's block or give a guideway on where to start but others responded that inspiration can come from elsewhere including the support of fellow writer mates.
The imagination and knowledge writers develop and grow from does not only happen in the script rooms (currently mini rooms, that shows sometimes do not get greenlit after), being on the actual set as biggest difference. Cultivating that specialized craft for writers that can transition them into great showrunners and producers has a lot of learning by doing. From seeing all the technical parts of the production to talking to the actors directly to earning that apprenticeship touch from the connected director, the importance of this opportunity is not respected by the studios. Those experiences are what make it a stable ecosystem for everyone involved, and not having that connection physically can prevent networking and clear intentions for what is being produced. It creates this career pathway for screenwriting as a gig economy, one that is never guaranteed for a stable income and views the culture of entertainment as cheating out the respect for art.
This past Saturday, the Director's Guild of America (DGA) signed a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion and Television Producers (AMPTP) that included wage increases for 1-3 years (including for assistant directors), pilot programs that mandate safety supervisors on set that would also ban ammunition for every production after the horrible death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins from Rust when actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm on set, and a clause that would prohibit artificial intelligence in their works. As predicted by the WGA due to directors not viewing strikes as “incentivizing,” it already adds onto the tension between screenwriters and producers/directors. This cut of a deal was in regard to the contracts of the DGA and SAG (Screen Actors' Guild) also expiring by June 30th of this year, and there is hope that actors will also want renegotiating, leading to a combined strike along with the WGA, and officially make all production on halt (you can't do anything without the actors essentially).
It would be disastrous for the studios and their profit margins with already at a loss in broadcast television for networks such as NBC and FOX, with talks in progress for that 10pm slot going to their affiliates as an example. Along with streaming services, Netflix is beginning to have a crackdown on password sharing for multi-home viewership after a quarterly decline of subscribers. The entertainment industry doesn't have to be in shambles and seek more exploitation from their workers than already done, and the outcome of the strike is predictable for right now. Ramifications for consumers after a long strike can shift how we search for product, gaining more interest in international content with the lack of American shows and spending more time with digital content such as TikTok. As we are in economic vulnerability as a country currently, every dollar counts, whether you are the consumer or the screenwriter.
From online discourse, many supporters of the WGA strike have given this point that mentions where great shows such as Succession or Better Call Saul have ended at a “good time” because of the potential and proven effect that shows and movies that were in production during strikes were tarnished due to the nonexistence of writers on set to rewrite, edit, or assist for other purposes. From past strikes, shows such as Lost or Grey's Anatomy had big gaps that were not reparable and disappeared interest from devoted viewers as writers were not available for managing scripts on those specific seasons. That is why reality television is so heavily depended on right now by the studios due to their non scripted agenda and the demand it has from subscribers since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
You will probably see more branch-offs of reality shows like the upcoming Golden Bachelor from the original Bachelor series and expected delays from first and second season shows that could come out no earlier than 2025 (hurting studios such as HBO and Apple). It goes without saying that writers are essential to the industry as a whole, and we would not have amazing experiences with cinema and television without them. Strikes change history, and support for the Writers' Guild from the general public is substantial to how these studios are going to make these impactful jobs worthy to come back to. Entertainment is more than just the flashing lights and the award shows that bring centerfold to deserving actors for their phenomenal performances; it gives opportunities and representation for those behind the scenes that make art come to life and in action for everyone to enjoy.
To check out specific demands from the WGA 2023 contract, please visit:
Podcast Episodes discussing the strike: