Writers Guild Strike 2023 explained: Why is the WGA striking?
The Writers Guild of America has announced its first strike in 15 years – here’s everything you need to know about why writers are striking, how it’ll affect TV shows and movies, and the differences between the 2007 and 2023 strikes.
The WGA announced the strike on May 1, coming after negotiations with a number of streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV, fell through.
“The Board of Directors of the @WGAwest and the Council of the @WGAeast, acting upon the authority granted to them by their memberships, have voted unanimously to call a strike, effective 12:01 AM, Tuesday, May 2,” the guild tweeted.
The strike will likely have a cataclysmic, wide-ranging impact on Hollywood and the wider TV and movie industry – here’s what you need to know.
Why is the Writers Guild striking in 2023?
The WGA is striking over standards of pay in the streaming era: in simple terms, they don’t believe they’re being fairly compensated with the large-scale pivot to streaming over broadcast television.
The WGA’s current contract expired on May 1, but it had been negotiating with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, Paramount, and Sony for six weeks in an effort to get better pay for screenwriters across late-night TV, streaming, and feature projects.
In a public announcement, the guild said: “The WGA Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, but the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.
“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.
“From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”
Picketing is set to begin this afternoon, May 2.
What does the Writers Guild want?
Two words: more money, but it’s not out of greed.
Residuals (think of it like royalties for writers) have dipped with streaming platforms, while wages have either plateaued or fallen. More showrunners and writers are working for the Minimum Basic Agreement, and the rise of “mini-rooms” over traditional pilots have resulted in writers working on a project for longer, for less money, and not seeing many, if any returns.
In March, the WGA released a report titled ‘Writers Are Not Keeping Up’ that directly addressed how streaming has negatively impacted writers’ pay.
“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels. On TV staffs, more writers are working at minimum regardless of experience, often for fewer weeks, or in mini-rooms, while showrunners are left without a writing staff to complete the season. And while series budgets have soared over the past decade, median writer-producer pay has fallen,” it reads.
“With the rising dominance of streaming – where half of series writers now work – short orders, the separation of writing and production, and the lack of a season calendar have depressed writer pay.”
In the 2013-14 season, 33% of all TV series writers were paid minimum wage – now, nearly half are working for the minimum standard. “Increasing numbers of seasoned writers, including showrunners, are now paid no overscale premium for their years of experience,” the report adds.
What about AI?
The Writers Guild has also requested more regulation on the use of artificial intelligence, specifically requesting that AI-generated scripts won’t be “used as source material.”
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During recent negotiations, the WGA proposed to “regulate use of artificial intelligence on MBA-covered projects: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.”
This was rejected by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which countered with “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”
How does this compare to the Writers Guild strike in 2007?
While the 2023 strike is mostly about fair pay in relation to streaming, the 2007 strike campaigned for higher residuals with the rise of “new media”, including downloaded movies and streaming, as well as stronger union protections for animation and reality TV writers.
Coming 22 years after the 1985 strike, which focused on residuals in the home video market, the WGA fought for fairer pay as new media began to rise. As per Left Voice, writers earned around 0.3% for DVDs sold, while streaming was considered “promotional use”, so any views via platforms like TiVo amounted to nothing.
“Their point of view was, ‘We don’t know what [the internet] is yet’… but Hulu went live [a month after] the strike ended. They knew where the business was going,” WGA board member David A. Goodman earlier said.
The strike lasted for 100 days, bringing production on several TV shows to a standstill, while having an infamous effect on movies still in development – for example, Quantum of Solace is considered to be one of the worst James Bond movies in the franchise, and many believe it was as a result of the strike.
“We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. 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,” Daniel Craig said.
The 2007 strike is estimated to have cost studios $2.1 billion in lost revenue. You can watch a video breaking down what the WGA has achieved with past negotiations here.
How will the 2023 WGA strike affect TV shows and movies?
Late-night TV shows, like those hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Myer, will likely “go dark” for the foreseeable future. Normal network TV will continue, but if the strike eats into pre-production on the next seasons, we could see delays on some shows.
Meyers said: “I love writing. I love writing for TV. I love writing this show. I love that we get to come in with an idea for what we want to do every day and we get to work on it all afternoon and then I have the pleasure of coming out here.
“No one is entitled to a job in show business. But for those people who have a job, they are entitled to fair compensation. They are entitled to make a living. I think it’s a very reasonable demand that’s being set out by the guild. And I support those demands.”
While attending the Met Gala, Fallon also said: “I wouldn’t have a show if it wasn’t for my writers, and I support them all the way.”
Movies are unlikely to be affected, given much of what’s in the pipeline has already been written and filmed, if not already in production with a complete script. The big question mark hangs over streaming and how much each platform has in the can.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos assured shareholders there wouldn’t be much disruption if a strike was authorized. “If there is one, we have a large base of upcoming shows and films from around the world. We could probably serve our members better than most,” he said, as per The Hollywood Reporter.
“We really don’t want this to happen but we have to make plans for the worst [-case scenario] and so we do have a pretty robust slate of releases to take us into a long time.”
That’s everything we know about the 2023 Writers Guild strike. You can check out our other TV & movies coverage here.