By: Ashlyn Bi September 28, 2023
The Writers Guild of America (WGA), joining two American labor unions for writers in film, guaranteed 11,500 film writers of the United States the protection of their creativity and rights. On May 2, 2023, WGA officially voted to call a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents almost 400 film production companies in America. Through constant negotiations over pay streaming residuals to overall lack of employment, WGA finally had enough.
The 2023 WGA strike may feel like Deja Vu to many film writers, considering a very similar event that happened in the past. Over 15 years ago, on November 5, 2007, the WGA and the AMPTP could not agree on a contract regarding a new deal on DVD residuals, further representation in reality and animation programming, and more compensation for content released on streaming services. Although several shows were still able to air episodes regularly, a good percentage of popular shows witnessed their seasons being cut short by the strikes. Shows like Breaking Bad, Gossip Girl, and Grey’s Anatomy all experienced a momentary pause from these protests. The strike ended on February 12, 2008, with a 92.5% vote and a majority decision to rectify the contract among the WGA members. Although some shows in 2023 have also been paused, the impacts are far less drastic. The crisis between the 2007 protests and the ongoing one both concern the unequal dynamics between management and labor, along with similar wants for representation and pay. Though we can see similar patterns repeating, the problem for the 2023 WGA strike is a little more complex, displaying an aspect of the modern consumer culture.
Today, writers of WGA are fighting for higher residual payments or the payments that writers receive when shows or movies are being re-released, either as reruns or in syndication. But why has the AMPTP cut so much of the writer’s compensation and income compared to a decade ago? One defining reason, which writers note, is that the studios want to convert writing into a “gig economy.” To clarify, writers today cannot sustain themselves with one show and can only work for a specified amount of time instead of working on a show or movie full-time. In today’s culture, consumers utilize streaming services such as Netflix, Disney +, Hulu, and more to watch their favorite films. Although this doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue, streaming has led to a different format of writers’ rooms, which is a room where writers of a television show brainstorm and develop ideas for an episode. Writer Amanda Mercedes notes a rise in “mini rooms,” or scaled-down writers’ rooms that include fewer writers for a shorter time, often with less pay. In these mini rooms, show writers will typically break down the plot and details of the new season in the scripts, and the show finishes without their input. Not only does this force writers to find a new show or movie to work on quickly, but it also belittles their efforts. The loss of consistency and morals in studios has left these writers with close to nothing, one even mentioning to Vox that they are currently facing an existential crisis.
In the face of these changes within the film industry, studios have decided to avoid the WGA’s demands for at least several more months, and some even responded harshly. One response from a studio executive states to Deadline: “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” Their utter lack of consideration and the blatant admittance of cruelty has shocked consumers, but this is their strategy to combat the protests. One Insider even noted that it is “a cruel but necessary evil.” In the meantime, many studios are turning to Artificial Intelligence to finish currently stopped shows. Although Hollywood script writers have maximized AI over the years, the studios find themselves at an advantage with recent technological developments. As consumers, a few of our favorite shows are and will be at a halt for a while. But for many writers from the WGA, they have no choice but to feel vulnerable as they will soon be replaced.
As the world and consumer culture evolve, many lose the face of good morals in exchange for monetary benefits. Regardless of the writers begging and praying for higher residual payments, improved writers’ rooms, and representation, production does not plan on halting to listen to them. For consumers and studios, the prioritization seems to be on the actors and the “famous faces.” Instead of only paying attention to what is displayed on the outside, we must pay attention to the unseen individuals, rarely given the spotlight.