Hollywood Writers Launch Strike Over Pay From Streaming and AI Concerns

Atmosphere at a Writers Guild of America protest on Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood, CA. 11-20-07 — Photo by s_bukley/Deposit Photos

The Writers Guild of America, the union representing Hollywood screenwriters, called a strike effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday PT, after talks with the major studios and streamers broke down over higher pay and concerns about the role of artificial intelligence in screenwriting projects.

The WGA posted a tweet Monday at 8:38 p.m., saying its board of directors “voted unanimously to call a strike.”

Picketing begins Tuesday afternoon, with the strike expected to disrupt work on movies, scripted television series, late-night shows, and streaming productions.

“The decision was made following six weeks of negotiations with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). 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 WGA said in a statement.

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The guild represents more than 11,000 screenwriters in Los Angeles, New York and other cities, to a lesser extent.

The WGA accused the studios of “devaluing” writing as a profession as studio execs get richer.

“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,” the union said.

“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,” the WGA added.

The AMPTP, which represents the studios, countered by saying it made a “generous” offer to the WGA.

“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 organization said in a statement. “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. The primary sticking points are mandatory staffing and duration of employment, guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.

The AMPTP added that it’s committed to engaging in future talks to end the “logjam.”

“The AMPTP member companies remain united in their desire to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to writers and the health and longevity of the industry, and to avoid hardship to the thousands of employees who depend upon the industry for their livelihoods,” the statement continued. “The AMPTP is willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam.”

Among the issues on the bargaining table:
-The WGA is pushing for increases in pay and residuals for streaming content. The guild specifically wants higher residual pay for streaming programs that have higher viewership, instead of the current model that pays a standard rate regardless of a show’s success.
-The union is calling for industry standards on the number of writers assigned to each show
-The union wants producers to “regulate use of artificial intelligence” on entertainment projects

As streaming soars in popularity, thanks to increasing amounts of content from Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, Apple, and Peacock, the WGA has said median writer-producer pay has fallen 4 percent over the last decade, or 23 percent when adjusted for inflation.

“While company profits have remained high and spending on content has grown, writers are falling behind,” the WGA said.

Union members voted overwhelmingly in April to authorize a strike if the talks collapsed. According to the WGA, 97.8 percent of members backed the strike-authorization vote.

This is the first time Hollywood writers have gone on strike in 15 years.

The last strike began in November 2007, with writers remaining off the job for 100 days, bringing Hollywood production to a halt. That strike was over pay for “new media” — as streaming began to take off.