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Possible writers’ strike in Hollywood


Writers in Hollywood’s entertainment industry are unhappy. They complain about poor pay and opaque contracts with streaming services. Now they are threatening to go on strike.

By Katharina Wilhelm, ARD Studio Los Angeles

Screenwriter Zoe Marshall is frustrated. She has just co-written the crime series “Found,” which will air on NBC this fall. There’s enough work for them, but the studios keep underselling screenwriters.

For studio bosses, on the other hand, there is always a “fat bonus payment”, says Marshall. She has been writing screenplays for all kinds of studios, TV stations and streaming platforms for many years, for example for the successful new edition of the series “Charmed”.

Marshall is also a member of the board of directors of the WGA authors’ union. The latter has just voted to go on strike if there is no collective bargaining agreement with the Association of American Television and Film Production Companies by early May. The association represents all major studios, broadcasters and streaming services, from AppleTV+ to Universal Pictures.

An important point of negotiation: the payment. Authors’ weekly wages have fallen 23 percent over the past decade, including inflation, the union says.

Streaming services push prices down

Eric Haywood is also a screenwriter and has written for the crime show “Law and Order” and the hip-hop drama series “Empire”, among others. Everyone is feeling the pressure right now, he says, because the many new streaming services demanded more and more new content. At the same time, pay has changed. For example, repeat fees. He makes this concrete with an example: In the past, there was an additional and quite good fee for series and shows that were repeated on television. Haywood said it was a way to supplement his income when he wasn’t busy doing anything else.

Today things are different: broadcasters like CBS would usually resell productions or license them to their own streaming service. “The repeat fees are lower. And I don’t even know how many people have seen the show or how often, because that information keeps streamers under wraps,” says Haywood.

“The studios can’t do anything without the scripts”

The union’s demand: The contracts with the streaming platforms must be adjusted. Many screenwriters have contracts for a specific series with a network. In the past, this was over a longer period of time and thus also a reliable income. Haywood complains that this has also changed: “You used to have a contract for nine months and now they suddenly hire you for ten weeks or 14 weeks. And what do I do then?”

Being a screenwriter in Hollywood is a dream job for Haywood. But being creative is difficult if you don’t know where the next paycheck will come from.

The union emphasizes that the entertainment industry has made an average of between 28 and 30 billion US dollars in profits in recent years. And based on the scripts the screenwriters write, Marshall says:

“The studios can’t do anything without the scripts because they do so much: They’re a sales document, a template for the actors, the set builders and everyone else in the business!”

The negotiations are ongoing

Both sides are still negotiating until May 1st. If there is actually a strike, viewers will probably notice this first on the late-night talk shows, whose writers work on a daily basis. Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and the others would probably have to take a forced break. Broadcasting of TV series could be delayed.

The union is self-confident and can probably be so: During the strike in 2007, the authors stopped working for 100 days. The damage was estimated at two billion US dollars. Attempts are still being made to avoid this, emphasizes negotiator Haywood. But if no good offer is made, anything is possible.

Possible writers’ strike in Hollywood – what’s behind it?

Katharina Wilhelm, ARD Los Angeles, April 22, 2023 10:52 a.m