Will There be a Writer’s Strike in 2023?
March 20th of this year the WGA Writers Guild of America commenced negotiations with AMPTP (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers.) Now, if you’re in the film ministry, you have probably heard, read or seen someone say there’s gonna be a strike, and they’ve been saying this. There has been a large amount of anxiety surrounding the WGA, and the threat of them striking again.
They are currently in talks, and there are no major things to report just yet, we don’t know if there’s actually going to be a strike. But this anxiety is there because everyone, like we humans like to do, industry-wide, is mentally preparing for the worst. That could be work stoppage, production halts, basically everyone out of the job for an unknown period of time.
WGA Writers Strike History
The anxiety does not go unjustified as this has indeed happened in 2007, 2008, when the Writer’s Guild of America and AMPTP did not come to an agreement. This was when streaming services started to really boom and they really started to grow and new media became a new section of the entertainment industry.
The film and TV industry had a brand new area to do syndication and the studios were making bank and the writers and respectfully everyone else who received residuals from those contracts. When those shows were being resold to the streaming services in different markets around the world, they were not getting that money. And that was a huge problem for the writers.
For 100 days, the writers were on strike from November 5, 2007 to February 12, 2008 of that year. Some of the things that came out of that year’s strike was the residuals for new media and overall residuals went up. The base, minimum wage also went up, and they got rid of that weird packaging that agents did to the writers and directors. They would package up certain roles like the writer, director, and maybe and actor together to a project, and the studio would pay them a nice fee for doing this. Read more on how film industry packaging works.
Work Stoppage When Writers Strike?
Yes, film production stops when there’s a strike, but what actually happens and how does it affect the things that come on your screens?
Firstly, let me just say that when a strike happens, film production doesn’t immediately halt. Production doesn’t immediately stop right when they strike. Secondly, it doesn’t affect everything equally because of the turnaround and the faster turnaround that it takes to make a TV show. A 45 minute to an hour TV show could take 8 or 9 days of production. For movies however, that 90 minute runtime can take up to 6 months depending on the genre. They would just delay the movie and it would be a delayed release, but for TV shows you’ll be watching repeats. It definitely has a more direct effect on TV shows than it does for movies.
For TV they’ll shoot completed scripts, but the writers will not be on set. Now, if you know anything about TV, you know that rewrites happen. All through the process, even up to when they’re ready to roll camera. So those nice little rewrites that you get where a plot is nicely cleaned up, there might be some things that are lacking because the writer wasn’t there to rewrite the scene to make it all make sense. So, sometimes the plot lines will suffer once.
When there’s no more completed scripts there is no more to shot. There’s just a small gap from strike to work stoppage that could be a couple weeks, or maybe a month depending on the show.
Reality TV Shows
The studios have to continue to make money, and to fill their air time, but they also have to feed the appetite of their audience for new entertainment. And what comes to save the day? Reality TV!
In 2007 -2008 with the last Writers’ Strike, reality TV really amped up. Established reality shows that already had many seasons, had additional seasons, green lit faster, meaning they had more than one season in one calendar year. Some of the shows were the Amazing Race, Big Brother, Good Newsweek, and the Price is Right.
Also, The Apprentice. If you guys have forgotten about this show, this is your lovely reminder that this is where Donald Trump came from. But in 2007 – 2008, the first season of The Apprentice did not do that well. During the strike they had a lot of additional airtime. Studios green lit another season of the Apprentice, they put a celebrity twist on it and then they got a hit show. If it wasn’t for all that additional airtime, I don’t think The Apprentice would’ve seen another season.
You also got a lot of really bad reality shows, like Clash of the Choirs, and Your Dad is Better than My Dad and he’s off. They had to fill that air time – they green lit basically anything.
Some shows hired non-union writers, some shows seasons were cut short, and because of that the store lines of that show were largely affected. Breaking Bad is a perfect example of that. Season 1 of Breaking Bad shot during writer’s strike, and we lost two episodes because of it. The fact that that season lost 2 episodes directly affected how that season’s story was told.
If there happens to be a writers strike, there might be some strange reality shows, might be some good ones, might be some new hits reality shows – we don’t know. We could see seasons cut short. See plot lines, and the overall arc of a story just not go as well as it could have. But what also you’ll see is that productions will go internationally as well. The WGA does not have any jurisdiction outside of US.
Studios have definitely denied this, but there has been talk that studios are stockpiling and buying up all the completed scripts that they can.
On the other end, with the writers, it has been said that they are pushing their agents when it comes to selling their scripts to finalize those deals as quickly as possible before this impending doom of the strike happens. Also, some writers’ rooms for shows have already started way before their scheduled start date. To which that will also pull up production, which they’re trying to fit in as much as they can before that May 1st – which is the end of the current WGA contract. Apparently studios have been preparing for this since summer of 2022. So the studios know that the writers are pissed off and they definitely know something that we don’t. And it’s primarily the reason why the anxiety of a writers strike exists for this year.
What is the WGA Asking For?
They want to raise the base minimum pay, which isn’t abnormal. It’s pretty usual to do that because every three years there’s a new contract. We have to compensate for inflation, cost of living. So that’s pretty normal. They also want a higher percentage when it comes to residuals. These videos make some crazy money and I say yes, get a higher percentage because without you, the writers, writing that script, we don’t have a show.
Mini Writers’ Room
Now let’s talk about mini writer’s rooms. This is a very heated issue and if we’re honest, it’s gonna be the main thing that’s gonna be battled over.
How TV is “Traditionally” made: start in development, they write a pilot, then the pilot goes into production. Based on that pilot the studio will decided if they want to make a whole season or not. Writers that are attached to that pilot, they would essentially be employed for the rest of the season.
With mini writers’ rooms: a show runner/creator will get together with maybe a handful of writers. They will write the pilot, the first few episodes, they’re also going to write all the character arcs, all the plot lines, and extend that out for the whole season. Where is the story going for the whole season? Not just that pilot. Then that is packaged, and then shown to a studio. From there, they’ll decide whether or not they want to take on that show based what they mini writers’ room produced.
This is where that “straight to series” order comes from. For this, they don’t risk all the money to make the pilot.
If you look at it from the producers and the studio standpoint, it makes sense. You are taking a better calculated risk on whether or not that show’s gonna do well. Instead of just making the pilot, you’re looking at the whole thing. I think that if I were investing in a show, I would want to know where the show is going story wise. But from the writer’s perspective, they are not getting the same rates like they would if they’re in a traditional writer’s room on a regular traditional TV show.
Mini writers’ rooms could go from a few weeks to several months before anything even is even promised to go into production, and these writers aren’t guaranteed anything. You can be a writer in one of these rooms and you can build the world of this show. You can help build all the stories, all the plot lines, all the character arcs – you’re building the world, but then once it goes into production, you are not guaranteed to be one of those staff writers. Or even worse – they don’t pick it up and you wasted all that time on something that didn’t get made.
Get Your Deserved Rate
Another issue of these writers’ rooms is that they normally have a lot more inexperienced writers in them. If you are just starting out, this might be really, really great for you. If you are desperate for your big break – I get it! But I think producers and studios definitely prey upon that because they know if you are an inexperienced writer. 9 times out of 10 inexperienced writers will negotiate less and will settle for less money than one of the more experienced writers. They’re willing to work for less just to get your foot in the door. From the words of the WGA a mini writers’ room, is still a writer’s room.
From the outside looking in it doesn’t seem like the WGA is asking for much if in fact they are asking for the things above. As this unfolds, more and more will be learned. I will definitely be watching the trades and film industry news websites for the developing situation. We will know more starting in April, as of right now the WGA has come out on AI writing, and it will be bought up in talks with the AMPTP.
Time will tell where this will fall, we’ll know very soon!