You might be too young or not plugged in enough to remember, but the 2007-2008 Writer's Strike gave us months without content on television, stopped some movie productions, and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.5 billion.
So no one wants to see that happen again. Especially with even more writers employed now thanks to peak TV.
Still, as the May 1st deadline approaches, both the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
Let's dig into what's happening.
The WGA and Studios Prepare for Negotiations to Prevent a Strike
So what's happening?
Basically, the WGA wants its members to be fairly compensated. Hollywood and TV are changing. Backends are being limited or eliminated, residuals are down, and shows are producing fewer episodes.
Money needs to shift to cover these changes. You cannot expect people to live off paychecks for 13 episodes when shows used to produce 24. And as time changes and expectations change, the value of those writers needs to change with it.
Content is king, and the people creating the kings need to be paid.
Producers and writers understand that. and they're looking for common ground.
“The last big negotiation [in 2007] was just as streaming was on the table,” Taika Waititi told Deadline, “It is the platform and it’s where we all make our bread and butter now. So we have to re-negotiate.”
“This is a pivot point. It feels like every negotiation is an important negotiation, but we’re going through a tectonic change right now in the business, and I think it’s time for everybody to acknowledge that, and hopefully, we’ll get somewhere,” added Damon Lindelof.
Where does this leave writers and agents?
While none of the big 4 (CAA, WME, UTA, ICM) have entered the WGA, wins with Verve, Gersh, and other talent agencies have helped writers. As we've covered, the WGA has been trying to get agents to stop packaging and stop promoting conflicts of interest that hurt writers.
That battle rages on.
And it will continue even with this upcoming deal on the table.
So what are studios and producers doing?
While talks have not officially happened yet, studios are making plans just in case a strike happens.
Contingency plans can be frowned upon, mostly because it seems like studios are trying to wait out a lengthy strike. Still, the plans could benefit the writers in the present. Studios stockpiling shows and scripts to shoot payout now.
They know that the more they own and get written, the more they can shoot if talks break down, and the longer they can post content.
As writer Marc Guggenheim told The Hollywood Reporter, "On the one hand, we feel an obligation to our casts and crews to keep them working. On the other hand, if scripts are being stockpiled, are we actually not just helping the studios and networks weather a strike? And are we perhaps increasing the likelihood of a strike by essentially filling up the war chest of the people we are about to go into negotiations with?"
That's not the only thing studios and producers are doing.
They're buying content from other countries to post in the meantime, especially streamers. That way, they can still release shows and movies over the entire time they could be out of content.
And that doesn't even take into account the rise in animation and reality TV that could take a huge leap forward.
Here's where the real difficulty with these coming negotiations.
We're never been here before.
As Tony Gilroy told Deadline, “The most terrifying and maybe even hopeful part of it is that everybody is doing everything now for the first time. I’m really hopeful — I am hopeful — that we can sort of stumble together into the unknown, as opposed to descending into chaos, at each other’s throats. The old ways were, it was easy to know what side you were on, what you wanted to battle for. I don’t think anyone knows what they’re doing right now, on either side.”
Streaming was just an idea in 2007, now, over a decade later, it's dominating every aspect of our industry.
Netflix is not even a part of the AMPTP, so they could go outside producers and studios and cut their own deal with the WGA, adding more pressure to the situation.
Keep in mind that both SAG and the DGA are also negotiating their own deals with the AMPTP this year, so if they go smoothly maybe the WGA one will as well.
The only sure thing is that a deal has to happen.
WGA president David A. Goodman said, "The WGA is a union. We therefore have to be ready for a battle if the circumstance demands it, including a strike...But predicting the outcome of negotiation right now is like asking in the first quarter if a football game will go into sudden death overtime. It's nonsense. Nobody knows."
Let's hope for the best.