What do striking Hollywood writers want? A look at demands

Streaming HUBMay 3, 2023

The 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike Tuesday after talks with Hollywood studios that began in March failed to reach an agreement. The Guild has billed the issues behind the labor dispute as “an existential crisis”. The authors say they are facing new issues brought on by streaming and other recent technological changes in the industry.

Here’s a look at the demands behind the first Hollywood strike in 15 years, as the industry prepares for a long hiatus:

increased salary

The Guild is demanding higher compensation for writers across the board. Although there are more jobs available for WGA members than ever before due to the proliferation of streaming services, pay remains low for most writers. Ten years ago, 33% of TV writers were paid minimum rate. Now, according to the WGA, 49% are. Taking into account inflation, writer salaries have declined by 14% in the past five years. Average weekly writer-producer pay is down 23% over the past decade, including inflation. The authors point out that many of their members are not even making a living wage. They are also demanding an increase for their pension scheme and health fund.

better residue

For more than half a century, residuals have been a fundamental way for writers to make money. But streaming has amplified those payments. Writers were well-compensated whenever their work went into syndication or was sold for overseas territories. Reruns meant a bigger payday. But now, series and movies are often only offered by one streaming service and stay there. Streaming services also typically don’t share viewership data with filmmakers and writers, which means writers don’t know how much their work is worth. To replace backend residuals, the WGA is demanding a higher upfront fee.

staffing requirements

The union wants TV shows to staff a certain number of writers for a period of time. The problem is the growing practice of “mini rooms” where a handful of writers are working on a series. Such writers’ rooms are often employed during development, before a show is greenlit. This means writers can work on a series that doesn’t pick up until a year after working on it, or not at all. This process has bypassed some of the defenses put forth by WGA members from overwork and staff shortages. The use of smaller rooms accelerated during the pandemic, with writers often meeting by Zoom – still a common practice.

small exclusivity deals

Many of the rules regarding TV writing are still based on an increasingly outdated model. The writers would have once expected to spend about a year working on a 22- to 25-episode season for broadcast TV. Now, the average season is very short. A popular show like “Bridgerton” may only have eight episodes. Not only does this reduce the writers’ per-episode pay, it can limit them from working on other programs if they are bound by longer terms of exclusivity.

Assurance on AI

The writers are also concerned that producers will use artificial intelligence to write scripts or at least fill in the blanks on unfinished screenplays. The rapidly advancing technology has potentially wide-ranging implications for Hollywood, and in some cases, it could be a useful tool. But the WGA wants production companies to agree on safeguards for its use.

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