Thousands of Hollywood television and movie writers will go on strike Tuesday, their union said, after talks with studios and streamers over pay and working conditions ended without a deal.
The strike means late-night shows are expected to grind to a halt immediately, while television series and movies scheduled for release later this year and beyond could face major delays.
“We have not reached an agreement with the studios and streamers. We will be on strike after the contract expires at midnight,” the Writers Guild of America (WGA) said in an email to members, obtained by AFP.
Studios’ responses to its proposals had been “wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing,” the writers’ union said.
It came after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing studios including Disney and Netflix, said negotiations had “concluded without an agreement.”
The strike could have potentially catastrophic effects on the US entertainment industry.
The last time Hollywood writers laid down their pens and keyboards, in 2007, the strike lasted for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles entertainment economy around $2 billion.
This time, the two sides are clashing as writers demand higher pay, minimum guarantees of stable employment and a greater share of profits from the boom in streaming, while studios say they must cut costs due to economic pressures.
Writers say it is becoming impossible to earn a living, as salaries have flat-lined or declined after inflation, even as employers reap profits and fatten executives’ paychecks.
More writers than ever are working at the union-mandated minimum wage.
A major source of disagreement during talks was the growing trend for TV shows to hire fewer writers, for shorter duration, to script series.
As talks collapsed Monday, the WGA accused studios of seeking to create a “gig economy” in which writing would become an “entirely freelance profession.”
It released a document, showing it had called for introducing new minimum numbers of writers, and minimum durations of employment, for TV shows.
The AMPTP said WGA demands that studios hire a set number of writers “for a specified period of time, whether needed or not” were “primary sticking points.”
Another issue on the table is reworking the formula that calculates how writers are paid for streaming shows, which often remain on platforms like Netflix years after they were written.
For decades, writers have been paid “residuals” from each reuse of their material, such as television reruns or DVD sales.
With streaming, writers simply get a fixed annual payout — even if their work generates a smash hit like “Bridgerton” or “Stranger Things,” streamed by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.
The WGA also wants to address the future impact of artificial intelligence on writing.
The studios point out that overall “residuals” paid to writers hit an all-time high of $494 million in 2021, largely thanks to the boom in writing jobs driven by the explosion of streaming content.
They also dispute suggestions that studios are falsely claiming economic hardship to bolster their negotiation position.
After the spendthrift past few years, when rival streamers chased subscriber growth at any cost, bosses are now under intense pressure to curb spending and deliver profits.
“Do you think that Disney would be laying 7,000 people off for fun?” said a source familiar with the AMPTP’s position.
In a possible olive branch, the studios’ statement Monday said they remained “willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam.”
But the industry fears a ripple effect.
Several other Hollywood unions have voiced solidarity with writers, including the actors’ SAG-AFTRA, and the directors’ DGA. Both will hold their own talks with studios this summer.
“Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business,” said the WGA.
“They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy.”
“But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love.
“We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation. Now we will do it through struggle.”