The film industry is changing faster than ever before, affecting productions both large and small. While many of these changes are for the better, some are causing friction between industry unions and the studios and producers they have agreements with. By now you’ve probably heard the buzz that a WGA strike is on the horizon for 2023 - but what is a writer’s strike? And what would a writer’s guild strike mean for you, exactly?
In this article we’ll break down the causes of a strike, the repercussions it will have for the industry, and how you can navigate any complications that may arise in your projects as a result.
Just like a strike in any other workplace, a Hollywood writer’s strike is the result of a labor union’s inability to come to an agreement with their employers. In this case, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents a collection of over 350 film and television producers.
Business between these groups is governed by what’s known as a “Minimum Basic Agreement,” (MBA). This contract sets forth basic minimums in wages as well as health care and pension contributions that must be made in order for a film or television show to utilize union talent. (While you’re at it, now’s a good time to familiarize yourself with other union essentials, like SAG paperwork and IATSE budget tiers).
The terms of the MBA are re-negotiated every three years, and while talks are often contentious, a writer’s strike hasn’t been mounted by the Writers Guild of America since 2007. That Hollywood writers strike lasted 100 days and cost the economy of Los Angeles an estimated 1.5 - 2 billion dollars.
The consequences are severe, and the Writer’s Guild of America only threatens to strike when they have no other option.
The last WGA strike kicked off primarily over issues regarding writers’ protections in new media (aka streaming). The possible WGA strike in 2023 is brewing over the ways in which the resulting explosion of content has affected writers’ bottom lines.
The amount of money that writers receive in streaming residuals - the fees paid when an episode of television or movie they’ve written airs - pales in comparison to traditional residuals. And while the previous strike resulted in a deal that saw an uptick in DVD royalties paid to writers, that market has since collapsed.
That left many writers without a reliable source of income. If Hollywood writers strike, one important reason will be to bring current residuals back in line with historical trends.
A potential WGA strike in 2023 may also address structural changes in the industry. Episode orders are shrinking, rooms are getting smaller, and market forces have streamers looking to save wherever they can.
For instance, the strike might seek to outlaw the practice of streamers reclassifying feature films as “TV movies” to save money on residual payments to writers.
From the WGA's perspective, this means fewer writers doing more work for less money.
Even though the current MBA doesn’t expire until May 1st, 2023, preparations have already begun. The WGA announced the formation of their negotiating committee last November and is planning to hold meetings with their membership in the coming weeks to outline specific asks and gather feedback.
The membership will then take a vote as to whether or not a strike should be authorized in the event that an agreement between the WGA and the AMPTP isn’t reached by midnight on May 1st.
If the writer’s guild strike is authorized and the MBA isn’t agreed upon by the given date, then it will be pencils down for writers until the WGA and the AMPTP settle their differences.
If you are a WGA writer, the impact of a WGA strike is obvious. However, a WGA strike affects more than just writers. If you are a producer, there are many ways in which a writer’s guild strike in 2023 could affect you or your projects.
If you are developing a script with a writer who is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, they will no longer be able to do any work on that script until the conflict is resolved.
This includes all steps, from treatments to pitching to re-writes. The paid steps covered by WGA minimums are: Treatment, First Draft, Final Draft, Re-Write, and Polish.
During a strike, producers and studios will not hear pitches for original projects or open writing assignments. Similarly, if you have hired a WGA writer or writers to staff a television show, they will not be able to work until the writer’s guild strike has ended. If your project is already shooting or in the midst of scheduling, production can continue, but script changes cannot be implemented. You also are not allowed to hire any non-union writers to complete any work.
This is known as “scab” work and can result in penalties for both the non-union writer and the studio or producer who hired them. If caught, the writer may be ineligible to join the Writer’s Guild of America in the future, and the studio or producer may be subject to fines or a boycott.
In some cases, the Writer’s Guild of America may even blackball the studio or producer, cutting off their access to Guild talent in the future.
If this all sounds onerous, that’s because it is. The purpose of a labor strike is to create pressure that can be leveraged to achieve a union’s desired outcomes.
Hollywood might shut down come spring of 2023.
While not inevitable, a WGA strike in 2023 is something you want to be prepared for.
Many studios and networks are already stockpiling scripts.
If you’re an independent producer, be sure to clearly communicate timelines to your writers. Set deadlines for final drafts that fall well before the WGA strike deadline. This will allow time to address any last-minute issues that inevitably come up.
If you are heading into production, make sure your team is aware of the hurdles a strike can create. Maybe your lead actor has thoughts on their character’s arc. Maybe your VFX team has concerns about the complexity of the climax. Or maybe your location manager is having trouble finding or locking down a particular location.
Talk to your director about making these changes with a writer now, because once a strike is called, it will be too late.
At the end of the day, it’s all about preparation. Unless you’re planning on hiring a scab (seriously, don’t), you won’t have any writers making changes. Review now to know where you’ll need the help, and get it.
If you’re still working with your writer, don’t be afraid to discuss it with them. They know the strike is coming and likely understand your position. They’ll also probably be happy to get the extra paid work in now before things get weird. It's all about respect and communication.
Whether or not the industry faces a WGA strike in 2023, it’s important to be aware of the reasons one might happen - as well as what you can do if it does. If you are a guild signatory working with guild talent, make sure to talk to your writers, set deadlines well before the strike date, and make sure all script revisions are addressed as soon as possible.
If you are not a guild signatory and you are not employing guild talent, a writer’s guild strike won’t affect you directly, but it still threatens to hit Hollywood like an earthquake. If the worst comes to pass and the industry finds itself put on hold, don’t despair. It might be a good time to apply for that grant.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.
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