Writers Are The Backbone of Film. Support Writer’s Rights
Yesterday, April 17, 2023, the Writer’s Guild of America overwhelmingly approved a strike, marking the first potential strike since 2007-2008. If it indeed happens, understand as filmmakers, writers, and even as movie and television viewers that there is more on the line in this strike than anyone could’ve foreseen even in the previous strike. Every writer and consumer of media needs to know why the strike is happening, what writers want, and how you can support writers.
Setting the Scene
November 5th, 2007, the first day of the aforementioned WGA strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or the AMPTP. Writers and producers did not reach a minimum bargain agreement or MBA, and writers left productions and picketed against the unfair wages and treatment. Writers from all backgrounds, contract sizes, and even out-of-work writers banded together to stand up for their rights. Staffed writers on 20-episode seasons an feature writers were determined to do what’s best for their cohorts.
This strike focused on a number of issues, including the change in format from VHS to DVD, in which home sales were a major source of income for studios in the time period, and the residuals for writers during times of underemployment. The most important addition to the strike was the revisions for Guild Writers to be covered for streaming.
Before streaming and studios like Amazon and Netflix started producing their own content, the Writer’s Guild and the AMPTP authorized a provision that studios producing shows for streaming must hire Guild-represented writers. This aspect is incredibly important because this was introduced years before streaming became the primary source of media consumption. These were groundbreaking additions to the contract because streaming was still in its infancy and DVDs were the go-to source. In fact, Netflix used to mail DVDs at that time.
14 weeks and two days later, the strike ended, millions of dollars lost to writers and productions, and a brand new deal was reached. Residuals from DVD sales as well as reruns were a major source of income for writers, and following the strike, there was a sense of nothing being accomplished since the AMPTP did not hold their end of the bargain. Everything more or less remained the same, and the result was even parodied by both media and press alike.
Rising Action to 2023
In the 15-16 years following the strike, a lot has changed. DVDs are as relevant as 8-track tapes. Most people forgot about cable TV and reruns. Any viewer anywhere can log into an app and choose exactly what show they want to watch. From there, people began to binge-watch series online. The way the viewing public consumed media changed. It wasn’t about waiting or the season finale to premiere on Wednesday at 8 PM. People could stream it all at once, or watch it whenever. Studios got the point very quickly.
Gone were the days of the 20-episode seasons. TV shows focused on concise, 10-episode seasons so viewers could watch as quickly as possible before moving on to the next series on the streaming platform. Viewers no longer had to plan a day to sit around the television, they could do it at their leisure. Everything moved to a more consumer-based strategy, and rightfully so. The consumer knows what they want, and the strategy needs to be based around them. Studios and producers shifted their strategy, but they never gave writers the memo.
The current MBA is struggling to help writers, who can’t make residuals off of reruns that don’t exist and likely have few if any DVDs in their home. With shortened seasons, writers make less money, and the AMPTP is recording record profits from the new form of consumption. Producers are happy because they can produce more IP in shorter forms to keep different shows moving. Directors and Actors can move from production to production easier. Writers have all of the burdens in this current market.
In the years following 2008, the WGA has been on the brink of another strike and a lot of it comes down to streaming. There have been wins along the way, including removing the exclusive contract clause from studios to TV writers, which helps writers find more work on the market, but the fact remains the same that the most important aspect of filmmaking remains the most undervalued in Hollywood, and it’s not even close. Writers don’t get paid anywhere as much as they should, and in many cases struggle from check to check, and get none of the credit even though their work is the literal blueprint for the film industry.
It must be stated that screenwriting isn’t just writing a story. As a screenwriter, you are writing a visual medium. Screenwriters don’t add thoughts or colorful language, they write specifically to showcase the visual form. Emotions on someone’s face, the story moving forward, the visuals of location, and they must do it in a concise manner. Screenwriters master the phrase “brevity is the soul of wit”. They use little words to create an image or emotion worth a thousand. This takes the WGA to 2023.
What’s At Stake in 2023
If the WGA strikes, its impact will shut down Hollywood and any union production. Writers want to be fairly compensated in a growing market that was not thought possible back in 2007. Writers are being thrown into a new market, with lower pay and higher tension, and this is even reflected in writing rooms. Writers are unionized, but writers aren’t viewed as valuable, and the contracts and steps leading up to the current situation is beyond proof of this. Years of abuse from lack of pay and compensation but focus on higher quality without higher appreciation has taken its toll, and what the WGA demands for its union is simple. This is a list of the WGA’s complete demands: https://www.wgacontract2023.org/the-campaign/pattern-of-demands
Higher minimum wages for the people who help build the great shows that they are never given credit for. Higher residuals for a market that doesn’t thrive on rewatching material. Fair treatment in the workplace. Stronger options and protections for staff writers. Every single writer wants to create high-quality programming for viewing pleasure, but is placed with unrealistic expectations and deadlines all while getting little in return for their hard work that builds the industry. That is not fair treatment of the foundation of any film set, and it needs to be changed.
This isn’t an easy decision for writers. The shows they worked hard on must stop. They can’t do what they love, and that is give the viewer an amazing show. They have to take time out of their day to stand together and demand their rights. By not working, they’re not making money off of this, in fact, they are losing money because they can’t be forced to work for what’s less than they deserve and struggle all while everyone around them gets better treatment and pay. Every. Single. Member of a film set deserves respect, and writers aren’t respected. The time is now to make a change for the future.
What You Can Do
Full disclosure, I’m not a WGA member… yet. Whether I am or not, I see the abuse that writers endure to provide entertainment. All writers endure it. I’ve been told enjoy being broke by people because of my job, but my job allows me to have a voice. I can’t picket with them, but I can voice my support and raise awareness. I can share their demands and spread their message out, helping people who may not know why they are striking understand and empathize with their struggle.
At home, whether you’re a writer, a moviegoer, or understand how it feels to be undervalued at work regardless of the hours you put it, you can help this strike. Until the WGA wins this strike, don’t support the studios that mistreat writers. If you’re excited about a new show, wait until your favorite writer gets paid fairly for it. Look up your favorite writers on IMDB to voice your support and see the face that you may not recognize but give you your favorite episode. You as a viewer are the reason why TV and Film exists. Help out the people who brought it to life.
There’s no telling how long or short this strike could be, but a lot is on the line for the writers who want to be treated like humans. They’re not the recognizable stars or the directors that realized the vision, but the actors and directors were brought here because of the scriptwriters in the WGA wrote. They’re not asking to be the face of filmmaking, but they want fair treatment and to be recognized as the backbone of the industry.
Support the WGA, and best of luck to my fellow writers.