As last-minute negotiations with major studios over wages failed, thousands of Hollywood TV and movie screenwriters are set to begin their strike on Tuesday.
This will be the first Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike in 15 years, with over 9,000 writers, representing 98% of voting members, walking out from midnight. Late-night live chat shows are likely to shut down first, and forthcoming shows and films may face delays.
Picketing is scheduled to start on Tuesday afternoon, as per the Guild’s announcement. In 2007, a similar strike went on for 100 days, resulting in a cost of about $2bn to the industry. This time, writers are at odds with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios such as Disney and Netflix, over demands for higher pay and a greater share of the profits from the modern streaming boom.
While the AMPTP has offered a “comprehensive package proposal” that includes increased pay for writers, it was not willing to improve its offer further “because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon.”
Among the critical issues in the negotiations are how writers get paid for shows that remain on streaming platforms for years, as well as the future impact of artificial intelligence on writing.
According to Deadline Hollywood, production on late-night shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will stop due to the strike.
In response, Jimmy Fallon stated on Monday that while he hoped the strike would not occur, he also wanted to see a just agreement for writers. Meanwhile, Late Night host Seth Meyers expressed his backing for the strike during the corrections segment of his show on Friday.
“I also feel very strongly that what the writers are asking for is not unreasonable,” Meyers said. “As a proud member of the Guild, I’m very grateful that there is an organisation that looks out for the best interests of writers.”
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has accused studios of creating a “gig economy” that aims to make writing an entirely freelance profession, and criticized the lack of options for writers. “We have been given no other choice for the sake of our present and our future,” the guild stated in a lengthy document.
The WGA called for a guaranteed minimum number of weeks of employment per season and a TV staffing minimum of six to 12 writers per show. In response, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) stated that these were the two “primary sticking points” in negotiations.
The studios have said that financial pressures require them to cut costs, but have noted that overall residuals payments to writers reached an all-time high of $494m (£395m) in 2021. The AMPTP has also rejected the guild’s demand to ban AI bots from writing or rewriting material, but offered to hold “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”
On Monday, Alex O’Keefe, a writer for the comedy-drama series The Bear and a member of the WGA, told the BBC that studios pay half of all writers the minimum wage, resulting in “a huge underclass in Hollywood right now.”
Despite the exceptional quality of his fellow writers’ creative output, which matches the demands of the streaming age, he claims that they are being paid less than ever.
“And writers like me, especially young, black writers, indigenous writers, writers of colour have brought a whole new wave of creativity to the process.
“But we are finding ourselves unable to survive in places like New York City and Los Angeles, where we need to be to be in writers’ rooms.”
O’Keefe went on to stress that while there are some writers who are “doing very well”, many writers, including some showrunners on big shows, were not.
“I wouldn’t classify all writers as being poor or broke, but I can say myself I have $6 in my bank account,” he said.
He said that when he and his colleagues won best comedy series at the Writers Guild of America Awards, he went to the ceremony in a suit bought for him by his friends and family.
“The bowtie was bought on credit, I didn’t have any money, I had a negative bank account,” he explained.
The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA and the directors’ union DGA have voiced solidarity with striking writers.