Hollywood Writers Guild may go on strike because of streaming services
Ten years ago, Hollywood screenwriters brought the entertainment industry to a standstill, interrupting their work for three months in a dispute over paying for movies and TV shows distributed on the Internet and on DVD. The strike halted dozens of television and film production and hit the economy of Los Angeles.
Now in the Hollywood community there is a feeling of deja vu, for the threat of a strike is hanging over him again. After the collapse of negotiations with leading studios, the Writers Guild of America ( WGA ) is seeking support for its strike from its members.
The tense atmosphere is the result of sudden economic and digital changes affecting the business. Since the last strikes of scriptwriters in the industry, there have been major changes. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon changed Hollywood and contributed to the release of an unprecedented number of quality TV shows - a phenomenon sometimes called the “golden age” of television.
But times have not become golden for many writers, who now have less work. Shorter seasons are the new norm, in which many TV shows consist of 10 or less episodes with cable and streaming transmission — less than half of the traditional season of the serial and television shows. This led the scriptwriters to a financial crisis, as many, under the terms of the contract, cannot work on several projects per season.
“Becoming a screenwriter becomes more difficult than making a living,” said John Bowman, producer of television programs and the former head of the WGA Negotiating Committee.
More and more viewers are abandoning cable television in favor of streaming. Studios are also struggling with a significant decrease in DVD sales profits and a reduction in multiplex attendance. They release fewer serials and episodes per year, which means less opportunity for screenwriters.
All this set the stage for conflict. From April 19 to April 24, an online voting for permission to strike will take place. Such a move is a typical trade union bargaining tactic, and the WGA notes that this is a response to the tough stance taken by studios that have not yet given up their conditions.
“No one in the council or committee wants a strike,” said Chris Keizer, co-chairman of the Guild negotiating committee, in an interview. “Unfortunately, the only way to earn a fair relationship is to use the power of labor.”
He contested the studios' statements that the WGA was the first to interrupt the negotiations, and added that the dialogue was interrupted last week after the studios left a voice message so that the writers would not come the next day. “We are not gone,” said Keyser, a writer and executive producer whose merit includes the television series Tyrant and the family drama We Are Five.
The Union of Film and Television Producers, representing major studios, networks and independent producers, said it would like to resume negotiations, but is still awaiting a response to its latest proposal, which the writers consider a step backwards.
“Keeping the industry in working condition is in the general interest, and we are ready to return to the negotiations,” the Producers Union said.
Negotiations are resumed on April 10, but on many issues it is far from mutual understanding. The possibility of a strike caused mixed feelings among writers throughout the city. Apparently, the Guild is divided in half. More experienced scriptwriters who survived the strike of 2007–2008 are skeptical of this idea. Script writers who came to the Guild and business after these events, repelled from their own needs.
One of the main reasons for contention is the development of shorter TV show seasons. Now, according to experts, two thirds of all serials consist of 8–12 episodes per season, whereas previously their number varied in the range of 22–24 episodes. The WGA claims that the weekly income of script writers is reduced, because the studios are heavily delayed in fees. This is because the series become more cinematic and take much longer to shoot. The shooting of the episode, which previously filmed two weeks, can now take from three to four weeks.
Complicating the lack of transparency. Streaming services operate on a subscription and do not provide data on views, which makes it difficult to develop a formula for the residuals - fees for re-impressions. For decades, it was possible to make a profit from the release of serials according to a simple scheme: to shoot the first season, hope that it would be extended for 100 episodes, and then sell replays to cable channels or local broadcasters. And since Netflix and other services continue to gain popularity, the writers demand that these companies pay for balances that are commensurate with those offered by traditional broadcasters.
But such services are not the only source of disagreement. Benefits - the same problem as the age of the Guild members. The WGA wants studios to increase their contributions to the Guild's health insurance plan by 1.5%, which has been in short supply in recent years. However, the studios refused this offer and reduced funding by $ 10 million per year.
The guild asks to increase the minimum values for scenario fees for the lowest paid authors by 3%. A recent letter to WGA West members said that the average salary of television film producers over the past two years has decreased by 23%, and last year entertainment companies received record profits of $ 51 billion.
Previous strikestarted in November 2007 and lasted 100 days, closed more than 60 programs. This is the largest writers strike in the USA in the last 20 years. Then the Writers Guild demanded to conclude a new contract with the Union of Film and Television Producers, in which the percentage of deductions to authors for product sales on DVD and on the Internet would increase.
Labor experts noted that the disastrous effect of the strike helped the writers to achieve a success that they might not have achieved. Under the agreement, the authors of the first two years receive a fixed amount and 2% of the sales profit for the third year. However, the strike was financially destructive for many other workers in the industry, especially for technicians and artists, many of whom live from paycheck to paycheck.