April 20, 2024

One of the longest strikes in the history of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) has finally ended.

 WGA began its 148-day strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTM) on May 2 and ended recently on Sept. 24. The writers claimed that they would like to ensure they receive fair compensation for the work they contribute to productions, according to Vulture. 

This is not the first time the WGA has gone on strike. The guild also went on strike in 1988 to increase cable TV residuals and between 2007 and 2008 because of writing rooms being downsized. Though the 1988 strike lasted 153 days, the 2023 strike had more stipulations.

With the strike ending, they have reached a tentative agreement. 

This agreement involves a compromise of 3.5% and 5% and newly negotiated payments in residuals regarding streaming, meaning that writers will now receive bonuses on shows that are trending on streaming services. 

They will also receive a guarantee of staff for certain amounts of episodes in a series and employment of at least 10 weeks for shows airing along with AI regulation. The Eastern and Western WGA branches all voted to accept the deal two days after the agreement, according to the Associated Press. 

“After the vote, they declared that the strike would be over and writers would be free to start on scripts at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday [Sept. 27],” according to AP. 

Now that the strike lifted, writers may return to work but they will still need to ratify the contract themselves in October, the guild announced.

Hollywood is composed of many guilds and unions, such as the WGA, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG), and the Producers Guild. 

According to WGA’s website, the point of these unions is to arrange and administer contracts to protect their creatives within the union. These guilds hold power over many of the jobs in the industry. Within WGA alone, 11,500 people involved in the guild went on strike, according to WGA.

Many in these guilds lost jobs and work due to the strike, which has resulted in the cancellation and postponement of shows and movies. The writers were unsure when they would return as the strike had been ongoing for nearly five months. 

Michael Eaton, professor of film studies and film production, works as a director, writer, editor, producer, and cinematographer who is part of the ICG. 

“I do know some writers who are out of work as well as many others who are out of work, such as actors and DPs [directors of photography]. I have also lost a little bit of work,” Eaton said.

The main reason for the strike is insufficient payment. Back in the days of cable TV, writers initially received payment for writing the story and selling it to someone in the industry to use and possibly get hired to continue writing. Then actors and writers were paid through the box office with a percentage or fixed payment, and television writers would earn a certain residual for shows and reruns aired on cable TV.

“The issue is that the way that the television structure for cable television and cable networking was working is how all the contracts and revenue were set up through that. Obviously, that’s not applicable anymore,” said Brooke Donovan, senior film production major Brooke Donovan. 

Eaton mentions his perspective on why residuals with streaming wouldn’t make as much sense as they did with cable TV.

“Should actors and writers get paid for every single stream on every single platform? I actually don’t think so. Nobody else gets paid that way. Book authors get paid to write the book and for each book sold, not for each time that book is read. Most people who work on TV shows and movies get paid for their work on those days that they work only and I’m not sure that it’s administratively possible to continue paying actors and writers of these productions for each stream,” Eaton said.

A lack of writers can significantly impact the entertainment industry as they write the stories that lead to film productions.

“Writers are so essential in every aspect of the film industry,” said Hannah Lee, senior film production and screenwriting major. “Everything you see on screen has been planned and written out by the writers. Everything unique about a show or film begins in the writer’s room.”

While this strike is significant, it is also important to note that the WGA does not represent everyone in the industry. 

According to Eaton, with the WGA on strike, everyone in the union is not working, but independent writers are still able to. 

people not familiar with the industry is that there are many people like me who are still working and who do projects outside of the union system,” Eaton said. “The Writers Guild, SAG, and the DGA have famously tried to force their members to never work on non-union productions, which I believe should be illegal. The Writers Guild also famously tries to keep people out of its guild. It is somewhat of a closed system.”

Eaton explained that the guild contributes to the industry’s competitiveness and believes those in the guild do not realize how easily replaceable they are. Eaton believes they should be more open to giving non-union writers more opportunities because they are equally talented. 

“There will always be a marketplace for compelling cinematic storytelling, whether in movies, documentaries, TV shows, or other media and on whatever platform,” Eaton said. “ I would encourage my young students just to keep focused on telling compelling stories that glorify God and that engage the hearts and minds of viewers, and the money will come if you can keep doing that to the highest level of quality that you are able to.”

For a union-heavy industry, Eaton said this event has struck meaningful conversations about providing just compensation for writers’ work. 

“It’s critical only in the sense that it’s an important conversation and negotiation about what constitutes just compensation for their services,” Eaton said. “Hopefully, the viability of these industries will be preserved for future generations who make compelling content, whether it is union shows and movies or non-union shows,” said Eaton.

While the changes can affect CBU students heading into this field, they also allow aspiring writers to make a difference. 

Lee discussed the impact she would like to have when she begins her career.

“I want to make a difference with my voice and tell unique stories that inspire,” Lee said. “I hope I will also be a voice for other writers as well.”

This breakthrough in contracts has ensured a sustainable living for many union writers. With a win for the writers, the fight continues as they are still encouraged to walk with their fellow actors in SAG who are still on strike.

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