On 24 August, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – whose industrial action has forced Hollywood to months-long halt – announced that it had reached an “exceptional” deal with studios.
Thousands of film and television writers downed their pens in early May as part of the industrial action. Their demands included better pay for writers, greater rewards for creating hit shows, and protection from artificial intelligence.
The writers have manned picket lines for months outside offices including Netflix and Disney. Striking actors joined them in mid-July as part of a united show of force.
Negotiations between studios and writers had been moribund for weeks. However, a new sense of urgency appeared to have been injected into the process in the last few days. In fact, the heads of Netflix, Disney, Universal and Warner Bros Discovery personally attended the talks.
The apparent breakthrough has also raised hopes that striking actors can also reach terms with studios, but no movement has yet been made in this regard.
Writers Guild: ‘Tentative agreement’
A letter from the WGA to its members stated:
We have reached a tentative agreement on a new 2023 (minimum basic agreement), which is to say an agreement in principle on all deal points, subject to drafting final contract language.
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We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.
Of course, the final say on whether to accept the offer still rests with the membership. The WGA agreement will need to be ratified first by the WGA board, then by its 11,500 members. It is widely expected to be waved through without any obstacles in the coming weeks.
The Writers Guild added that:
To be clear, no one is to return to work until specifically authorized to by the Guild. We are still on strike until then. But we are, as of today, suspending WGA picketing.
A terse joint statement from the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTPT,) the umbrella group representing studios and streamers, confirmed an agreement.
Solidarity from the Actors Guild
At 146 days, the WGA strike is already significantly longer than the writers’ 2007-08 walkout. The previous action lasted 100 days, and cost the California economy $2.1 billion. For comparison, the Financial Times reported Milken Institute research at the start of September that put the cost of the current Hollywood standstill at $5 billion.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) congratulated the WGA. In particular, it praised the writers’:
incredible strength, resiliency and solidarity on the picket lines.
The Actors Guild went on to say:
While we look forward to reviewing the WGA and AMPTP’s tentative agreement, we remain committed to achieving the necessary terms for our members.
Even if the writers’ deal is finalized, the actors’ strike would continue. There have been no known contract talks between the studios and SAG-AFTRA since that strike began. However, insiders have stated that a WGA deal could help to pave the way for a resolution to the actors’ strike.
The WGA’s deal with studios achieved compromises on minimum wage increases, bonus payments for writers participating in hit shows, and guarantees that scripts using AI will not undercut human writers and their paychecks. Many of these issues overlap with the actors’ demands.
The actors’ strike is still likely to take weeks to resolve. In turn, this will prevent any return to production in the immediate future. Even after that, with hundreds of film and television shoots backed up, it could take months for Hollywood to clear the logistical logjam and get fully back to work.
As entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel explained:
There are presumably upwards of 1,500 productions that all want to start as soon as they can.
And so when SAG gives the word, they’re all going to be competing simultaneously… it’s absolute chaos.
I don’t think we’re going to see normalcy in the production process until sometime after January or February.
Handel also warned that many of SAG-AFTRA’s demands go further than those of the writers. These include steeper pay rises to counter rampant inflation, and an actual share of revenue for hit streaming shows.
Studios will be wary that whatever they offer to actors is likely to be demanded by other Hollywood professions. This includes movie set crews and technicians, who have their own contract renewals due next year.
SAG-AFTRA also has its own specific demands, such as restrictions on the use of remote, self-taped auditions. These became ubiquitous earlier in the pandemic, but are disliked by many actors.
The WGA deal means SAG-AFTRA negotiators could meet with unions as soon as next week. This would be the first time since the actors went on strike in July.
Handel warned that even:
if things go smoothly – which is a fool’s assumption – I still think it would take two to three weeks to get a SAG deal done… which takes you into October.
Then there’s the ratification process, which takes another month.
That means the clock is ticking for actors to be able to promote big year-end movie releases. Publicists are also desperate for their stars to start campaigning for industry events like the Emmy Awards and Oscars, which take place in January and March respectively.
Meanwhile, film and TV workers in the UK will be waiting on the strike’s resolution with baited breath. Due to the knock-on effects of Hollywood on global film-making, recent research revealed that three quarters of freelance UK workers in the industry are currently out of a job.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.
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