Miruna Demian, XII A
Now, as an ordinary streamer or TV show consumer, you might be wondering - ‘what does the WGA’S (Writer’s Guild of America) strike have to do with me?
The answer is: a lot. Beyond the strike most likely impacting your favourite ongoing TV series, at its root, the issue is one of ethics and fairness. If you were to see how much a recognizable writer, who has written some of America’s favourite, most memorable episodes is paid for their work, you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The strike itself started at 12:01 AM on the second of May, a minute after its contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expired. The WGA and the AMPTP had been negotiating fairer working terms and pay for months, with the AMPTP failing to meet any of the proposed terms.
The WGA said in a message sent directly to members:
“Though we negotiated intent on making a fair deal – and though your strike vote gave us the leverage to make some gains – the studios’ responses to our proposals have been wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing,”. “The companies’ behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.”
There can be major consequences when writers go on strike, especially for those who work in television. When production slows down or stops, background actors, directors, chefs, electricians, and anybody else who works in the entertainment industry must find alternative employment. The fact that certain TV shows have to cease production while others are postponed or shortened makes it obvious to viewers as well.
The strike's objective is to compel the AMPTP to negotiate, with the aim that both parties will accept a new minimum basic agreement (MBA), which functions as a form of minimum wage for writing positions and has three-year duration. Every three years, the WGA's contract is renegotiated.
Writers aren't asking to get paid more than once: they are asking for decent residuals, which are deferred pay. In Hollywood, whether it's writers or actors or voice talent, you get a small fraction up front - it's usually a decent check, depending on the union's day rates and so forth, but you can't make a living off stitching these together - and then most of a writer’s pay comes from monthly royalty checks that provide you with the income you need to live off when you're between jobs.
The problem is that historically, in Hollywood, residuals have been structured with a very long "tail" - the payments start out relatively low and then get more generous over time as the show has more seasons and (presumably) goes into syndication. This doesn't work with streaming's new business model, where shows are getting 2-3 seasons at most; additionally, streaming services have become increasingly quick to not just cancel shows, but delete them off their servers in order to avoid paying residuals.
On the topic of how big of a difference there is between what the WGA was asking for and what the studios were offering, the guild revealed just how truly far apart the two sides were up until the end of talks on the money and the future. “WGA proposals would gain writers approximately $429 million per year; AMPTP’s offer is approximately $86 million per year, 48% of which is from the minimums increase,”.
Just for fun, here’s what a prolific writer like Neil Gaiman’s residual cheque looks like in comparison to what David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery’s CEO has made in 2022.
Neil Gaiman’s cheque:
The negative 0.01 dollars aside, most writers you’ve heard of get paid at most a couple of cents per re-airing. Gaiman’s could be considered a happy case, and even he admits that his work over the last 5 years has been subsidised by his book and comics work.
Meanwhile, Zaslav was paid 250 million dollars last year - a quarter billion dollars. That’s the same sum that 10,000 (ten thousand) writers are asking to be paid, collectively.
Here’s what a regular Saturday Night Live’s writer makes out of residuals as well, so you can further understand what we’re facing here.
The total for writing ~50 episodes, all starring names you’ve most definitely heard of before, is a pitiable 15 dollars and 39 cents. While CEOs get hundreds of millions passively. The objective is not getting the CEOs to make less- it’s having writers earn the basic respect for the job they’re doing. None of your beloved films and shows would exist without writers, and a surprisingly large amount of people fail to acknowledge that.
On another note, something you are most definitely going to see in the near future is people arguing that writers are being unreasonable and speaking from a place of privilege. There’s a global tendency to speak of economies, markets and stocks like they’re the weather: ‘market forces’, ‘the invisible hand’, etc. Things just happen, without any one individual or group of individuals being responsible for the current economic landscape! What are we to do, go against the current of causality? <sic>
Economies and markets are the products of human thought and choices. The Hollywood market is being distorted by choices made by powerful, wealthy people with considerable agency. One of their most recent, influential choices is to no longer make the metric of success be, you guessed it, success. Shows and movies are profitable, it’s almost a given - companies have made between 28-30 billion in profit every year for the past five years. They’ve applied the expansion model (non-stop growth) of Wall Street to entertainment, truly making it an industry through-and-through. It’s what’s happened to airline and car stock buybacks, to the K-mart and Toys“R”Us franchises - it has only moved from hard infrastructure and retail to the information and entertainment dimension.
This struggle is not a niche one, between a small number of unusual, privileged professionals and their employers. It’s part of a larger craze that’s been dragging the modern economy to its grave, and it is affecting every one of us.