Obviously we cannot predict the future–who’s to say that there won’t be some unexpected miracle where, all of a sudden, writers are more than properly compensated? Until then, we can look back on past writers’ strikes in the film industry as an indicator for what may come. Let’s consider how the potential writers' strike may affect both creators and consumers alike as we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Screenwriting: The Film Industry’s Epicentre
Screenwriters are the foundation for movies and TV shows. The stories they put to paper are the core of the machine that is Hollywood. They are the launch pad for job creation, as the production works to turn the story and its words into reality. The writing is what the audience keeps coming back for: to see what will happen next. If writers' go on strike, it could disrupt the production of new content, and cause the delay or even cancellation of current film and television projects.
The Writers Guild of America is preparing to re-enter negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on March 20; all current contracts expire May 1st. In preparation for it, “studios, networks, and television producers are preparing for a possible walkout by speeding up production schedules, stockpiling scripts, and leaning on international productions” (Los Angeles Times). Productions are trying to make the most of the moment by opening up writers’ rooms early in the process, banking episodes and content, as well as starting production much sooner to squeeze in any possible additional screen time.
Writers’ Strike Effects on the Film Industry
The 2007-2008 writers strike lasted over 100 days. Depending on how old you are, you may have noticed shortened seasons, incoherent storylines and abrupt endings to shows like Lost, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Breaking Bad, Gossip Girl & 30 Rock. This was before the era of streaming when shows were ordered for another season and the season arc would be constructed but the actual writing of each episode would happen as the production was happening. This was a way to mitigate financial risk because you could change plot lines and characters as you were receiving audience reaction, but in this case it meant that a tv show that was slated for 22 episodes only had 6 or 7 written. They were forced into creative measures to wrap up a short season affecting audience reaction, viewership and the quality of the story. Not to mention economical hardships–the industry had an estimate of $2.5 billion in losses.
The strike went beyond network television. Film has a lengthier production schedule, so it was less publicly impacted, but all late night talk shows, comedy specials, Saturday Night Live, and award ceremonies came to a halt because they require writers. It’s really unfortunate that these union writers are forced into the position of stepping away in order to be properly compensated. As we mentioned before, we can’t guarantee that it’s going to happen but there’s significant reason to believe it will. The main reason being: streamers. What I mean by this is that writers aren’t able to make the same amount of money and sustain a living because streamers don’t pay out residuals. Streamers don’t pay out residuals because there are no advertisements on their platforms airing as you watch their shows. Traditional models pay out a percentage to talent/creators every time a TV show reruns an episode. Just imagine how cushy the cast of Friends & Seinfeld are. These current contracts didn’t take into account the massive shift that has happened in the industry with these major streaming players, so in a sense it’s much easier to under pay these artists for their time and their work.
Film Industry Renegotiations
On top of all that, writers aren’t the only ones in the film industry with contracts running out this year. Unions overseeing actors and directors will also enter new negotiations ahead of the June 1st deadline. These artists have also been impacted by the shift of consumed content living on streaming platforms. Most of the industry is about to be renegotiated and based on this information it has been quoted to assume a “difficult time ahead.”
Given our shared experiences with the pandemic and the loss of content and the creativity that came out of it, hopefully these negations will be coming from a greater point of understanding. Stories played a pivotal role in our emotional and mental stability during that time. If it should come to another 100 day walk out, the rise of reality TV may come again. Shows like The Apprentice, American Idol and Keeping Up With The Kardashians benefited greatly from the last one. The silver lining in the worst outcome will be more down time for artists to invest in their own creativity and develop projects they are personally passionate about, which may rock our minds and challenge our perspectives once negotiations settle again–giving them the opportunity to build stories that could change the world.
In the meantime, be prepared for a change in what you’re watching, but hopefully our artists are valued and compensated properly so that it doesn't have to come to that.