Hollywood bracing for writers strike as talks end

The last time talks failed, in 2007, Hollywood writers laid down their pens and keyboards for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles entertainment industry around $2 billion
Last Updated : 02 May 2023, 06:34 IST
Last Updated : 02 May 2023, 06:34 IST

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Hollywood was preparing for a major strike by thousands of TV and movie writers, as talks to avoid a walkout ended Monday without a deal just hours before a crunch deadline.

Major studios and networks including Disney and Netflix have been locked in negotiation for weeks with the powerful Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has threatened to order a walkout soon after midnight Tuesday unless a new deal is agreed.

Late Monday, the studios -- represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) -- said negotiations "concluded without an agreement today."

But it added: "The AMPTP is willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam."

Moments earlier, the WGA had sent an email to members saying "If we don't reach an agreement and a strike is called, picketing will begin tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon."

A strike means late-night shows could immediately grind to a halt, and television series and movies scheduled for release later this year and beyond could face major delays.

The last time talks failed, in 2007, Hollywood writers laid down their pens and keyboards for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles entertainment industry around $2 billion.

This time, the two sides are clashing as writers demand higher pay and a greater share of profits from the boom in streaming, while studios say they must cut costs due to economic pressures.

The AMPTP said it had offered a "comprehensive package proposal" including higher pay for writers.

But it was unwilling to improve that offer further "because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon."

Writers say it is becoming impossible to earn a living, as salaries have flatlined or declined after inflation, even as employers reap profits and fatten executives' paychecks.

More writers than ever are working at the union-mandated minimum wage, while shows hire fewer people to script ever-shorter series.

The AMPTP statement said WGA demands for "mandatory staffing" that would require studios to hire a set number of writers "for a specified period of time, whether needed or not" was a major sticking point.

Another key issue on the table is reworking the formula that calculates how writers are paid for streaming shows, which often remain on platforms like Netflix years after they were written.

For decades, writers have been paid "residuals" from each reuse of their material, such as television reruns or DVD sales.

With streaming, writers simply get a fixed annual payout -- even if their work generates a smash hit like "Bridgerton" or "Stranger Things," streamed by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

"These amounts remain far too low for the global reuse of WGA-covered programming on these massive services," says the guild.

The negotiations will "determine how we are financially compensated by streamers," not just now but well into the future, one Los Angeles-based TV writer told AFP.

The WGA also wants to address the future impact of artificial intelligence on writing.

The AMPTP says that overall residuals paid to writers hit an all-time high of $494 million in 2021.

That was up by almost half, from $333 million, a decade earlier, largely thanks to the boom in writing jobs driven by the explosion of streaming content.

They also dispute suggestions that studios are falsely claiming economic hardship to bolster their negotiation position.

After the spendthrift past few years, when rival streamers chased subscriber growth at any cost, bosses are now under intense pressure from investors to curb spending and deliver profits.

"Do you think that Disney would be laying 7,000 people off for fun?" said a source familiar with the AMPTP's position.

"There's only one [streaming] platform that's profitable right now, and that's Netflix. The movie industry... that's a pretty challenged segment as well."

With the midnight (0700 GMT Tuesday) deadline looming, the two sides could temporarily extend talks, or walk away and prepare for picket lines.

WGA board member Liz Alper tweeted that instructions on next steps would be sent to writers soon after midnight "depending if we arrive at a deal or not."

"Today is nerve wracking. We're all there, too. Don't push yourself," she wrote.

The industry fears a ripple effect.

Several other Hollywood unions have voiced solidarity with writers, including the actors' SAG-AFTRA, and the directors' DGA. Both will hold their own talks with studios this summer.

Stars at New York's Met Gala on Monday night expressed support for writers.

"Everything changed with streaming, and everybody needs to be compensated for their work," actress Amanda Seyfried told Variety.

"It's... easy! I don't get it. Whatever. Fingers crossed."

Published 02 May 2023, 03:36 IST

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