Television and movie writers have declared they will launch a strike for the first time in 15 years.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) said that its 11,500 unionised screenwriters will head to the picket lines on Tuesday.
Negotiations between studios and the writers, which began in March, failed to reach a new contract before the writers’ current deal expired just after midnight, at 12:01am. All script writing is to immediately cease, the guild informed its members.
The board of directors for the WGA, which includes both a West and an East branch, voted unanimously to call for a strike, effective at the stroke of midnight. Writers, they said, are facing an “existential crisis”.
“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,” the WGA said in a statement.
“From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labour force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade association that bargains on behalf of studios and production companies, signalled late on Monday that negotiations fell short of an agreement before the current contract expired.
The AMPTP said it presented an offer with “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals”.
In a statement, the AMPTP said that it was prepared to improve its offer “but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the guild continues to insist upon”.
The labour dispute could have a cascading effect on TV and film productions depending on how long the strike persists. But a shutdown has been widely forecast for months due to the scope of the discord.
The writers last month voted overwhelming to authorise a strike, with 98% of membership in support.
At issue is how writers are compensated in an industry where streaming has changed the rules of Hollywood economics. Writers say they are not being paid enough, TV writer rooms have shrunk too much and the old calculus for how residuals are paid out needs to be redrawn.
“The survival of our profession is at stake,” the guild has said.
Streaming has exploded the number of series and films that are annually made, meaning more jobs for writers. But WGA members say they are making much less money and working under more strained conditions.
Showrunners on streaming series receive just 46% of the pay that showrunners on broadcast series receive, the WGA claims. Content is booming, but pay is down.
The guild is seeking more compensation on the front-end of deals. Many of the back-end payments writers have historically profited by – like syndication and international licensing – have been largely phased out by the onset of streaming.
More writers – roughly half – are being paid minimum rates, an increase of 16% over the last decade. The use of so-called mini-writers rooms has soared.
The AMPTP said on Monday that the primary sticking points to a deal revolved around those mini-rooms — the guild is seeking a minimum number of scribes per writer room — and duration of employment restrictions.
The guild has said more flexibility for writers is needed when they are contracted for series that have tended to be more limited and short-lived than the once-standard 20-plus episode broadcast season.
At the same time, studios are under increased pressure from Wall Street to turn a profit with their streaming services. Many studios and production companies are slashing spending. The Walt Disney Co is eliminating 7,000 jobs. Warner Bros Discovery is cutting costs to lessen its debt. Netflix has pumped the breaks on spending growth.
When Hollywood writers have gone on strike, it has often been lengthy. In 1988, a WGA strike lasted 153 days. The last WGA strike went for 100 days, beginning in 2007 and ending in 2008.