Hollywood writers secure historic agreement with major studios, but challenges remain for actors union 

Ending a 146-day strike, the deal includes wage increases, streaming residuals, and protections against AI.

Published : Sep 26, 2023 18:46 IST - 5 MINS READ

This is the longest strike in Hollywood since 1988

This is the longest strike in Hollywood since 1988 | Photo Credit: AP

Hollywood’s writers’ union reached a preliminary labour agreement with major studios on Sunday, a deal expected to end one of two strikes that have halted most film and television production and cost the California economy billions. The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) announced the deal in a joint statement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that represents studios, streaming services and production companies in negotiations. “WGA has reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP,” the guild said in an email to its members. “This was made possible by the enduring solidarity of WGA members and extraordinary support of our union siblings who joined us on the picket lines for over 146 days.”

The three-year contract agreement—settled on after five marathon days of renewed talks by WGA and AMPTP negotiators that was joined at times by studio executives—must be approved by the guild’s board and members before the strike officially ends.

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The WGA, which represents 11,500 film and television writers, described the deal as “exceptional” with “meaningful gains and protections for writers.” “This was made possible by the enduring solidarity of WGA members and extraordinary support of our union siblings who joined us on the picket lines for over 146 days,” the negotiating committee said in a statement Sunday. In a longer message from the guild shared by members on social media, the writers were told the strike was not over and no one was to return to work until hearing otherwise, but picketing was to be suspended immediately. The terms of the deal were not immediately announced. The tentative deal to end the last writers’ strike, in 2008, was approved by more than 90 per cent of members.

As a result of the agreement, nightly network shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live! could return to the air within days. But as writers prepare to potentially crack open their laptops again, it’s far from back to business as usual in Hollywood, as talks have not yet resumed between studios and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) [the union representing approximately 160,000 media professionals worldwide.] Crew members left with no work by the stoppage will remain unemployed for now.

“SAG-AFTRA congratulates the WGA on reaching a tentative agreement with the AMPTP after 146 days of incredible strength, resiliency and solidarity on the picket lines,” the actors union said in a statement. “While we look forward to reviewing the WGA and AMPTP’s tentative agreement, we remain committed to achieving the necessary terms for our members.” The statement said the guild continues “to urge the studio and streamer CEOs and the AMPTP to return to the table and make the fair deal that our members deserve and demand.”

The proposed solution to the writers’ strike came after talks resumed on Wednesday for the first time in a month. Chief executives including Bob Iger of Disney, Ted Sarandos of Netflix, David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery and Donna Langley of NBCUniversal reportedly took part in the negotiations directly. It was reached without the intervention of federal mediators or other government officials, which had been necessary in previous strikes.

The proposed contract is still preliminary. The WGA’s negotiating committee said it would share details only after it receives final contract language. After that, the negotiators will vote on whether to recommend the deal to leadership, which must then decide if they will present it to members for a vote.

At picket lines, protests took on the rhetoric of class warfare. Writers assailed media executives’ compensation and said working conditions had made it hard for them to earn a middle-class living. Executives at times fanned tensions. Bob Iger criticised striking writers and actors as “just not realistic” in their demands.

Strike resulted in production companies losing millions

The work stoppages took a toll on camera operators, carpenters, production assistants and other crew members, as well as the caterers, florists, costume suppliers, and other small businesses that support film and television production. The economic cost is expected to total at least $5 billion in California and the other US production hubs of New Mexico, Georgia and New York, according to an estimate from economist Kevin Klowden.

Also Read | The star, the actor & the woman

As with past writers’ strikes, this job action responds to Hollywood capitalising on a new form of distribution—and writers seek to participate in the newfound revenue. The 100-day strike in 2007-08 focused, in part, on extending guild protections to “new media,” including movies and TV downloads as well as content delivered via ad-supported internet services.

This time around, a central issue is residual payments for streaming services, which writers said represented a fraction of the compensation they would receive for a broadcast television show. Writers also sought limits on AI’s role in the creative process. Some feared that studio executives would hand a writer an AI-generated script to revise, and pay the writer at a lower rate to rewrite or polish it. Others expressed concerns about intellectual property theft if existing scripts are used to train artificial intelligence.

According to reports, Disney has created a task force to study artificial intelligence and how it can be applied across the entertainment conglomerate, signalling its importance. Even as studio executives celebrated the end of the longest-running writers’ strike since 1988, it is only half the labour battle. The studios must still find a way to get actors back to work.

Screenwriters had traditionally gone on strike more than any other segment of the industry but had enjoyed a relatively long stretch of labour peace until spring negotiations for a new contract fell apart. The walkout was their first since 2007 and their longest since 1988. On July 14, more than two months into the strike, the writers got a dose of solidarity and star power—along with a whole lot of new picketing partners—when they were joined by 65,000 striking film and television actors.

It was the first time the two groups had been on strike together since 1960. In that walkout, the writers’ strike started first and ended second. This time, studios opted to deal with the writers first.

With inputs from AP and Reuters

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