The Whole Hollywood Strike Explained
This is an article ‘The Whole Hollywood Strike Explained’ by Marc Primo
With little to no resolution in sight, the Hollywood strike continues to paralyze any potential business until networks and streamers come to a resolution with protesting writers and actors on the picket line. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike has been hogging entertainment headlines concurrently with a Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG) strike that started mid-July. The latter was part of Hollywood's more significant labor issues. One that made long-term contracts signed during the media streaming boom and when producers were paying creative talent substantial sums of money.
While most studio executives deem the current situation, the worst marketplace in the industry's history, new pitches that are most appealing these days are anchoring on intellectual property rights. Or at least the ones that check off every single demand box.
Arguably, the things that are moving forward in Hollywood right now are the ones where a firm is compelled to develop something because it's a franchise IP or with an overall compensation arrangement. However, selling innovative ideas is now even more complicated than before a strike was in the works. Of course, the main reason isn't that studios won't buy them. Instead, studio executives aren't really keen on working on something new for audiences if they are not already sure they are monetarily compensated.
To further understand the developing quagmire that Hollywood and the U.S. entertainment industry are currently in, let's take a deep dive into what brought all the ruckus to the surface in the first place.
It All Started With Streaming Services
If you haven't subscribed to any of the many streaming services on demand right now, you might as well know how this current industry has changed the face of production in Hollywood. For one, many are taking streaming as the invasive and unregulated parasite that continues to pose a threat to various facets of the entertainment ecosystem.
On April 3 this year, the WGA asked its members for a vote to hold a strike, with a whopping 97.85% signing 'yes' before the deadline for new contracts came on May 1st. While things may seem sudden, plans for a strike have been brewing for some time now– a little over two months, marking July 17 as the date when SAG president Fran Drescher first blew the whistle. It was the first time since the '60s that both SAG and the WGA went on strike versus the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
From both groups’ points of view, the main issues that arise from the strike include the call for better wages and working conditions. Recently, hundreds of WGA protesters went outside Netflix's offices, mentioning conflict and organizational changes that, according to them, have been made worse by the current streaming revolution.
'Writers Are Not Keeping Up'
Aside from how the streaming revolution changed the working environments for staff behind the cameras, more issues are coming out of the woodwork that need to be addressed. In the world of TV shows, there are more writers now who are hired at the lowest pay levels, no matter how experienced they are. This often means they work for fewer weeks or have minor roles in the creative process. At the same time, the people in charge of running the shows don't have enough writers to finish the whole season.
According to the report, "Writers Are Not Keeping Up," television series have more money to spend nowadays, but the average pay for writer-producers has decreased through the years. The report also talks about how more writers are agreeing to work for the lowest pay allowed by the Minimum Basic Agreement. This goes for different roles and talent pairings, from regular writers (98% of them now agree to the minimum wage, which is 12% more than in the 2013–14 season) to showrunners (49% now agree to the minimum pay, which is 16% more).
Overall, the percentage of TV writers who work for the minimum pay has gone up from one-third in 2013–14 to almost half in the last year-on-year figures. In addition, more concerns were raised, including how streaming comedy-variety shows lack basic safeguards for their writers and missing script minimums and weekly pay, in contrast to episodic writers at the same companies. This has caused working, emotional, and mental challenges to some creative professionals in the industry.
For feature films, the WGA has also noted a 14% drop in screen pay over five years, adjusting for inflation. This prompted the WGA to call for higher minimum compensation, better residuals, fair TV series salaries throughout production, increased pension and health contributions, stronger professional standards, and writer protection.
Interestingly, the SAG supports how the WGA seeks a better Minimum Bargaining Agreement by proposing an 11% increase in year one and 4% afterward. Actors also aim for improved residuals from the streaming services.
Initially set to expire on July 1, SAG's contract talks were extended until July 12. Then, the following day saw Drescher declaring a strike through a passionate speech showcasing actors' formidable media presence. The SAG president's speech highlighted the stark discord: "The vast differences between us are astounding," she expressed. She further criticized the paradox of studios claiming financial strain while allocating substantial sums to CEOs. Her words carried weight: "Disgraceful. They're on the wrong side of history."
SAG's influence was particularly evident on red carpets and during the marketing cycles for upcoming blockbusters. This is why some big-time premieres were curtailed internationally. At the same time, Disney's Haunted Mansion debut only saw Mickey and Minnie Mouse in attendance. Reality TV programs and sectors beyond SAG and WGA, such as the music industry, podcasts, and literature, remain untouched. However, the dynamic world of influencers and content creators also bears the strike's impact since some are affiliated with SAG.
Drescher also provided insight into pre-strike negotiations: "I genuinely believed we could avoid a strike," she recounted. Yet, their 12-day extension was squandered, leaving the parties without a deal. Meetings were canceled, and discussions remained behind closed doors. Drescher summarized the outcome: "Their response felt insubstantial and insincere."