Hollywood writers put down their pens this week to strike for the first time in 16 years. The Writers Guild of America and film, TV and streaming studios have been unable to reach an agreement on wages and working conditions amid an industry upheaval that has remade the way artists create and viewers consume entertainment.
By all accounts, writers and studios are far apart on key issues, and the strike could last for months.
The longer the strike drags on, the more its effects will be felt throughout the region. Although Los Angeles is not a mono-industrial city, the film and television sector is one of its most important economic engines. The work stoppage, particularly if it becomes prolonged and shuts down more productions, will extend to people across the industry, cameramen, production assistants and others who work on set and those who benefit from industry spending, including restaurants, hotels and dry cleaners.
The 100-day strike in 2007-08 cost the local economy approximately $2.1 billion and some 37,700 jobs, according to an analysis by the Milken Institute.
Since the last strike, the industry has grown, driven by the streaming revolution, as well as its footprint in Los Angeles. Netflix, Apple, Amazon and other media companies have opened studios or expanded their presence in the region to produce more content for streaming services.
Like the last strike, this one is driven by a transformation in how we get our entertainment. Fifteen years ago, the industry was adapting to the emerging world of online entertainment. One of the big fights was over writers’ share of DVD sales revenue. It was understood at the time that the traditional model of television and film would change, as well as the remuneration of writers, but few understood by how much.
Today, the digital revolution and the streaming boom have turned the industry upside down, and it’s at the heart of the latest dispute between writers and studios.
The Writers Guild, which represents more than 11,000 film and TV writers, says the streaming revolution has worsened the salaries, working conditions and career advancement of screenwriters.
It’s been particularly difficult for television writers, who are usually paid per episode. Traditional television shows have over 20 episodes per season, providing longer periods of steady employment. Streaming shows have eight to 12 episodes. And streaming services have increasingly used mini-rooms with fewer writers for shorter periods of time, with writers often fired before filming begins so they don’t gain on-set experience. necessary to advance in the industry.
Writers fear the trend is turning screenwriting into economy work on demandAnd the union pushed for six to 12 writers to create a show and that writers be hired for at least 10 consecutive weeks, with higher pay.
The Alliance of Film and TV Producers, which includes Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony, has rejected guild demands for a hiring quota and job commitments longer. Studios have splurged in recent years to launch their streaming services with lots of original programming. Now under pressure from Wall Street to increase profits, they are cutting employees and productions. Companies may have a financial incentive to allow the shutdown to continue, at least in the short term, which does not bode well for a quick deal.
The strike has already ended late-night TV talk shows, which rely on writers for daily monologues and sketches. Filming on location slowed in the early months of 2023, in part because some companies were reluctant to start productions that would be disrupted by the strike, according to FilmLA, which handles filming permits for the city and county. And more shows are expected to suspend production as the strike continues and there’s no one to write or revise scripts.
California recognizes the importance of the entertainment industry to the national and regional economy. Since 2009, lawmakers have allocated more than $1 billion in tax credits to keep productions from being lured to other states with incentives. The argument for subsidizing Hollywood at the expense of social services, education, and other government programs is that the state ultimately benefits from the tax revenue, good jobs, and economic growth that come with doing Hollywood. to be the heart of the entertainment industry.
After the pandemic shutdowns and slow recovery, no one wants to see more people losing their paychecks. Still, for writers and others in the entertainment industry, this is an existential moment. These issues aren’t easy to resolve, but it’s vital that media companies and the Writers Guild come back to the negotiating table and try. There’s too much at stake, and not just for studios and writers. Los Angeles and California also have a stake in the success of studios and in the success and livelihoods of the people who create studio content.
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