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This time last year, Hollywood writers were on strike. Now many can't find work

This time last year, Hollywood writers were on strike.  Now many can't find work
This time last year, Hollywood writers were on strike.  Now many can't find work


This time last year, Hollywood writers were protesting outside the offices of major studios and streaming companies. Throughout their nearly five-month strike, the writers often gathered at Bobs Big Boy, where television host Drew Carey often collected the check.

I remember eating a lot of hash browns, and if it was dinner, they had good soup, says Taylor Orci, who recently returned to the Burbank restaurant to reminisce with writer Bill Wolkoff.

It saved us, agrees Wolkoff. It was a vote of confidence that I believe in writers. Thank you, Drew Carey, for this.

Wolkoff writes and produces the series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Last year, when the show took a hiatus, he was a Writers Guild of America strike captain outside CBS Studios in Los Angeles. Thanks to the new union contract, he hopes to get higher streaming residuals with each successful season.

This is going to make a noticeable difference in my life, Wolkoff says. And AI protections too. I mean, we adopted contract language that ensures that AI will not replace writers. It is enormous.

But, he admits, he's one of the lucky few Hollywood writers still working today.

Like many others, Taylor Orci is still struggling. A writing job recently fell through, and they're still living on loans, with maxed out credit cards and a baby on the way.

Writer Taylor Orci outside Bob's Big Boy, a restaurant in Burbank.

/ Mandalit du Barco/NPR


Mandalit of Barco/NPR

Writer Taylor Orci outside Bob's Big Boy, a restaurant in Burbank.

I knew it was going to be slow, but I thought I would have a job, they say. It's hard to find work right now, especially if you didn't have any before.

“We needed a radical change”

Across town in Encino, Lannet Tachel says union gains help, but in the long run you still have to be one of the lucky few who can get in for the help applies to oneself.

His writing partner Corey Grant agrees: There's not a lot of production these days.

It was hard before the strike. It's even harder now, he said. I think it's a negative reaction because of the strike. I think they're trying to consolidate their pockets a little, but it's less TV, fewer episodes made, tighter budgets, half the shows have been canceled.

    Lanett Tachel and her writing partner Corey Grant.

/ Mandalit of Barco/NPR


Mandalit of Barco/NPR

Lanett Tachel and her writing partner Corey Grant.

NPR reached out to eight major studios and streamers for a response. They didn't answer us. But WGA West President Meredith Stiehm says these production changes began before the strike and not because of it. She says there's been a boom, with streaming companies ordering a glut of new shows. But in 2022, the so-called Peak TV went bankrupt.

Netflix announced that it had lost subscribers. Streaming wasn't profitable for anyone. It was something of a failed model. Everyone started to retreat. At the same time, she said, our contract was untenable and we needed a radical change.

Last year, the WGA spent nearly five months on strike starting in May. Actors and artists from the SAG-AFTRA union also went on strike last summer. The writers' union has reached an agreement in principle with the studios in September, with new residual models in streaming, new minimum employment terms for TV gigs, more guaranteed paid work for feature films and other protections. Then, SAG-AFTRA reached their own agreement in principle in November.

When we all returned to work, the decline continued, meaning less content is being commissioned, Stiehm says. And it seems like the studios are sort of regrouping and the writers are feeling the post-Peak TV pinch.

During a recent earnings conference call, SONY Pictures Entertainment CEO Tony Vinciquerra said his company wasn't just impacted by the streaming revolution.

We had to go from a pandemic where production was severely limited, to a strike, where no creative work was done for literally seven or eight months, he said. Had to restart. And that's what you're seeing right now.

The industry continues to transform, with declining advertising revenues and layoffs at nearly every entertainment and media company. Last month, Netflix announced that it produce more unscripted material, like reality shows and game shows. Disney said it would offering even more live sports via ESPN over the coming years.

Nick Geisler got his first writing job in Los Angeles in 2018. He was a strike captain outside of Amazon Studios last year. After the strike ended, he said, he returned to the writers' room for a few months for the Disney show. Bunkd: learning the tricks of the trade. But he says he hasn't had much luck with other studios.

There's simply no appetite for risk, Geisler says. And there are a lot of requests for rewrites. Many of them are free. There's a lot of, Hey, we're so, so close. Can you just make these changes and get the message out there? Hey, we'll report this to our superiors tomorrow. Can you do this in three hours? I don't think it's really changed much. Because of the climate we live in, there are a lot of things. Well, I'm just going to do that because there's not much going on.

Now, he says, I'm working on a short film for a writer I met on the picket line.

“This time it’s different”

Things are also tough for those who have been in the industry for decades.

I contact my agent and he tells me it's really bad there. Hopefully the situation will turn around, says Jon Sherman, who hasn't had a writing assignment in three years.

    Jon Sherman began his career in Hollywood thirty years ago.

/ Barco Mandalit/NPR


Mandalit of Barco/NPR

Jon Sherman began his career in Hollywood thirty years ago.

He started his career 30 years ago, write for Bill Nye, the scientist. He also wrote and produced the original television series Fraser. Sherman was a WGA strike captain outside of Amazon Studios last year.

This is the first time in my long career, and I am grateful, that I have been laid off for an extended period of time. I've reached a point where I'm like, Oh, this time it's different.

To pay the bills, Sherman says he participated in a dried fruit focus group and a UCLA research study on exercise. He is also now participating in a game show. But he would certainly still like to write for television.

NoteExBulletin News employees are also members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors and performers union that also went on strike last year. However, broadcast journalists are subject to a different contract and were not on strike.

Copyright 2024 NPR




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