Screenwriters’ Victory

Malik Miah

Posted September 27, 2023

THE WRITERS GUILD of America (WGA) on Tuesday, September 26 disclosed the details of the tentative deal it secured with the major Hollywood studios and streaming companies to end the strike that has lasted for nearly five months.

A seven-page summary document was distributed to the WGA’s 11,500 film and TV writer members. It includes increases in wages and residuals, as well as language addressing the union’s demands for minimum staff in television writers’ rooms, payments based on the success of streaming shows, and protections against the use of artificial intelligence.

Big Win

The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the big entertainment companies on the labor front, reached the pact on Sunday, September 24 after 146 days of picketing and marching that virtually shuttered movie and scripted TV production.

The writers’ walkout began May 2. Actors represented by SAG-AFTRA, remain on strike, hitting the picket lines in mid-July.

The five days of intense negotiations included the chief executives of the four biggest studios including Disney and Netflix.

The WGA West board and WGA East council approved the “exceptional” deal on September 26, which was recommended unanimously by the WGA’s negotiating committee. Now it will be presented to the union’s membership for a ratification vote.

The vote will conclude in about two weeks. As stated by the WGA leadership in the tentative agreement introduction:

“We set out in this negotiation to address critical issues across our membership, brought on by changes in the business that were driving down writer pay and undermining working conditions. Prior to the strike, the companies refused to engage on most issues…

“This contract — won with the power of member solidarity and our union siblings over a 148-day strike — incorporates meaningful gains and protections for writers in every segment of the membership.”

Strikers began going back to work on Wednesday, September 27.

The WGA said the total value of the deal was $233 million, up from $86 million the AMPTP had offered. “We feel great. We won,” said WGA West President Meredith Stiehm in an interview.

Here are the basics of what’s in the deal.

Higher pay: The three-year film and TV contract raises basic wages by 5% in the first year, followed by 4% in Year 2 and 3.5% in Year 3. Select residual bases and minimums will get lower increases or single increases, the guild said. The latter gains are the most significant to writers overall pay.

Streaming bonuses/data: The contract establishes a system of providing bonuses to writers based on viewership on streaming services.

Writers already receive residuals from shows made for streaming services, but the WGA wanted to establish a system that would reward scribes if their work drew huge viewership on Netflix, for example.

It was a central issue in the strike. The way compensation has typically worked on streaming is that producers of the content get paid upfront, but don’t get to participate in the wins from shows that repeat for years.

The WGA sought to change that, and wanted streamers to be more transparent with viewership data. The contract allows the WGA to receive confidential viewership metrics for original streaming shows – that’s the only way for the union to know the same data as the studios have.

Minimum staffing: The contract sets minimum staffing requirements for TV writers’ rooms, depending on the length of the season.

For series with up to six episodes, for example, three writers must be hired, for example. For shows of 13 or more episodes per season, minimum staffing is six writers, which can include three writer-producers.

The minimum employment of writers per episode applies “unless a single writer is employed to write all episodes of a season,” the document said.

One of the biggest complaints among screenwriters going into contract negotiations was that, in the streaming era, TV seasons have gotten shorter and writers rooms have shrunk. That has meant fewer opportunities for writers, who have to cobble together one job after another to make a living.

The increased use of “mini-rooms,” in which a team of writers breaks down a season of a show before production starts, has limited the ability of early-career writers to gain experience on TV productions.

Regulating Artificial Intelligence

The new WGA contract includes language that regulates the studios’ highly contested use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) but also provides flexibility to the guild’s members.

Companies must disclose to writers if any material given to a writer has been generated by AI or incorporates AI-generated material, according to the guild’s document.

In the entertainment industry, with studios finding ways to make the development and production process more efficient, the rapid rise of ChatGPT and other examples of generative AI technology have taken center stage for writers who believe such “efficiencies” threaten screenwriter employment.

This was among the final and most difficult deal points to hammer out. Neither side wants to lock itself into contract language that would backfire in three years.

The agreements on residuals and AI are important gains for the members. They are also central to reaching a deal with actors, whose strike action continues at this writing.


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