It’s beginning to look like we are going to have a repeat of the head-butting between producers and screenwriters that we witnessed in 2007.
Writers picket on Hollywood Boulevard in 2007.
Photograph: Graham Whitby Boot
The WGA’s (Writers Guild of America) contract expires May 1, the same day as a possible strike. The Union wants the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to pay an additional $178 million a year.
The hard-line the studios is taking in their negotiations is, in part, because of lessons learned in the 2007 strike. The Producers created mid-season breaks and shortened the number of episodes per season. They have reality television to fall back on. Kim Kardashian jumped on the bandwagon, so did those kids from Jersey Shore. The Osbournes hit the airwaves and came into our living rooms like they owned the place. The future U.S. president would declare, “You’re fired!” on the Apprentice.
When talks broke down between AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) and the WGA (Writers Guild of America) in the 2007 contract negotiations, one of the main issues was residual royalties on distributable formats such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Let’s look at just some of the AMPTP studios the WGA is up against:
- The Weinstein Company
- Walt Disney Studios
- Sony Pictures
- Warner Bros.
It’s not surprising that WGA walks away from talks when these monstrous studios offer so little of their profits to the people who write their shows and films. Back in 2007, although they settled the strike, WGA was not totally satisfied with the contract. They felt they were still getting short-changed on residuals and were missing out on profits from streaming.
Fast forward to 2017:
Ten years later, reality television is still thriving with shows like The Bachelor, Real Housewives, The Voice, and Top Chef. Although these shows have high ratings, the demand for scripted shows is higher than ever thanks to the introduction of Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon. Binge-watching has become a popular past-time.
The aforementioned studios have warehouses full of scripted shows, ready to go. So, you can understand how they may not be as threatened by a strike as they may have been in past years.
I think the biggest hit will be taken by the Los Angeles region itself. Depending on who you listen to, L.A.’s economy lost between 380 million and 2.5 billion during the last strike.
Who watches DVDs or Blu-rays anymore? Everything you want is at your fingertips – including kids shows and movies. And the content is good.
The WGA says it’s losing revenue every year. As a writer, I feel their plight.
Their contracts are long, but writing seasons are shorter than ever. This means a writer gets paid for his writing, and is then bound by contract. They must wait to see if the show gets picked up for a second season. They cannot seek employment elsewhere during the length of their contract and receive no further payment for their writing. The royalties paid for reruns and syndication are minimal.
All the writers want is a piece of the new technological pie – to be paid fairly when their creativity pays off for a studio and their work is shown on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon.
Is that too much to ask?
Contingency plans are currently being put in place, readying for a April 19 strike authorization vote – which is likely to pass. If WGA strikes, will we even notice a change in our boob-tube habits? Personally, I won’t.
Previous strikes brought us reality TV. What will this strike bring? One thing’s for sure, the way people watch entertainment has changed and will keep changing in the years to come. The AMPTP must reflect these changes in their negotiations in order to keep those writers happy.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom. Do you think a strike would affect your viewing habits in any way?