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Strike!

September 4th, 2023

September 4th, 2023

It’s hard to have missed the news that there are problems in the US film, TV and theatre industry with strikes and picket lines having been in place for four months. Whilst there have been strikes before, this current one is huge and the ramifications are being felt far outside the US.  We look at what has caused this, the major players, the impact on the UK industry and how you can support your fellow artists. US Film TV Strike

The Major Players

US Film TV Strike

It started with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) which is a combination of the Writers Guild of American East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW).  They are labour unions representing 11,500 writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media and broadcast news. The Guilds negotiate and administer contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of their members; conduct programmes, seminars, and events on issues of interest to writers; and present writers’ views to various bodies of government.

On 2nd May, following the expiration of their Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) with the AMPTP (The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), and the inability of the AMPTP to offer an acceptable deal for a new contract for writers in the US, members of the WGA went out on strike.  The detailed breakdown can be found here, but the main issues are:

  • Lack of agreement on a new contract between the WGA and AMPTP
  • Poor compensation for writers via residuals (what we call Repeat Fees) with the advent of streaming.

Their goals are to:

  • Increase funding and job security for writers (often to do with the health insurance which writers gain via their union)
  • Increase the physical size of the writers’ rooms where they’re expected to work
  • Limit the use of AI in the writing process

Negotiations for the MBA began on 20th March and ended on 1st May, with picket lines forming the next day in California outside Amazon’s Culver Studios, CBS Radford and CBS Television City, Disney’s Burbank headquarters, Netflix’s Hollywood plant and the Fox, Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Universal studio lots in Los Angeles. In New York picketing started at Peacock’s Newfront and Netflix’s Manhattan headquarters. Hundreds of writers representing the WGAE marched on 5th Avenue, between 37th and 38th streets, blocking the entrance to the Newfront presentation for Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service.

SAG-AFTRA & WGA picket line Credit: SAG-AFTRA

The writers had been advocating for great compensation in the streaming era, through higher wage floors, regulation of mini-rooms and greater residuals. Meanwhile, studios and streamers — who have been feeling pressure to cut costs amid an uncertain economic climate — were seeking to rein in their spending on staffing.

Josh Gondelman, a writer for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and Desus & Merom said one of the main issues for the strike is how streamers “structure seasons and shows,” which he said are getting shorter and as a result, there’s less long-term security in rooms that are getting smaller.

They’re making more content than ever, but writers’ wages with inflation have dipped over the last 10 years a pretty significant amount. So this is like an existential threat because they’re not only keeping the wages depressed but are taking away the security and the stability that allows writers to make a sustainable living over a year and over a career.” Josh Gondelman, writer

 

The impact of the stoppage was felt very quickly, with four late night shows immediately going dark, including Saturday Night Live and several industry awards shows being changed to pre-taped from live events.  The union’s picketing strategy has been effective in shutting down production of many high-profile shows, particularly as this time around (as opposed to the WGA’s last strike in 2007) the union is benefitting from cooperation from other unions who have their own grievances and contract negotiations looming. On average, a lost day of production costs companies between $200,000 and $300,000, with Insurance policies not covering shutdowns that are caused by the strike.

 

In early June, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) reached agreement with the AMPTP for a three-year agreement seeing the 19,000-member guild receive pay and benefits gains, increases in global streaming residuals and protections against the use of artificial intelligence.

US Film TV Strike

On 14th July SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) also went on strike after failing to reach agreement with the AMPTP. The Guild represents 160,000 performers and their decision to strike marks the first dual action in over 60 years.

The full list can be found here, but their main issues are:

  • Lack of agreement on a new contract with AMPTP
  • Streaming residuals
  • Usage of AI to scan actor’s faces to generate performances digitally.

SAG-AFTRA members joined the WGA picket lines. During the strike, performers are barred from acting services as well as publicity, including conventions, festivals, FYC events, premieres, junkets, interviews and the use of social media to promote a studio-based film or TV series.  This had an immediate effect, preventing newly announced Emmy nominees from campaigning and raising questions over the viability of the awards ceremony in September.

A strike is meant to be disruptive and inconvenient. We’re not playing patty cake on the playground. No Venice, no TIFF, no press tours, no red carpets, no shows, filming, etc for the foreseeable future. If the studios think they can do this without writers & actors, then let them.” SAG-AFTRA strike captain Caroline Renard

SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee Credit: Valerie Macon/AFP/SAG-AFTRA

Supporters

While not actively striking, other associated unions have thrown their support behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA.  The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union (The Teamsters) is allocating $2 million to aid members who work in the entertainment industry that are in financial straits due to the writers’ strike.  The labour organisation represents drivers, location managers and casting directors, among others in entertainment.

We can’t rely on employers to protect and support our members. Teamsters protect Teamsters. This money will go to support hardworking families.” Teamster General President Sean O’Brien.

Many members of the Teamsters have been visibly supportive of the writers’ strike since it began on 2nd May. Empowered by a clause in their contract that shields members from discipline if they respect a picket line, various Teamster-driven trucks have turned around when faced with striking writers at production locations, helping the writers expediently shut down ongoing productions and disrupt day-to-day activities at studios.

Fellow entertainment crew union IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada) has donated $4 million to a series of established industry charities in order to help its members facing tough times.  These include the Motion Picture & Television Fund, The Entertainment Community Fund and the Actors Fund of Canada. These charities, alongside the Inevitable Foundation and Humanitas are just some of the institutions that are likewise offering support to striking writers and/or to other workers in the entertainment industry whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by the work stoppage.

 

IATSE represents more than 168,000 technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry. “The painful effects of these work stoppages on our membership cannot be overstated,” IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb said.

The heartbeat of entertainment is the creativity and dedication of working people using their talents and skills to bring cherished stories to life. It is this very heartbeat the studios threaten to silence with reckless disregard for fairness and human artistry. The urgency of this moment cannot be overstated. Our industry is at a crossroads, and the actions taken now will affect the future of labor relations in Hollywood and beyond,” IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb

 

The WGA strike has been going strong for 126 days [as at 04 September]. The Guild’s last work stoppage, in 2007-08, lasted 100 days, while its strike in 1988 lasted 153 days, and its 1985 strike took 14 days.

US Film TV Strike

 

What is the impact in the UK?

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), amongst many international organisations, supports the strike.   The WGGB are advising their members not to work on projects in the jurisdiction of the WGA for the duration of the strike.

While productions under UK contracts are not impacted, many UK-based crew are affected as they work on productions that fall under US jurisdiction.  The WGA action has caused some issues with new or amended scripts not coming through, but the impact of the huge actors’ union also striking has been swift, with sets shutting down on a daily basis.

These include:

  • Deadpool 3 – production paused. Pinewood Studios
  • Speak No Evil – production paused. Filming had begun in Croatia in May for one week, before moving to the UK (Gloucester) for the remaining seven weeks. there were just five days left of shooting when the Blumhouse Productions film shut down.
  • Wicked – production paused. Sky Studios Elstree.
  • Amateur – production paused.
  • Hedda – production delayed. Gearing up for production in the UK but the start of principal photography has now been delayed.
  • How to Train Your Dragon – production delayed. Currently in pre-production in Northern Ireland
  • Silo Series 2 – production paused. Hoddesdon Studios.
  • The Sandman 2 – production paused.
  • Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two – production paused (non-UK). The UK leg of shooting was tied up several months ago.
  • Beetlejuice 2 – production paused. The UK leg of filming had completed: it is the US stint that is strike-affected.

Does the UK have the same issues?

There are differences and similarities. All writers are being impacted by the streaming revolution, the global content market and rapid advances in technology such as AI.

However the industrial landscape in the UK is different. While WGA negotiations centre around the MBA agreement, here in the UK writers work under a number of WGGB agreements, which set out minimum rates of pay and conditions, and are subject to ongoing negotiations to secure regular pay rises.  The system for health care provision and access to medical care in the US is also very different to here.

The UK benefitted from streaming services being introduced much later than in the US.  Unions and negotiators were able to see how these newcomers had impacted the industrial landscape in the US and fight for member protections accordingly.

US Film TV Strike

How can you support striking colleagues?

US Film TV Strike

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US Film TV Strike

 

 

 

US Film TV Strike

US Film TV Strike

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By Sarah Dann

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