A bad sense of déjà vu is settling over the industry as the year winds down.
Hollywood is going through a transition. An economic downturn is coming. The business is full of Under New Management signs after an M&A spree. All the uncertainty is affecting stock prices and earnings at Big Media. And Hollywood’s scribe tribe is restless.
The outlook for the next six months is starting to look a lot like it did in the summer and fall of 2007, the last time the entertainment industry’s biggest employers faced a work stoppage with the Writers Guild of America.
It is obvious that the guild is ready for battle. Studio workers are also working fast to reach this goal. The dreaded S-word — stockpiling — is happening, the industry equivalent of troops gathering at a border.
The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining agent for Hollywood’s major studios, networks and streamers, face a May 1 deadline for setting a new Minimum Basic Agreement to succeed the current pact that governs most mainstream scripted TV and film production. SAG-AFTRA’s contracts expire June 30, while the Directors Guild of America’s have contracts that expire June 30.
This week, the WGA revealed the 24 members of its negotiating committee. They will be leading the negotiations with the majors. It was a significant step in the process to bring all three unions back to the negotiating table. The group is co-chaired by two former WGA West presidents, showrunners David Goodman and Chris Keyser, who led the guild’s surprisingly successful campaign against Hollywood’s largest talent agencies from 2019-21.
Others include those who participated in the fight to ban decades-old practice of talent agencies getting packaging fees to help assemble TV series.
“Everything changed after Labor Day,”One network executive who has been with the company for many years says so. “Everybody’s calling around trying to find anyone with a desk-drawer project that has a few scripts done.”
Industry insiders say there’s been a noticeable scramble among creative executives at top shops to get scripts completed and to set schedules that accelerate writing time to be finished well before the May 1 deadline. Existing series are also seeing production schedules change. Anecdotal evidence suggests that networks are pushing shows to move winter hiatus weeks around to get as many episodes as possible.
The Hollywood industry is already suffering from the effects of strategy shifts and belt-tightening among the biggest streamers. This makes it a delicate time to hurry up. In the last decade, Netflix and Amazon have invested billions of dollars in content. As Netflix is nearing profitability, the company’s appetite to spend money on its subscribers is changing.
The presence of streamers with global scope — a list that includes Disney+ and HBO Max — is the X factor in this round of negotiations. More than ever, Holywood’s largest employers have options for creating or acquiring content from outside the U.S.
“What if Netflix decides it doesn’t need a new show every week? What if Amazon decides to drop to only a few big shows a year? If they don’t lose Prime customers, are they going to care?”Asks a senior talent agency executive nervously watching the market. “Every writer I know that makes more than $1 million a year is freaking out about a strike.”
Economic terms will remain the main issue at the talks. Writer-centric social media channels are replete with stories of scribes receiving residual payments for streaming reruns that wouldn’t cover dinner for two at The Cheesecake Factory. The WGA, along with the DGA, and SAG-AFTRA are sure to push the majors for streaming royalties and residuals. You can find out more at
WGA members are less likely to receive the $15,000-$25,000 bonus check for a linear rerun of an episode, or movie they produced.
Other issues are possible that might prove more challenging than raising basic minimums.
Negotiators must be able to accept fundamental structural changes, especially in the rapidly growing television series market. Upper- and mid-level TV series writers used to make $500,000 for a 22 episode drama or comedy series. Now they earn half as much working on an eight-to-10-episode series. While the number of scripted TV series has increased exponentially, the number of producers and writers working on each series has decreased.
15 years ago, a typical network TV comedy series featured 20 to 25 producers and writers. Even big-budget series today are produced by a few writers who complete scripts before filming begins. This means that writers have fewer opportunities to learn showrunning and postproduction from the leaders of the physical production.
Similar to 2007, managers and labor will bring different perspectives to the table on the changes that are required. It will be difficult enough to sort out the money, but there is a growing list of “existential issues”This is what keeps the town on edge when fall turns into winter.
A long and bitter strike “should be avoided at all costs,”A top literary talent manager speaks out about the anonymity of another.
“We need to turn the temperature down now.”