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Hot Strike Summer

Written by Finnialla, one of our current world events writers, and edited by Kayla-Jane, one of our editors!


The world feels like a hellscape. Rising rent costs, food insecurity, and job instability have hit every part of the United States, and workers are on their last leg. Well, many are fighting back, and they’re ready to strike. So far, the biggest of the summer have been television writers and actors, but many might not even know why they’re striking. Let’s go through their demands and what it could take for shows to return.


ALL WORK FOR NO PAY

Since the last WGA (Writer's Guild of America) strikes in 2007, the future of Hollywood has changed considerably. The world of television and movies has moved into the streaming renaissance, and while it allows more and more people to watch and create unique stories, it also allows corruption at the highest levels. When writers last struck, there was only one streaming service in the game: Netflix. Now in 2023, there are dozens of streaming services. Many people have ditched cable and network programming altogether and embraced the convenience of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.


For writers, they are given both base pay and residuals. Base pay is what it sounds like, it’s the pay you get when you write a show or movie for the first time. For streaming, many seasons have gone from 22 episodes to 6-8, but base pay is not adjusted for the same amount of work in fewer episodes. In 2007, one in three writers were living at the minimum end of wages. Now, it’s around half.


Now, onto residuals. How it works is simple. Every time a television show, movie, or piece of media is played, whether streaming or network television, the crew gets a little profit. The higher up the line you were, the higher the paycheck is supposed to be. For many years, when network channels ( Basically, the 3 main channels, (NBC, CBS, and ABC). Also, FOX after the 90s) or basic cable channels ( AMC, Showtime, Discovery, etc.) would play reruns, everyone got a check in the mail for a certain amount of money. Until recently, if you got enough residuals, you could pay rent, a utility bill, or a car payment. Streaming changed that.


Most people believe that television writers and actors are millionaires, and some are, but about 99 percent live paycheck to paycheck without the same job security other careers afford. Residuals were a way to survive between jobs, and now they aren’t. For the same hit shows, writers and actors are getting pennies on the dollar for millions of streams. Think of your favorite television show right now. Those writers can’t afford to keep their homes. Most don’t qualify for health insurance because they can’t make the threshold to apply for it. They don’t live in the city they work in.


This isn’t the only complaint. If you know anything about the industry, it’s the long hours and safety concerns. When I went to art school for film and then for screenwriting, it wasn’t uncommon to hear about 16 or more-hour days. It was almost a race to see who could get burnout first. Cocaine use is so common, it’s almost mandatory. This is exacerbated by the shooting of the movie, Rust. The lack of safety is nothing to executives because someone else will take your job. Many are pushed to skirt eating, drinking water, and resting for the sake of getting more television out.


The other thing is staffing requirements. Many television shows have multiple writers, which makes sense. To write an entire season of a show is insane to do, and many would never do that. In recent years though, studios have wanted smaller and smaller writers’ rooms to pay fewer writers, and it stretches writers too thin. To get into the industry, you have to hope to get staffed in a writers room, and it’s become less and less of a reality.


The mix of this with the rising cost of living caused the negotiations with the AMPTP, (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) to fall through. In March, the guild walked out, and a movement started.


SOLIDARITY FOREVER

Since May, the WGA have made their voices known by standing on the front line, organizing daily pickets, and shutting down productions. Even in the early days, many SAG AFTRA (Actor's Guild of America) and DGA ( Director’s Guild of America) members joined the writers on the picket line even though they didn’t have to. The Teamsters ( Teamsters are union managers for most people in the U.S who are in unions), representing almost all below-the-line workers (Below the Line actually comes from pay documents in the entertainment industry. If you are above the line, you get paid more than below it. These are lights and camera people, set people, makeup and hair, etc.), who refused to cross the picket line.


The DGA and SAG AFTRA’s contracts were up in the early days of summer. Both were expected to join the strike, but the DGA made a “historic” deal at the last minute and avoided their strike. Many directors were angered at their leaders for scrapping important contract negotiations for the easier route of avoiding a strike. For SAG AFTRA, they would not have the same luck.


In July, SAG AFTRA announced their strike authorization, officially joining the WGA on the picket line. They had, just like the WGA, published their negotiations. Some of the biggest ones were…


AI. In both the WGA and SAG AFTRA, the use of AI is a topic of contention. For writers, they asked that AI should not be allowed to be used in writing television shows. Studios rejected that outright and has even used it as a fear-mongering tactic, saying they will replace all writers with AI. For actors, studios wanted to scan background actors’ body and voice, and use it without prior consent for a one-time fee. Obviously, both guilds have asked for regulations and alt-right ban, but studios will not back down.


Safety Regulations. Not just long hours without breaks, SAG AFTRA has asked for better regulation for child actors and the prevalence of manipulation in auditions. They also wanted the prevalence of intimacy coordinators ( Intimacy Coordinators are the people who plan intimate/sex scenes so that everyone is safe and consensual.) to be the norm, not the exception. For Background Actors, they want better credits and more pay. Stunt actors ask for residuals for putting their lives on the line and dancers want to better work conditions for the things they put their bodies through. These are not outlandish demands. People want to be able to retire without having a broken body. The studios rejected almost all of it.


The last is residuals, again. As I said before, most actors do not make enough to live in L.A, or even to get health insurance. There are hundreds of stories of actors getting cents for roles they are known for, and even not getting any at all. Entertainment workers can even get negative residuals, where the people who made a show OWE money to the multi-million-dollar corporation since their project has not made back the money.


For everything that the actors and writers are asking for, the studios have responded in their own way, by trying to break the strike. Discovery and MAX CEO David Zaslov has called for the strikes to end, mostly to boos and jeers of paying fair wages. His conduct at the Venice Film Festival has been criticized for getting angry at the decrease of mega yachts at his afterparty. An anonymous Apple T.V. executive has been heard saying, “These writers think they’re the center of the fucking universe.” Disney CEO Bob Igor has called the strikes unreasonable. Even studios have illegally trimmed trees where protestors walked during a heat dome over Southern California to discourage striking.


The studios claim they can’t meet their demands because of all the money they will lose, but that’s just not correct. Many independent studios, the most well-known of these, A24 have agreed to the demands of the WGA and SAG AFTRA and were given exceptions to keep filming. For the studios, money isn’t a problem.


Honestly, the average entertainment CEO makes an exuberant amount of money. Disney’s CEO Bob Igor will earn $23 million dollars in 2023, David Zaslov got $39.3 million last year, and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and Greg Peters’ will earn $40 million and $34.6 million in 2023. It’s not a small chunk of change. For the WGA, the demands will cause ALL writers to get an extra $429 million per year, but that’s split thousands of different ways. SAG AFTRA is in the same boat. This is not unachievable.


Why are CEO’s, who aren’t writing or acting in all these profitable shows, allowed to parade around in mega-yachts while the real creatives can’t even pay rent? It’s a question everyone on the picket line is wondering and is getting others in the industry to rise up. Many non-union writers have applied to unionize under the guild. VFX ( Visual Special Effects) writers have voted to unionize with the Teamsters. Even the Animation Guild, who have worse working conditions than other entertainment workers, have tentatively voted to strike.


COMING TO THE TABLE

As an aspiring screenwriter, it’s surreal to see my career field fight for themselves. It makes me proud to be able to look at writers doing what they love, and I want them, and eventually myself, to make a living while doing it. Entertainment is so ingrained in American’s lives that it makes sense for creatives to want recognition for their work.


For those who aren’t part of this community, many might ask, how can I help? Well, there are a couple things. One, keep watching shows. I know this sounds counterproductive, but the WGA and SAG AFTRA don’t want a media blackout. Show the CEO’s that you want shows and entertainment.


Second, when the shows you want aren’t back, complain. Complain on Twitter, or Instagram, or Facebook. Blame the CEO’s for forcing writers and actors to not do what they are paid to do. They want to go back to work and create shows, and now they can’t.


Third, you can donate to the Entertainment Community Fund. It goes directly to the strikers writers and actors to help pay groceries, rent, and anything else.


Four, if you’re in LA or New York, go to a protest. Both SAG AFTRA and WGA East and West post picket line schedules on their website. I’ve also linked them below. You don’t have to be a part of the entertainment industry to show up and show solidarity.


When is the strike over? Well, it depends on the studios. I think workers are fed up with the inhuman conditions CEOs think they deserve. When the AMPTP decides to work with and not against the workers, we can continue to negotiate. Until then, find the creatives on the picket line, not in the writer’s rooms.



WAYS TO HELP/MORE INFO


SOURCES


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This piece was written by one of our current world events writers, Finnialla. Reach 'em at @finni_all_uh on Instagram!


This piece was edited by one of our editors, Kayla-Jane. Reach 'em at @kj.poetrytherapy on Instagram and https://medium.com/@kaylajbarrie on Medium!



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