Writers’ strike week 2: No deal, new studio standoffs

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Members of the Writers Guild of America picket in front of Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, Calif., May 5, 2023. The strike comes after weeks of negotiations failed to generate a contract between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which bargains on behalf of the nine largest studios. The WGA represents most writers for film and TV in the U.S. Credit: Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect.

One week into the film and TV writers’ strike, it seems like there’s no end in sight. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have yet to return to the bargaining table. 

Hollywood writers are asking studios and streaming companies for more money, plus minimum employment guarantees, mandatory staffing, and protections against artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, the major studios have agreed that showrunners must cross the picket lines to do the non-writing parts of their jobs. 

So what happens next? The studios will likely focus on negotiations with the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA — both of their contracts expire on June 30. That’s according to Matt Belloni, a founding partner of the website Puck News. 

“If they can make deals with those two guilds, then they go back to the writers sometime in July and try to make a deal there. If they can't make a deal with those two unions, and we have a full-on three guild Hollywood shutdown, then it could last months and months and months,” Belloni tells KCRW.

Belloni says that historically, the DGA has gone on strike only once in history and is considered to be the most studio-friendly out of all the guilds. However, in the last week, directors have shown up to writers’ picket lines in solidarity, raising questions over whether they could join them on strike. 

The two unions are also in alignment on certain issues, including transparency over streaming and increased residuals: “There's tremendous pressure being put on the Directors Guild in particular right now by the writers. They're saying, ‘We need you. So do not roll over on us. We need you guys to stand up.’ Because the studios clearly see the directors as the path to resolve this, and they want to go there, take them out, and then go back to the writers.”

Belloni sees SAG-AFTRA as the wildcard in this labor equation, however. It’s clear the actors’ union wants higher residuals, but there’s uncertainty over what other demands they may share.

The studios are also trying to force some writer-producers to return to their jobs. Belloni describes the move as an “interesting standoff” due to vague language in their collective bargaining agreement.

“The Writers’ Guild says, ‘No way. You do not have to perform these producing duties as a writer-producer, because it's very difficult to extricate the writing process from the producing process.’ … And what the studios are saying is, ‘No. We have scripts that are done. We raced to get these scripts done before the strike happened. We're gonna shoot these things, and you are a producer under contract.” 

Studios are definitely feeling the pressure, Belloni says. Some smash-hit shows have already been shut down due to the strike, including “Stranger Things” and “Yellowjackets.” Meanwhile, actors Drew Barrymore and Nicole Kidman are declining invitations to awards shows, and Michael J. Fox canceled the premiere of his upcoming documentary. 

That pressure also includes a new slate of companies that are part of the AMPTP. They include tech companies such as Apple and Netflix, who have different business models than traditional studios. 

“For Apple and Amazon, content is a loss leader to help fund their other businesses. Whereas a company like Warner Bros. Discovery, they are in the content business. That's all they do. So these companies have very different priorities, yet they're all being negotiated together under this AMPTP banner. And the job of the lead negotiator, Carol Lombardini, is to come to an agreement that all of these companies can live with. And that's a very challenging task for her, and we'll see how it plays out.”