Hollywood faced a cliffhanger moment Monday as talks to avert a potentially catastrophic strike by thousands of TV and movie writers remained unresolved just hours before a crunch deadline.
Major studios and networks including Disney and Netflix are locked in talks with the powerful Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has threatened to order a walkout just after midnight Tuesday unless a new deal is agreed.
If a strike takes place, late-night shows could immediately grind to a halt, and television series and movies scheduled for release later this year and beyond could face major delays.
The last time talks failed, in 2007, Hollywood writers laid down their pens and keyboards for 100 days, costing the Los Angeles entertainment industry around $2 billion.
This time, the two sides are clashing as writers demand higher pay and a greater share of profits from the boom in streaming, while studios say they must cut costs due to economic pressures.
“I think everybody feels like there’s going to be a strike,” said one Los Angeles-based TV writer, who asked not to be identified.
“This is a deal that’s going to determine how we are financially compensated by streamers,” not just now but well into the future, they said.
Many of the issues are familiar to contract talks in industries around the world. Writers say it is becoming impossible to earn a living, as salaries have flatlined or declined after inflation, even as employers reap profits and fatten executives’ paychecks.
More writers than ever are working at the union-mandated minimum wage, while shows hire fewer people to script ever-shorter series.
A key issue is reworking the formula that calculates how writers are paid for streaming shows, which often remain on platforms like Netflix years after they were written.
For decades, writers have been paid “residuals” from reuse of their material, such as television re-runs or DVD sales.
These are either a percentage of studios’ receipts for the film or show, or a set fee each time an episode is replayed.
With streaming, writers simply get a fixed annual payout — even if their work generates a smash hit like “Bridgerton” or “Stranger Things,” streamed by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.
“These amounts remain far too low for the global reuse of WGA-covered programming on these massive services,” says the guild.—INP