WGA writers’ strike: Why is the walkout happening and when will it end?

Writer Eric Heisserer holds his sign on the picket line in front of Netflix in Hollywood (Frederic J Brown / AFP via Getty Images)
Writer Eric Heisserer holds his sign on the picket line in front of Netflix in Hollywood (Frederic J Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

Around 160,000 actors across TV and film have now joined screenwriters on strike, after the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) voted to join the Writers Guild Association (WGA) on July 13.

This means that not only will participating actors not be filming, but they will also not take part in promotional work like interviews, junkets, and social media posts, as well as attending conventions, among a host of other activities.

This comes after the news that the 2023 Emmy Awards could be postponed if there is no resolution to the Hollywood writers’ strike.

Organisers of the Emmys, which are scheduled for September 18, are reportedly in discussions about moving the event to a later date if the strike is not over by early August, sources told the New York Times. These sources said the ceremony could be delayed by months, potentially pushing it into January.

The Emmys is television’s most prestigious awards show, and will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Voting for the ceremony is already underway, with nominees set to be announced on July 26.

The writers’ strike is currently in its ninth week. Negotiations between major Hollywood studios and the Writers Guild of America, the union representing 11,500 writers in the film, TV, and entertainment industry, first broke down in early May, prompting the first strike to begin,

Talks resumed in July but, as a resolution was not found on July 13, both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA voted to continue the strike. Many industry executives are bracing for the strike to possibly last into the autumn.

Even President Joe Biden has weighed in on the row blighting Hollywood, urging major studios to offer a fair deal to striking writers who want their contracts modified.

The strikes have led to the last season of Stranger Things and the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel having their development delayed. The writers’ room for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight, for the Max streaming service, was “closed for the duration of the strike” by the WGA, according to a blog post by Game of Thrones author George RR Martin.

Why are Hollywood writers striking?

Screenwriters first walked out in May, saying they are fed up with not being paid fairly for their work and wanting a guarantee that their work would not be threatened by AI.

Months of talks were held in the lead-up but the high-stakes negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and a trade association representing Hollywood’s leading studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), went awry.

The major walkout of writers started on May 2 — the first in 15 years, and the latest vote on July 13 went in favour of continuing the strikes.

A spokesman for the WGA said: “Here is what all writers know: the companies have broken this business. They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy.

“But what they cannot take from us is each other, our solidarity, our mutual commitment to save ourselves and this profession that we love. We had hoped to do this through reasonable conversation.

“Now we will do it through struggle. For the sake of our present and our future, we have been given no other choice.”

When is the strike taking place?

The current walkout began from midnight on July 13, with actors joining screenwriters on the picket line from Friday, July 14.

The union said: “The WGA Negotiating Committee began this process intent on making a fair deal, but the studios’ responses have been wholly insufficient given the existential crisis writers are facing.”

When will the strike end?

At the time of writing, there has been no agreement reached which would signal an end to the walkouts.

Who will be affected by the strikes?

Shows that rely heavily on making quips about the latest news are set to be affected the most, such as Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. These shows rely on writers making gags about the goings-on throughout the week and now there will be no writers to write the scripts. Late-night talk shows are expected to show reruns.

The guild said it would also affect streaming series and potentially some film productions, as everything has ground to a halt. The industry simply stopped working.

Producers of scripted drama and comedy series may also be forced to cut seasons short, and stop or delay filming during the strike.

As well as the mass walkout, writers also held picket lines and noisy protests outside some of Hollywood’s biggest filming centres.

What do Hollywood writers want?

Writers say they have not been paid fairly for their services for a long time, and say it is a kick in the teeth when the salaries for top executives in the entertainment industry have ballooned in recent years.

The WGA says it wants a pay increase as well as changes made to their conditions, as writers have found it “increasingly difficult” to operate in the sector. WGA statistics state that “amid the explosion of streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Disney+, median writer-producer pay has declined four per cent, or 23 per cent when adjusted for inflation.”

The group said writers have also been put on more freelancing contracts in recent years and are missing out on bonus payments, which used to be paid when a show was transmitted overseas, because of the way streaming platforms have been set up.

It said: “The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels.”

The guild added that more writers are “working at minimum regardless of experience”.

In an interview with NBC Nightly News, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of Netflix’s animated series BoJack Horseman, said: “We want more money. We want enough money to make a basic living doing what we love.

“I think we’re getting to the point where it’s going to be that the only people who can afford to try to start a career in television or movies are going to be people who are independently wealthy already, which I don’t think is good for television or movies. I don’t think we want that.”

How have Hollywood studios responded?

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it has been working to “reach a fair and reasonable agreement”.

It said: “AMPTP companies have approached these negotiations with the long-term health and stability of the industry as our priority. We are all partners in charting the future of our business together and we are fully committed to reaching a mutually beneficial deal.”

The AMPTP represents major film studios, such as Disney, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros, plus top broadcast television networks, such as ABC, CBS, and NBC. It also represents the leading streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon.