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The 2023 Writer's Strike is hitting very different from previous strikes, probably because during the previous strikes I was still struggling with the very concept of what it meant for me to be a writer. Fair warning, I'm about to share a little bit about those struggles, but if you'd like to skip this part and get straight to the information about the Writer's Strike itself, you can click here to do that. Or if you'd like to jump straight to how you can help support striking writers, you can do that here.
I remember the first time I told anyone that I wanted to be a writer. Their first response was always "writing is a hobby, I mean what do you really want to be when you grow up?"
I grew up surrounded by people who would constantly tell me that writing wasn't a real job, that you couldn't make any money writing, that no one could support themselves writing.
It took a long time for me to unlearn all those things; I worked in banks and restaurants because those were "real" jobs. After a while, I took a chance and got into the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, which led to a short (7-year) career in radio in which I did everything from promotion and sales to on-air work and management.
And one of the things we were constantly doing in radio was writing.
- Promotional copy
- Live broadcasts
- When they started coming around, websites
It wasn't the book writing I had dreamed of, but it slowly started to pick away at the idea that writing was "just a hobby."
Then I found myself between jobs and started editing for some author friends of mine. And that led to helping some of them set up websites (shout out to everyone whose first website was built on Geocities!!), which led to helping some of them write content which led to ghostwriting.
And that weird and windy path wasn't even all there was...I also tried to quit because "you can't make any money writing." So I went back to school, got a degree in Human Services / Business Management. Soon after that I went back to school again and I got my master's degree in Psychotherapy.
And through all that, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a writer.
I started working on my own stuff, but I also doubled-down on ghostwriting.
And to this day, I still hear people telling me that writing is just a hobby, that you can't make any money writing, and that writer's shouldn't even be trying to make money writing because it should just be about the passion for the story.
I have always looked at the writers in Hollywood in awe. I always thought, must be nice to be surrounded by people who get it and value your stories enough to turn them into shows and movies.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.
Once again, people do not value the work that writers do. And production companies have been exploiting writers, increasing their profits while decreasing their positions from the process of production. Slowly, production companies have been bleeding their writers dry and now, despite the fact that we have the highest demand for writers than ever and that demand is only going to continue climbing, those same production companies have been finding ways to pay their writers less and less.
The 2023 Writer's Strike: Understanding Its Significance for All Writers
What is the 2023 Writer's Strike?
On May 1, 2023, the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) announced the impending strike:
The Writer's Strike is an organized work stoppage initiated by writers in the entertainment industry. In essence, it is a protest set forth by union members to demand better working conditions and compensation from their respective employers.
The last WGA writer’s strike was in 2007-2008, and it lasted for 100 days. There were also calls for a strike in 2017; in fact, they had even unanimously voted to strike. But they were able to reach an agreement and avoid a full-on strike right at the last minute.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened this time around, and the implications of the 2023 writers strike are far-reaching.
Why Does It Matter?
Soon after the strike was announced, I was in a chat on Clubhouse and someone asked about what it meant. Another author said "well, the last strike led to the competition and reality show boom."
This is true. In fact, the 1988 writers strike directly led to shows like Cops and America's Most Wanted on Fox, which was still very new on the scene at the time. The 2007-2008 strike led to Big Brother and Celebrity Apprentice.
So, yeah... there is such a high demand for content that when writers strike it changes just about everything about the way we watch television—it even created a whole new genre of television.
But this time it's going to be more than just finding a new wave of reality television shows which, let's face it, many of those are still just as scripted and rehearsed.
The impact of a writer's strike can ripple through various industries beyond just those directly employed by major studios or networks. The entertainment industry is vast and complex, with numerous jobs that rely on writers' creativity to function effectively. This strike will significantly affect all writers working in film, television, digital media - regardless of whether they belong to the union or not.
Moreover, since media has such a significant influence on our society and culture today, what happens behind-the-scenes has a broader effect than just within the industry alone. When writers are fighting for fair compensation, better working conditions or more creative freedom on one platform or employer like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Disney+, their efforts can pave the way for other workers who face similar struggles in different industries.
And, yes, there is more on the line for writers like me who aren't in Hollywood.
It seems businesses value writing only when it's meant to sell you something.
I've seen companies pay thousands of dollars to write up a sales page or write up some ad copy, yet these same companies will scoff at the idea of paying someone to write an article or blog post for their site or write up social media posts or even just write up their brand story. They recognize how important having a good writer is when it's for a sale, but devalue the work involved when it comes to just about anything else.
And if we can't even come together as a society and recognize how valuable the top top writers are—the writers in Hollywood that are behind every show, series, limited series, documentary, movie, and even news streams—what does that mean for the rest of us?
Understanding Its Consequences
Immediately, the writer’s strike will lead to fewer job opportunities as studios halt production during the duration of the protest. This means that even non-unionized writers could find themselves out of work temporarily as a result of this strike. And that's scary even in the best of times, but today's economy is balancing on egg shells, so it's scarier now.
Furthermore, wages and benefits could be affected not only for unionized writers but also non-unionized ones because producers will likely try to cut costs wherever possible during this period of uncertainty. After all, it is their greed and need to keep their profits as high as possible and in their own pockets that directly led to this strike...and they still need content. So, yeah, they will probably try to figure out a way to pump out a lot of low-quality content to keep something on the air while paying next to nothing to do so.
Personally, I don't think leaning on reality television is going to help them this time around. Audiences today are much more sophisticated than audiences in 1988 and in 2007, and our expectations are much higher than they were even in 2017. Flooding networks and streaming services with low-quality content and reality shows is just going to lead to unsubscribes. I'm already tired of Hulu's ever-increasing monthly fees and don't even get me started on Netflix's issues.
I'm already itching to cancel both.
So, Yeah, the 2023 Writer's Strike Matters to All of Us
This year's writer's strike will have significant implications for the entertainment industry as a whole. Understanding its impact is crucial for all writers, not just those in a union.
What happens during this strike could shape the future landscape of writing in entertainment and impact the financial stability and creative freedom of writers across various industries. It is essential to stay informed about this issue and stand in solidarity with our fellow creative professionals during this time of protest and negotiation.
The Basics of the Writer's Strike
In a nut shell, a writer's strike happens when the members of a union, in this case the Writer's Guild of America (WGA), collectively decide to stop working until their demands are met by their employers/production studios. This means that writers will refuse to write scripts and work on other creative projects until they receive better pay, better working conditions, more reliable job security, and other improvements or guarantees within the industry.
Why does this happen? Well, it all comes down to collective bargaining and the use emerging technology.
Television has changed a lot in the last few years. I can't even remember the last time I watched a regular cable or broadcast network that wasn't be re-aired on YouTube. 2014 maybe? Almost everything I watch is streamed through one of the many streaming shows. And even the structure of shows have changed. Production quality is approaching that of movies while seasons are getting shorter and shorter. Not to mention how quickly some of these shows get cancelled.
Writing has also changed over the last few years. AI technology is bulldozing its way into the mainstream and I've seen people sit in two camps:
- AI will replace writers and now even non-writers can (or will soon be able to) produce content that is just as high-quality as professional writers, or
- AI will help writers get better and faster at their jobs by automating certain parts as well as making research and brainstorming faster and, since it is still emerging as a new technology, even more untold benefits await.
Unfortunately, companies and studios all seem to be in Camp #1 while writers, if they support the use of AI at all, seem to be in Camp #2.
Which also sucks because that means that even while writers are still trying to learn how AI can make their jobs better, it's being weaponized against them and being used as a means of devaluing their work.
How are they planning to use AI against writers, you may ask?
Okay, I get it; I'm not a mind reader and the production companies haven't actually started threatening to use AI technology instead of hiring and paying writers. Not in so many words.
The WGA has two main stipulations. First, the guild wants to make sure that “literary material” — the MBA term for screenplays, teleplays, outlines, treatments, and other things that people write — can’t be generated by an AI. In other words, ChatGPT and its cousins can’t be credited with writing a screenplay. If a movie made by a studio that has an agreement with the WGA has a writing credit — and that’s over 350 of America’s major studios and production companies — then the writer needs to be a person.
Second, the WGA says it’s imperative that “source material” can’t be something generated by an AI, either. This is especially important because studios frequently hire writers to adapt source material (like a novel, an article, or other IP) into new work to be produced as TV or films. However, the payment terms, particularly residual payouts, are different for an adaptation than for “literary material.” It’s very easy to imagine a situation in which a studio uses AI to generate ideas or drafts, claims those ideas are “source material,” and hires a writer to polish it up for a lower rate. “We believe that is not source material, any more than a Wikipedia article is source material,” says August. “That’s the crux of what we’re negotiating.”Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
And how do you think production companies responded? They responded by agreeing to "annual discussions" about emerging technology. Which is just a huge red flag. This indicates they already had such plans for using AI and for lowering their budgets even further through AI and they've been called out on those plans and they don't like it.
But I digress, because AI is just one part of this strike.
So what is the strike about?
The main demand currently being made comes down to the fact that, as I said, profits keep going up but writers' pay keeps going down. The Writer's Guild of America is, essentially, fighting to make sure that writing still be viewed as a "real job" in Hollywood—that writers can continue (or, in some cases, even start) making a livable wage doing a job they love and are good at.
And that means restructuring and increasing payments from streaming services. The changes that I talked about earlier, the smaller seasons etc, have led to huge changes with the way writers are employed and how they are paid. Instead of having a stable job where, as long as you're good and the show is doing well, you're in a room and writing for most of the year, many writers are now only writing for a few weeks before a show airs and then never brought in again because that show gets pulled or cancelled. Because of this, the WGA is also pushing for greater job security and better health insurance options.
The impact on non-union writers
How a writer's strike can affect non-union writers in film, television, and digital media
If you're not a member of the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) but work in entertainment as a writer, the 2023 writer's strike could still have an impact on you. Even if you're not part of the union, your ability to find work and earn fair wages is closely tied to their negotiations.
When WGA members go on strike, it can create significant ripple effects throughout the industry that ultimately affect all writers. For example, if TV showrunners and producers can't hire WGA members to write scripts for their shows because they're on strike, they may turn to non-union writers instead.
While this may sound like a good thing for non-union writers initially, it can actually lead to fewer job opportunities overall. If studios and networks rely more heavily on non-union talent during a strike, they may start hiring less union talent once the strike is over as well.
Strikes can lead to fewer work opportunities and lower pay for all writers
A writer's strike also has the potential to lower pay rates across the board for both union and non-union writers. During negotiations between unions like the WGA and studios or networks, salaries are often discussed as part of an overall agreement that sets industry standards. If those negotiations break down and a strike ensues, it could result in studios lowering pay rates if they feel pressure from advertisers or investors.
Additionally, when WGA members are striking they often picket outside production companies or hold rallies at industry events. This type of visibility can make it more difficult for studios or networks to justify paying high rates for any type of writing talent during this time period - regardless of whether or not they're part of the union.
Overall, it's clear that the 2023 writer's strike has the potential to negatively impact non-union writers in a number of different ways. From fewer job opportunities to lower pay rates, it's important for all writers working in entertainment to pay attention to these negotiations and support their fellow writers during this time.
The Future of Writing in Entertainment
The Outcome of This Strike Could Shape the Future Landscape for All Writers in Entertainment
The 2023 writer's strike has the potential to significantly shape the future of writing in entertainment. The Writer's Guild of America (WGA) is fighting for fair wages and better working conditions for writers, which could set a precedent that extends beyond just their union members. If the WGA successfully negotiates improved standards, it could inspire other unions and industries to follow suit.
However, if negotiations fail and the strike lasts a considerable amount of time, writers may be forced to seek alternative forms of income outside of entertainment writing. This could lead to a mass exodus from the industry or an influx of lower-quality materials as studios scramble to fill content gaps with lesser-experienced or underpaid writers.
Changes to Industry Standards Could Affect Creative Freedom and Financial Stability for All Writers
Changes made as a result of this strike could have far-reaching effects on creative freedom and financial stability for all writers. One potential outcome is that studios may become more hesitant to take risks on unique or experimental scripts out of fear that they won't generate high enough profits.
This would make it harder for writers with unconventional ideas to get their work produced. On the other hand, if new industry standards are established that prioritize quality over quantity and promote diverse stories from different voices, it could lead to exciting new opportunities for writers who previously felt shut out by Hollywood's "formula" approach.
Financially speaking, if wages increase for union writers as a result of this strike, non-union writers may also see an increase in pay as studios seek out talent outside of the union pool. And not just on shows, but for ghostwriters who would, say, novelize some of those shows...
Overall, the 2023 writer's strike has the potential to shape more than just the future of writing in entertainment in significant ways.
Whether we realize it or not, this strike also has the potential to shape the way our society views writers and the writing profession as a whole.
And if you've ever been told that writing is just a hobby, or that authors should be writing for the passion and not the money, then this means you.
How to Support Fellow Writers During a Strike
The Importance of Solidarity
One of the most important things you can do as a writer during a strike is show solidarity. This means standing up for their rights and supporting their cause, even if it doesn't directly affect you. By doing so, you are helping to create a stronger bargaining position for all writers and showing that you believe in fair compensation and working conditions for everyone in the industry.
The WGA has a picketing schedule you can check out right here. If you're in the area and can pick up a sign, do it. The writers will be welcoming, even if you're not a writer or not in the union, and will appreciate your support.
Other Ways to Show Support
Pre-WGA Strike Support on Twitter is constantly tweeting out ways people can help support the strikers as well as shouting out thanks for those who are showing up to help. They've also put together a few resources to make it easy for you to show your support:
- Carpool pickup form (for anyone who wants to sign up to pick up picketers and give them a ride home)
- Water Runner Sign up (for anyone who can bring water out to the picketers)
- Shared Resources and Picketing Sign up Spreadsheet (for anyone looking for other ways to support or wanting to actively picket)
You can even contribute to get the picketers some pizza! Which is the path I chose and will continue to send money to regularly for as long as the strike continues because picketing requires food and pizza is yummy.
You can also spread awareness about the strike through social media, blogs, or other forms of online activism.
Another way to show support is by boycotting productions that are continuing to operate during the strike. This sends a message to producers and studios that writers deserve fair treatment and compensation for their work.
Last but not least, never forget the power of the dollar. You can support picketing writers by making a direct donation to the Entertainment Community Fund (be sure to select "Support Film and Television Professionals" as they are the ones in need of the support right now).
The Power of Unity
By showing solidarity with your fellow writers during a strike, you are helping to create unity within the industry. This can be incredibly powerful when it comes time to negotiate contracts or demand fair treatment from producers and studios.
When writers stand together, they have more bargaining power than they would individually. By supporting each other during a strike, non-striking writers are helping to create a more unified front that will be better able to negotiate favorable conditions for all writers in the future.
No One Knows How Long This Strike Will Last
Both sides of this strike seem to be digging in their heels and preparing for a long run, so this strike could last for the next several months. But I hope they are able to resolve everything sooner than that and with a positive shift for writers in Hollywood.
I think the part that hurts most about all this is that writers and the entertainment industry as a whole just got things back together and on track again after surviving the Covid-19 pandemic that rocked the industry. And despite that, now writers are being forced to fight for their rights to earn a living doing something they love that brings so much value to an industry they love.
While many people may think that strikes only affect those directly involved in them, this is not true when it comes to writer's strikes in the entertainment industry. A writer's strike can have far-reaching effects on all writers—unionized or not—who work in film, television, or digital media. That's why it's important for all writers to understand the issues at stake and show support.
By doing so, non-striking writers can help strengthen the bargaining power of all writers and create a more fair and equitable industry for everyone. So if you're a writer who cares about fair compensation, creative freedom, and working conditions in the writing industry, I hope you'll start following the 2023 writer's strike and show your support for your fellow writers.