Union leadership representing screenwriters in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has declared an end to a monthslong strike after voting to lift it on Tuesday evening. The decision went into effect just after midnight on Wednesday, meaning TV and movie writers can return to work. In the meantime, between Oct. 2 and Oct. 9, union members can vote to ratify the new language in the 94-page contract. (If they vote against it, which seems unlikely, the negotiation process would start over.)
The end to the strike follows a tentative agreement made Sunday night between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to lift a work stoppage that began in early May.
“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional—with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the WGA wrote in an email to its members on Sunday evening. “What we have won in this contract—most particularly, everything we have gained since May 2nd—is due to the willingness of this membership to exercise its power, to demonstrate its solidarity, to walk side-by-side, to endure the pain and uncertainty of the past 146 days.”
What’s in the deal?
The writers made vastly significant gains, far beyond what the studios and streamers originally offered in May. The estimated value of this deal is worth $147 billion more than the AMPTP’s original offer.
Most strikes happen over lack of proper compensation, and the WGA is no exception. In a streaming-centric world, residuals—money paid to those who created a show when that show is re-watched—have trickled to nearly nothing. But this deal gives series and movies made for streaming bonuses based on viewership. So writers on a smash hit like Bridgerton would now be compensated commensurate with their show’s success. Annual minimum wages for writers would go up over the course of the contract, too: first by 5%, then by 4% next year, and 3.5% the year after that. And now staff writers will actually be paid for the scripts of episodes that they write.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) was a serious sticking point during the negotiation—it was reportedly one of the last issues that both sides were debating. Here, too, the writers made history. In what will likely blaze a trail for other industries, the proposed agreement states that AI can’t write or rewrite material, and AI-generated content can’t undermine a writer’s credit. Writers’ material cannot be used to train AI (a major concern), and while writers can choose to use AI, no company can require its use.
Until now, neither writers nor viewers—nor anyone outside of the studios and streamers—knew anything about viewership numbers. The deal would bring some semblance of transparency: Companies would share with the union how many hours high-budget streaming shows (like Netflix original series) have been watched. The union could then share a summary of that information with its members, so writers would actually know how well they’re doing—and how well they should be paid.
What does this mean for the actors?
Of course, even if the writers return, there won’t be anyone to perform their work until the actors’ strike, by those in the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), also ends. Nor will actors be able to promote their work, a concern that had prompted studios and streamers to push back some releases.
“SAG-AFTRA congratulates the WGA on reaching a tentative agreement with the AMPTP after 146 days of incredible strength, resiliency, and solidarity on the picket lines,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement on Sunday. “Since the day the WGA strike began, SAG-AFTRA members have stood alongside the writers on the picket lines. We remain on strike in our TV/Theatrical contract and continue to urge the studio and streamer CEOs and the AMPTP to return to the table and make the fair deal that our members deserve and demand.”
The streaming residual formula that the WGA accomplished should help lay the groundwork for a similar revenue-based residual system for SAG-AFTRA, something the latter has been striking for. For now, it seems likely that the end of the WGA strike may convince studios and streamers to move more quickly with SAG-AFTRA as well.
In the meantime, writers returning to work have expressed solidarity with actors still on strike, urging support and championing their efforts as well. Already, the WGA has shaped Hollywood history. If SAG-AFTRA joins them, they will both help reshape the industry.
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