The WGA Strike is the Crappiest Hollywood Reboot Ever

This time, the issues are more complicated, and writers and studios are even further apart

The last time the Writers’ Guild went on strike was in 2007, and it was over their demand that writers receive compensation on their works being shown on what was then termed, “New Media.” And which is now known as “Streaming.” The studios’ opening offer was, “None. How’s ‘none percent for ya?” Strike!

At that time I’d been working as a staff writer on The Daily Show,. But now, thrown out of work, I had nowhere to direct my daily vitriol-firehose. So I invented a passel of self-appointed jobs to try and break things in our favor. Making videos. Cultivating friendlies in media and fandoms. Lobbying lawmakers in DC. All that in addition to marching hours daily in the NYC winter’s sleet and slush.

The Strike was all-encompassing, for me and my fellow “Strike Captains.” I’ll just say, when you see how many hours a day I was on strike business, it’s pretty clear this was Before Kids.

I wouldn’t say there were zero upsides. Planning these activities together helped me befriend higher-level folks I normally wouldn’t have had access to. Marching in the same mushy-Arctic circles bonded me and a head writer who later hired me for a gig. And some of the most unlikely celebrities came to the picket line and let me take what the world didn’t yet call “selfies”.

Whit Stillman supporting the picket line, 2007. (photo courtesy of Rob Kutner).

Eventually the WGA settled the strike with the studios agreeing to give us a small percentage of what, again, is now known as “streaming content.” The WGA and AMPTP (the studios/streamers’ bargaining consortium) have since then signed several contracts, every year up to 2020.

But since then, a hedge-fund-style series of cuts and slashes have paralyzed large swathes of the entertainment industry, and hobbled writers.  Studios being squeezed by shareholders have forced into the business a swath of penny-pinching corner-cutting techniques that chop up writing room, seasons, contracts, etc., making it almost impossible to support oneself as a writer in an industry continuing to reap massive profits.

So, is the 2023 going to be a straight up shot-for-shot remake or an off-playbook “spinoff?” Not even M. Night Shyamalan could come up with the ending here.

For one thing, the companies bargaining as a unit through the AMPTP are not necessarily the monolith that this entity was last time. Traditionally, the ‘P was just a mouthpiece of the studios in one accord saying “Aw HELLL no!” to raises in salaries, benefits, health and pension, etc. But today some of those “studios” are Amazon or Apple, which are in completely different businesses than, say, Disney or Universal.

Also, 2007-8 was back when Cable was still King. Nowadays, though, subscribers do most of the viewing. And they can wield their votes in the most direct and measurably bottom-line way possible. A lot of fan groups are already up in remotes at places like Netflix and Max over cavalier treatment of their shows.

Still, the fundamentals still look unchangingly tough: Huge companies have funds to ride things out (unlike writers, who, if they’re lucky, have mortgages). And some of the studios, currently in debt tens of billions of dollars, have already been squeezing all divisions to cut costs–not give raises.

Also not helping is the Ele-bot in the room. WGA-protected writers see AI as a threat, while the studios are possibly considering it economic salvation. The WGA’s demands included a set of regulations on AI work done by studios. The AMPTP’s response? Refusal to accept or counter it, but they said we could have an annual meeting to discuss “advances in technology.”

Um, thanks, but I already have my guys’ group meetups in Oculus Mini-Golf for that.

So it’s a fool’s errand to predict how this pans out, because so far it seems like a mashup of elements traditional and unfamiliar. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good prompt for an AI–as long as it works under a Robot WGA Contract.


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Rob Kutner

Rob Kutner has written for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Conan, and is also the author of Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times, and the graphic novel Shrinkage.

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