Writers on the “Existential Fight” of the Hollywood Strike: “Streamers Have Been Screwing [Us] Over”
Imagine pouring blood, sweat, and tears into a creative project only to be compensated with pennies on the dollar. Or barely being able to afford a roof over your head while employed by an industry that makes billions of dollars a year – largely thanks to your hard work. That is the reality for many TV writers and Writers Guild of America members who are striking to change the current state – and future – of their livelihood.
On May 2, the labor union – made up of over 11,500 members – called for a strike after failing to come to an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) following many months of negotiating their next three-year contract. The decision was largely fueled by changes that have yet to be made to writers’ compensation, but it’s evolved into more.
The heart of the strike points to the lucrative streaming boom, which writers have yet to earn their fair share of. “No one anticipated streaming to be what it was now,” TV writer Isaac Gómez – who’s worked on shows like Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico” and, most recently, Apple TV+’s “The Last Thing He Told Me” – tells POPSUGAR, referencing the 2007 strike. “When you look at our contract agreement, as it relates to new media, it’s pretty expired language because it implies that it’s an outlier versus a dominant force in our industry. Everyone is streaming right now, including broadcast networks. . . . We have these streaming platforms in which the rules are different than if it were to air on broadcast, and what we’re asking for is for the rules to be leveled out.”
“The irony is it isn’t just for us that we’re doing this for – it’s quite literally for the sake of our industry.”
Moreover, striking writers are also fighting for better working conditions. The AMPTP broke its silence on the strike on May 4 with a four-page, point-by-point document, shared with The Hollywood Reporter, that rebuts the WGA’s stance on what led up to it. It breaks down the organization and studios’ response to WGA proposals like mandatory staffing, streaming residuals, and wage increases. In a statement published by Deadline, the AMPTP said, “As we have said all along, our companies are committed to finding workable solutions to our ever-changing business for the mutual benefit of those who contribute to its success.”
Regardless, as with most creative professions, it’s impossible to produce quality, and even award-worthy, work when you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from; the fight for survival takes priority.
“We’re on food stamps. We’re on unemployment, moving back in with our parents. Sh*t is not sweet right now,” says TV writer Kyra Jones, who has credits on Hulu’s “Woke” and ABC’s “Queens.” “[This field] is really, really unsustainable, and the tipping point of that is why we’re striking.”
TV and film writer Kaitlin Fontana – whose credits include 2018 Sundance Film Festival selection “Franchesca” – says of the ongoing strike, “We’re here for a very serious reason, which is that we didn’t come to an agreement on our contract.” But in the past few weeks, she’s observed other things out on the picket lines, as well. “What I’ve been finding increasingly interesting is just how bad it is for everybody,” she shares. “I assumed that some people are doing great, but hearing the creators of hit shows saying, ‘I’m not getting paid what I should be getting paid for this show that I’ve made an incredible hit for this network,’ is really driving home how we’re all in the same boat.”
Over the past month, striking writers have been joined by showrunners, directors, and even actors in their fight against Hollywood, whether that be pulling out of scheduled gigs or coming down to the picket lines with them. “It’s been interesting seeing the camaraderie not just amongst ourselves,” writer Ewan Wake says, “but even people who drive by would honk their horns and just show their support.”
Having the support of these known figures, Gómez and Jones say, is meaningful to what this strike means for the industry at large. “There’s amazing solidarity out there on the picket line,” Jones notes. “You’re seeing writers of all levels and even people who aren’t in the WGA, so it really feels like everyone’s very unified, everybody’s out here taking care of each other. . . . There’s some very beautiful community that definitely helps us keep going.”
Between shutting down multimillion-dollar productions and forcing networks to alter their fall TV schedules, WGA writers are committed to making sure this strike not only makes a difference for them but also for other sectors of the entertainment industry. “It’s really about implementing the structure that, in all honesty, is going to benefit the studios in the long run because better quality work will ensure a longer sustainability for the industry, as well as just greater content being created,” Gómez says. “The irony is it isn’t just for us that we’re doing this for – it’s quite literally for the sake of our industry.”
Read ahead to hear more from these writers about the realities of the strike – from how long it may last to how they feel “streamers have been screwing writers over.”