The Writer’s Strike Is Over

You may have heard that the Hollywood writers’ strike is over. “Hollywood” being a bit of a loose term since there’s an entire Writers Guild East and I’ve spent 80 percent of my television writing career in New York City. But, as you know, the writers of television and film programs have been off the job since early May. With it, most of show business slowly ground to halt – and then (outside of reality television) stopped completely when the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, went on strike too.


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But now the WGA board has voted to accept a deal and membership will also soon vote on it. If you’re interested in what’s in the deal, here are some details. Writers have gained huge protections in terms of minimum payments, room sizes, residuals, and legal language around AI that prevents studios from, for example, paying writers less to ‘fix’ a machine-generated script rather than write a new one. There is also language involving script fees for lower level writers and a “second” step for screenwriters asked to write additional material.

Related: Report: Your Favourite Gaming Actors Want You To Stop AI Generating Their Voices

And, as always, I’m a member of the union, not a representative of it. Any mistakes I write here are mine and mine alone, not the union’s. And any opinions are exclusively mine. So what’s next?

According to the WGA, writers are allowed to go back to work. However, SAG-AFTRA workers are still on strike. If you live in a major city, you might see a picket line with SAG people and WGA people. A lot of us are going out there and picketing in solidarity. And, fortunately, a lot of what the actors want are the same things we wanted and got – especially on huge issues such as AI and residuals. It’s because both of our unions were on strike at the same time that we got a good deal, and it’s the reason they might very soon too.

Artwork of Tasha the Witch Queen writing in a book
Tasha The Witch Queen By Olga Drebas

Here’s where it gets a bit wonky: some shows, like late night and daytime talk shows, will return super fast. That’s because talk shows are covered by a different agreement with SAG-AFTRA. Remember, these are big unions. For example, the WGA also oversees news reporters, but they have a different agreement than the writers who are making sitcoms and dramas. The same applies to SAG-AFTRA. Different formats or genres of television often have different agreements. And while the WGA did cover talk shows for this negotiation, SAG does not. To be clear, none of that has to do with respect or business, and nobody is scabbing. It’s just the way different unions defined different jobs a thousand years before any of us were born.

Another reason you’ll see talk shows return fast is because they don’t require much to shoot. Unlike a narrative show, most talk shows only have one or two sets in one studio and have a smaller ‘cast’ than a regular show. Plus, those are shows that are written on the day-of. You don’t need a complete 50-page script to be fully ready to shoot an episode. That’s part of the reason they’ve stuck around so long.

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA could get similar (or even better) terms than we did, as well as solving some of their own unique issues such as the growth of self-tape auditions, which often require actors to also have a good setup to record themselves. They’re a much bigger union, and they are at the center of the entertainment industry; they deserve their due. Another reminder that these strikes and these increases really benefit the lowest people on the ladder as well as those on the top.

The flip side of this is SAG-AFTRA might strike video games soon. They’ve done it before, and pretty recently. As you’d expect, actors in video games face the same issues as those in television and movies. AI is a threat – especially to vocal talent who spend decades mastering the craft of actually sounding good on audio. Trust me; you know when a voice actor is bad at it. But with AI, companies can easily cut corners. It’s easy to imagine a world in which the game touts big budget actors, while robbing lower level actors of work by having an AI voice speak the bars and asides from random NPCs.

And then there’s IATSE – The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Their contract is also up soon. And, baby, IATSE is big. It’s hard to overstate how much of the entertainment industry is protected by IATSE. Mandatory meal breaks? IATSE. Overtime hours on sets? IATSE. They’re set to negotiate their own contract pretty soon. If they strike, the industry would basically shut down again. But we’d be on the picket lines right with them, like they were on the line for the writers. IATSE was great to us during the strike and, if they do, we will support them.

Saving the game using a typewriter in Resident Evil 2.

These are far from the only ones. The musicians are also set to negotiate new contracts very soon. As is the Animation Guild (part of IATSE, but I believe negotiates separately), which oversees, as you’d expect, animation. The Animation Guild also covers most cartoon writers, and many people are members of both unions. A couple of major shows such as The Simpsons are WGA, but that was after a very long, hard-fought battle. Animation Writers (and most of the animation industry) are often underpaid compared to their WGA counterparts. Writing a script for a live sitcom and a cartoon sitcom aren’t vastly different skills, but they usually pay vastly different numbers. This is all due to a very weird, long, complicated history that I don’t have time for.

Here’s the thing: we’re all united. The threats to writers are the same threats to actors are the same threats to musicians are the same threats to editors are the same threats to crew members. The WGA could not have achieved this victory without the solidarity of the other unions. It was a hard battle. We picketed for nearly 150 days. But don’t forget that SAG-AFTRA is still on the line – and potentially other unions soon – putting their livelihoods and jobs in danger so they can achieve a sustainable future in a wild industry. And they will.

Next: AI In Video Games Isn’t Bad, But Using It To Create Is

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