In this FandomWire Video Essay, we explore how the WGA Writers Strike could change Hollywood forever
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The WGA Strike Could Change Hollywood
You’ve probably heard that the screenwriters in the Writers Guild of America have gone on strike, but many people likely don’t understand the full impact of what that means for the future of the film and television industry. Hollywood could very well be permanently changed for the better thanks to the strike and its associated negotiations. However, that means fans will have to be patient — because some of our favorite shows and movies may be put on hold until a resolution is reached. But exactly which franchises will be hit the hardest? And what ripples can we expect to see in the industry in the meantime? Well, to answer that we have to look at a combination of the WGA’s requests, the studios’ plans moving forward, and the history of this complicated relationship. So, sit back and prop up your feet as we dive into the Writer’s Guild of America’s strike, and how it could change Hollywood forever.
The purpose of any strike is to apply pressure to those in charge by essentially refusing duties until certain terms are met. These terms typically revolve around better wages, better working environment, job security, or other essential elements of employment.
The WGA Strike means that any professional screenwriter cannot work until a deal is reached with the studios. Any member of the WGA must put down their pencils and participate in the strike, or face being removed from the organization. Even writers who are not guild members are expected not to work with struck companies as an act of solidarity. If a writer is discovered to be violating this rule, they will be prohibited from joining the WGA in the future.
Most people outside of the film industry don’t fully understand why the WGA is striking in the first place, or the pivotal role this will play in the future of film production. The main point of contention in the negotiations is streaming. The recently-expired WGA contract revolves around theatrical media and has very few provisions when it comes to streaming. With streaming becoming a multi-billion dollar industry since the last contract negotiation, writers are fighting to be compensated fairly for these money-making streaming shows.
There is also the contentious topic of Artificial Intelligence, which has been a topic of debate in the film industry over the past few months. AI is taking over. It’s a popular set-up for science fiction and horror entertainment, typically depicting the rise of artificial intelligence as the dooming factor to mankind’s existence as we know it. And while it’s no doubt entertaining to watch the war against Skynet’s cybernetic Terminators or, to watch Neo learn Kung-Fu simply by plugging into the Matrix and downloading a training program, these aren’t realistic depictions of the relationship between man and AI. At least… not yet. As AI technology continues to develop, fears have begun to arise among professional writers that they may lose their jobs to computers altogether. The WGA seeks provisions in their contract that protect their jobs against the imminent threat of AI.
So what can’t happen during the strike? Pretty much any duty that involves a writer — and having someone who isn’t a writer complete that duty is generally frowned upon, as well. There can be no new scripts created, no revisions of existing scripts, and even no writers working on set to adjust lines on projects in production. This is a stage of the writing process that is often overlooked, but in nearly every scenario, there is a writer on-set assisting with changes and re-writes throughout the filming process. So, in many cases not having that means a complete standstill on projects in production.
One of the first casualties of the WGA strike are the late-night talk shows: The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Show. These shows are obviously written up to the wire, with the monologues and skits often revolving around the current political events of the day. They’ve been moved onto a schedule of reruns for now, and this really hurts Hollywood because the late-night circuit is a hugely important part of the promotional tour.
Similarly, variety shows like SNL and Last Week Tonight have gone on hiatus — and, depending on how long the strike lasts, may end up having ended their seasons early. Like the late-night talk shows, these shows tend to be extremely topical, with their writing happening in the weeks and days leading up to the show’s airdate.
The question that is on many people’s minds is how Hollywood will be able to continue amid the writer’s strike. Of course, there are thousands of other creatives in Hollywood whose jobs are affected if production has to come to a standstill. Thankfully, many other guilds, including SAG-AFTRA have spoken up in support of the writer’s guild knowing that, without writers… there are no movies or television shows.
You may have noticed in the news or on social media that numerous celebrities have spoken out, standing with the WGA in support of the strike. Some have simply voiced their support, while others have taken more substantial steps, like actually joining the writers on the front lines to picket or delivering food to the picketers.
The most obvious change that is made in the industry is an immediate shift towards non-scripted content. You’ll see a lot more reality shows coming out in the next few months and years, as studios begin to rush production on more spin-offs and new ideas for dating shows, competition shows, and the like.
Although films that have already been written can continue with production, many choose to halt because of the restrictions that are placed on them by writers not being able to work. People who are “multi-hyphenates” — such as writers who are also directing the film or acting in the film — are able to continue their other duties, but cannot work in a writing capacity. In other words, writers are not able to make ANY changes to the script — even down to coming up with alternate takes.
The most obvious examples of this can be seen in comedy films. You know how in some of your favorite comedy movies there are outtakes over the credits of actors telling different versions of the jokes in the film? We’ve seen it with movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step-Brothers. Well, if that actor is a member of the WGA, they aren’t allowed to do that under the conditions of the strike. They can only act in the script, performing the lines as written. No improvising, at all. And that is huge because the best comedic actors often improvise a large majority of their dialogue, working off of their co-stars to create absurdly funny scenes that could only be achieved in the moment.
However, it isn’t just comedy movies that are affected by these restrictions. Even if there’s just an instance in which a single line needs to be rewritten, it can’t be done by a writer. For example, in the Star Trek film released in 2009, director J.J. Abrams and producer Damien Lindelof were not credited as writers on the film, but as WGA members, they still weren’t allowed to make changes to the script. The result was that they weren’t able to take advantage of the many ideas they came up with on set.
The James Bond film Quantum of Solace had a very different story. The draft of the second film in which Daniel Craig was set to play the iconic spy was submitted a mere two hours before the strike began. That means no revisions or changes were allowed to be made by a writer, and according to the film’s director Marc Forster, it was only the “bare bones of a script.” Forster and Craig — not being members of the WGA — tried their best to fill in the gaps, but were unsatisfied with the end result.
Other films also rushed into production with only a vague outline of a script. Many action blockbusters at the time decided to continue production because of tight timelines and the belief that the action sequences would carry the film where the story was lacking. Unfortunately, we all know how this worked out — with numerous terrible studio films coming out in the 2009-2010 period.
One of the most egregious examples of a film that was rushed into production too quickly due to the WGA strike in 2007 was Michael Bay’s Transformers sequel, Revenge of the Fallen. The first Transformers was fun and, surprisingly, mostly acclaimed from a critical standpoint, with a 61 on Metacritic and a 58% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Revenge of the Fallen fared much worse, with a 35 on Metacritic and a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Much of the criticism was aimed at the script — which was panned for being too simplistic.
The longer the strike goes on, the more likely studios are to resort to unorthodox means to keep production running. The 2007-2008 strike went on for four months. To fill the gaps created by not being able to work on new material, studios looked into their archives and brushed the dust off of scripts that were finished and sitting in purgatory. Of course, there was a reason that many of these scripts were sitting on the shelf: they weren’t particularly good.
One of the most notorious examples of a film that exists “thanks” to the WGA Strike is Dragonball: Evolution. Although these claims are mostly speculation, many say the powers that be at 20th Century Fox had a gap in their production schedule due to all the halted productions, and they were looking for a completed script — any completed script. The result was this critical and commercial bomb being birthed into existence.
Even though the strike has only been going on for a few weeks, we’ve already seen it begin to affect production on numerous high-profile films and shows. Even though the main holdout is rumored to be streaming giant Netflix, no one is immune from the effects of the strike, and everything — from theatrical to television and streaming — has seen a ripple effect. And the longer this strike goes without a resolution, the more we will feel these effects in the coming years.
The WGA strike has already affected production on many of our favorite movies and shows. One of the first productions announced to be delayed due to the WGA strike was Marvel’s production of the new Blade film. The production was scheduled to begin in June in Atlanta, but the script reportedly was not in a complete state, and would have required rewrites on set — neither of which is allowed under the conditions of the strike.
Another MCU project affected by the strike is Daredevil: Born Again, the Disney+ follow-up to the fan-favorite series once streaming on Netflix. Although the scripts were finished and the show was already in production, the WGA had a picket line on the set, and members of other production guilds — including the Teamsters and IATSE — refused to cross the line as a show of solidarity with the writers.
As the supposed main holdout, Netflix is also feeling the pain of production slowdowns and stoppages. The streamer’s flagship show, Stranger Things, has stopped production. In an announcement they made on Twitter, the show’s creators and producers, the Duffer Brothers, stated that “writing does not stop when filming begins” and that they would continue shooting when the strike reached a resolution.
Another fan-favorite Netflix show has also halted production: the Karate Kid follow-up Cobra Kai. Work was still being done in the writers’ room and on set until the strike began, at which point production had to stop because the writers were no longer allowed to work. Like Stranger Things, fans may have to wait a bit longer to see the new season of Cobra Kai than they thought.
The popular Showtime series Yellowjackets had only just started its writers’ room when the strike began. The writers on the show were able to do one day of work before having to put their pencils down. In the long term, this likely means the third season of the show will be delayed, as it will take even longer to write the series than anticipated.
Another part of the strike is that WGA members can’t work with studios to promote their projects. After all, the nature of the strike is that studios are not willing to partner with writers as they should, so why would writers continue to partner with studios to promote projects? Heading into Emmy season, this is particularly concerning for studios who need their writers to promote their projects for awards attention.
So how will the studios be able to come to a resolution? The long and short of it is that studios must agree to a new contract that pays writers more, has better terms for films and series created for streaming, and addresses the factor of artificial intelligence. Until the studios are willing to be fairer to writers in this regard, the strike will continue — with some experts saying it will last well into the summer.
What do you think about the Writer’s Guild of America’s strike? Do you think the studios should give them what they’re asking for? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to like and subscribe. We’ll see you next time!