What do Hollywood writers want? Here are the main issues

Today, members of the Writers Guild of America, West, will gather at the Hollywood Palladium, the latest in a series of meetings, to discuss the key issues they will grapple with in upcoming contract negotiations with major studios.

Union leaders are hosting the discussions over the next month to gather feedback from members on their top priorities to bring to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios like Walt Disney Co. and Apple, in negotiations.

WGA’s current three-year contract expires on May 1st. Many believe negotiations will be difficult and that a strike could be on the cards as the gap widens between what the union’s roughly 10,000 members want and what the studios are willing to deliver at the time of cost-cutting and Redundancies.

Finally, guild leaders say they’re trying to make it easier for middle-class writers to make a living.

“It’s really a whole new business model,” Meredith Stiehm, president of WGA West, previously told The Times. “It has changed our job so much and depressed our income so much. It’s a pretty serious problem that we need to solve.”

Here’s what you need to know about the biggest issues likely to dominate the upcoming negotiations.

Why are authors so focused on streaming residuals?

In 1953, the WGA entered into a television show rebroadcast deal with studios based on the idea that if a show were to be repeated, there would be less demand to hire television writers for new content.

Each time a show was repeated, the writers received a fee, now commonly known as the residual. These fees became vital for writers to help them make ends meet during lean years as their work was sold abroad or repeated on television for years.

But the streaming revolution has turned the old compensation system on its head. The syndication market for TV shows has all but disappeared, and residuals from films have also declined as box office attendances have plummeted, eroding residual income for writers.

Didn’t the writers make a big profit streaming The Last Strike?

Yes. After a 100-day strike in 2007-08, the WGA seized jurisdiction over the Internet and set formulas for how authors would be paid if their work was migrated online.

However, writers say streaming remnants still fall short of what they would earn if their shows aired on a network first.

Television shows or films on one network may be rebroadcast through syndication to other networks, cable television, home video, or foreign markets. The residuals would be based on these receipts, and authors have the benefit of public viewing data.

However, if a TV or film project is sold to a streaming company, it’s likely to stay with that service, so there’s a fixed fee from which to calculate leftovers.

And many authors consider the streaming residual payments to be too low.
Additionally, they said, due to a lack of viewership data, they have no insight into how many people have seen their show or movie and whether their final payment accurately reflects success.

What’s all this talk about span protection?

One of the big challenges for writers is the shortening of television seasons through streaming.

Before the age of streaming, a network show might have 22 to 24 episodes written over a 10 month period.

Today’s series are much shorter, often spanning eight to ten episodes, but writers can spend a lot of time working on this show, effectively reducing their pay per episode.

Since 2017, the union has been able to limit how long writers can work on an episode, and the studio pays more if they work beyond that. Currently, the episode fee is limited to 2.4 working weeks.

But not all work is covered by this protection, and there is also an earnings cap.
Authors want to extend this protection and apply it to more members.

Writers have also spoken a lot about the rise of mini-spaces. Why are they a problem?

Until the advent of streaming, television producers typically ordered a show by first commissioning a pilot episode. And if it was successful, the producers would then put together a writers’ space to write 22 to 24 episodes over about 10 months. Writers would receive at least a minimum weekly fee, plus compensation for writing an episode of the series. All of which would help qualify for their health and retirement plans.

Today, streaming companies tend to order a show without filming a pilot. They usually call in a small group of writers to beat up a season of the show before any production begins. This has made writers feel underpaid given the task of creating an entire television season in a short amount of time.

Another problem is that staff writers working in mini-rooms may not get the experience to produce a show, which can help them climb the various writer ranks and increase their pay.

Options under consideration include an increase in minimum payments for these spaces and a minimum staff size relative to the number of episodes ordered, the authors said.

increase in the minimum wage

With rising inflation and changes in author compensation, authors are also pushing for higher minimum wages for a range of services.

Writers have argued that fewer of them work and those who do make less money.

The union has previously said more writers than ever are working at or near minimum wages and that those rates have not kept pace with rising costs. Inflation recently peaked at 9.1%.

Typically, the WGA negotiates a 3% increase in these so-called minima each cycle.

However, some board members have called for doubling the minimum requirements across the board, which could be a non-starter for the studios.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2023-02-15/with-hollywood-fears-of-a-strike-writers-gather-to-weigh-issues-what-are-they-after What do Hollywood writers want? Here are the main issues

Sarah Ridley

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