Hollywood writers to return to work after one of longest strikes in history as guild backs deal with studios

Writers free to start working as guild votes to ratify new three-year contract with Hollywood studios

Namita Singh
Wednesday 27 September 2023 06:25 BST
Related: Hollywood writers react to ‘tentative agreement’ to end strike

Hollywood writers have officially agreed to end their five-month strike and return to work, after union leaders approved a contract agreement with Hollywood studio bosses.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced in a statement on Tuesday that it had voted to accept the deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group which represents studios, streaming services and producers in negotiations, after 148 days on the picket line.

The writers would be free to work starting midnight local time, as the guild votes to ratify the new three-year contract with Hollywood studios.

In tweets from its eastern and western branches, the WGA said: “The WGA reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP. Today, our Negotiating Committee, WGAW Board, and WGAE Council all voted unanimously to recommend the agreement. The strike ends at 12.01am.”

The WGA and an alliance of studios including streaming services reached a tentative deal last Sunday after five days of marathon talks.

It brings to a close one of the longest strikes in the industry’s history, and means late-night talk shows are likely to resume.

However, most TV and film productions are set to remain on hold as an actor’s strike remains underway andno negotiations are on the horizon yet.

The writers’ strike began on 2 May and they were soon joined by the members of Screen Actors Guild on 13 July.

The scale of protests cost the US economy $5bn, according to an estimate from Milken Institute economist Kebin Klowen, reported BBC News.

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The 11,500 members of the WGA still have to vote to ratify the contract themselves in early October, but lifting the strike will allow the writers to work during that process, the guild told members in an email.

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East hold signs as they walk in the picket-line outside of HBO and Amazon’s offices on 10 May 2023 (Getty Images)

After Tuesday’s board votes, the contracts were released for the first time to the writers, who had not yet been given any details on the deal, which their leaders called “exceptional”.

The three-year agreement includes significant wins in the main areas writers had fought for – compensation, length of employment, size of staff and control of artificial intelligence. The agreement matches or is nearly equal to what they had sought at the outset of the strike.

The union had sought minimum increases in pay and future residual earnings from shows of between five and six per cent, depending on the position of the writer. The studios had wanted between two and four per cent. The compromise deal was a raise of between 3.5 and five per cent.

The guild also negotiated new residual payments based on the popularity of streaming shows, where writers will get bonuses for being a part of the most popular shows on Netflix, Max and other services, a proposal studios initially rejected.

Many writers on picket lines had complained they weren’t properly paid for helping create heavily watched properties. The writers also got the requirement they sought for shows that intend to run for at least 13 episodes. Such shows will have at least six writers on staff, with the numbers shifting based on the number of episodes.

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East walk on the picket-line outside of HBO and Amazon’s offices on 10 May 2023 (Getty Images)

While they demanded a guarantee of six writers to work on each show, the studios and guild reached a compromise of three writers for six-episode series, five writers for 7-12 episode series and six writers for shows with 13 or more episodes, reported The Washington Post.

The writers also got a guarantee that staff on shows in initial development will be employed for at least 10 weeks, and that staff on shows that go to air will be employed for three weeks per episode.

On artificial intelligence, the writers received the regulation and control that they had sought. Under the contract, raw, AI-generated storylines will not be regarded as “literary material” – a term in screenwriters’ contracts for scripts and other story forms they produce.

This means they won’t be competing with computers for screen credits. Nor will AI-generated stories be considered “source material” – contractual language for novels, video games or other works that are adapted by screenwriters into scripts.

There is, however, still some concern among writers that their original work could be used by studios to train AI programmes.

But the WGA said that it reserves the right “to assert that exploitation of writers; material to train AI is prohibited by [minimum basic agreement] or other law”.

Writers have the right under the deal to use AI in their process if the company they are working for agrees and other conditions are met. But companies cannot require a writer to use AI.

Cheering the deal, WGA negotiating committee member Adam Conover said: “We made progress on almost every single point that writers told us they needed. Every single point that the companies told us they would never give us, they bent, and in many cases broke, on.”

Still-striking members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) returned to the picket lines earlier Tuesday for the first time since the writers struck their tentative deal, and were animated by a new spirit of optimism.

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East hold signs as they walk in the picket-line outside of HBO and Amazon’s offices on 10 May 2023 (Getty Images)

“For a hot second, I really thought that this was going to go on until next year,” said Marissa Cuevas, an actor who appeared on the TV series Kung Fu and The Big Bang Theory.

“Knowing that at least one of us has gotten a good deal gives a lot of hope that we will also get a good deal.”

Writers’ picket lines had been suspended, but they were encouraged to walk in solidarity with actors, and many were on the lines Tuesday, including Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who picketed alongside friend and ER actor Noah Wyle, as he has throughout the strikes.

“We would never have had the leverage we had if SAG had not gone out,” Weiner said. “They were very brave to do it.”

The AMPTP chose to deal with the longer-striking writers first and leaders of SAG-AFTRA said they had received no overtures on resuming talks. That’s likely to change soon.

Actors also voted to authorise their leadership to potentially expand their walkout to include the lucrative video game market, a step that could put new pressure on Hollywood studios to make a deal with the performers who provide voices and stunts for games.

SAG-AFTRA announced the move late Monday, saying that 98 per cent of its members voted to go on strike against video game companies if ongoing negotiations are not successful.

Acting in video games can include a variety of roles, from voice performances to motion capture work as well as stunts.

Some of the same issues are at play in video game negotiations as they are in the film and TV strikes. These include wages, safety measures and protections on the use of AI.

The companies involved include gaming giants Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Take 2 Productions as well as Disney and Warner Bros video game divisions.

“It’s time for the video game companies to stop playing games and get serious about reaching an agreement on this contract,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said in a statement.

Audrey Cooling, a spokesperson for video game producers, said they are “continuing to negotiate in good faith” and have reached tentative agreements on more than half of the proposals on the table.

Additional reporting by agencies

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