The WGA Strike, which began on May 2nd, enters its second month today. Given all the “news” that the “infotainment” industry bombards us with on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that many FF2 readers find the narrative line confusing. What are the strikers’ objectives from the POV of the WGA (Writers Guild of America) membership? Ignore the fake, faux & otherwise. Here is an exclusive overview from a friend on the picket line. Proud to introduce my neighbor, Tim Barnes. (JLH 6/1/23)
What’s At Stake During The 2023 WGA Strike
Guest Post by Tim Barnes
I woke up on Tuesday, May 2, to an email from the Writers Guild of America announcing that we were on strike.
Although an unprecedented 97.8% of guild members—myself included—voted to authorize a potential strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (aka the AMPTP) a few weeks prior, it somehow came as a surprise to me that the AMPTP (which is comprised of hundreds of companies including Amazon, Apple, Disney, Netflix, Sony, and Warner Bros) had forced us into this position. The fact that our proposals would cost less than 2% of overall Hollywood gains left me convinced that a fair contract was more than likely before the May 1 deadline. However, the AMPTPs dismal response to WGA proposals that would ensure humans remain an important part in the writing process—and that those same humans earn reasonable wages and streaming residuals—proved just how wrong I was.
Mind you, I am a relatively new member of the WGA. Had I experienced the hundred-day strike in 2007, perhaps I wouldn’t be so shocked. Before 2020, I was just a guy telling jokes in the wildly unregulated world of standup comedy while also writing and producing for various “new media” and digital wings of news and entertainment companies (often for low wages and paltry health benefits).
So much is at stake if we allow the trade of professional writing to fall into the bottomless pit of the gig economy.
But in 2020, after finally working my way up to being a staff writer on a Nickelodeon series (a “signatory” network that signed the Guild’s collective bargaining agreement), and completing the 24 units of work required to become a WGA member, I gained a rare sense of stability in the world of entertainment. Thanks to the WGA—and all of the writers in years past who have fought for it—I have a health and pension plan as well as other benefits laid out in the minimum basic agreement that was in effect from 5/2/20 through 5/1/23. I submit this information to highlight just how much goes into becoming a part of the Writers Guild, how important the union is to writers, and just how much is at stake if we allow the trade of professional writing to fall into the bottomless pit of the gig economy.
Issues involving Hollywood studios and writers can often sound like a tickle fight at the opera. But as the saying goes: all that glitters isn’t… well, you get it. Working writers were once able to at least balance out certain standard expense factors like the cost of living in NY/LA (while paying both agents and managers 10% of wages), by working multiple months on 20-episode network television seasons and earning residuals with each re-air that would hopefully sustain them until the next job.
So much has changed with streaming services!
So much has changed with streaming services! “Seasons” have been slashed down to as few as 6 episodes. Writers, already working fewer weeks to produce scripts, are rarely paid to stick around during production (causing more heavy lifting for showrunners). Residuals from streaming series yield pennies, compared to the hundreds or thousands that a comparable program would earn if re-aired on broadcast. Result? Most writers now scramble to assemble a middle-class existence.
Writers create the blueprint for creative content that earns billions of dollars for studios. And yet, with more writers being asked to repeat the entry level of staff writer, and 98% of staff writers earning minimums, and those minimums (after paying taxes and percentages to reps) not meeting the cost of living due to short bursts of work, a growing number of writers are struggling.
Two sample howls of frustration:
- Alrinthea Carter, a writer on the HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, tweeted: “I was applying (and was subsequently rejected) for a full time job at Target when I was nominated for an Emmy.”
- Abbot Elementary story editor, Brittani Nichols, tweeted: “I was Story Editor on a show and my next job, I was offered Staff Writer. A demotion! And then the job after that, I was offered Staff Writer AGAIN. Luckily, I had another job offer and was able to tell them to fuck right on off.”
These scenarios are becoming the norm, and, no surprise, disproportionately affecting women writers and/or writers of color. It’s hard not to recognize the absurdity of being welcomed in to add our diverse stories into the ever-expanding tapestry of streaming era “content” while at the same time being undermined financially. It’s a hug followed by a “first in/first out” slap in the face.
The community that has come together in solidarity gives me faith that everything will work out.
Today, we’re entering the second month of our strike. And while there is a great deal of uncertainty, a surprising emotion has emerged for me: balance. The last five years alone have been a rollercoaster of mergers, layoffs, cancellations, and reboots. Yet this strike is the one thing about the industry that feels functional. The community of writers, actors, directors, stage employees, and teamsters who have all come together in solidarity as we fight for a fair deal from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers gives me faith that everything will work out.
I’m humbled to have gone from being an aspiring late-night writer in 2007 (witnessing the hilarious, bizarre, improvised strike episodes of shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien), to writing for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon thirteen or so years later. And I’m thankful for the benefits I get as a WGA member. These are benefits which generations of writers before me fought for. Now it’s my turn to fight for the next generation of writers, watching whatever strange concoctions emerge on television while our pencils are down.
© Tim Barnes (6/1/23) – Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Follow link to read the AMPTPs dismal response to proposals from the WGA prior to the strike.
Follow link to read the terms laid out in the minimum basic agreement.
Read Wikipedia’s overview and ongoing updates.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Comedienne Wanda Sykes sounds off in front of the NBCUniversal office in Manhattan (aka “30 Rock”). Photo Credit: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection/Alamy 2R3FJ67 (5/23/23)
Bottom Photo: Picket line of striking writers outside Marvel Studios Disney+ location in New York City (5/10/23). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Tim Barnes is a comedian and television writer whose absurdist humor brings light to social issues from unexpected angles. Tim has written for the Nickelodeon sitcom Warped!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Nickelodeon’s All That reboot, Comedy Central, the NPR quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, and even documented his testicles once for Men’s Health.
And, oh yes, Tim is also my neighbor and frequent partner on morning walks with our pooches Spock & Tika 😊
Learn more about Tim on his website: https://www.timbarnescomedy.com/