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Why Hollywood Writers Are Going On Strike

Why Writers For Your Favorite Shows Are Ready to Shut Down Hollywood

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Brittani Nichols: I write for a show called Abbott Elementary that’s on ABC, which is a traditional network, but the next day we’re on Hulu and a little bit after that we’re on HBO Max and Disney plus. So the amount for a re-air on the network is $13,500 and the amount that you’re paid for that episode being on new media streaming is $700.

Paula Pecorella: Hollywood is broken — and no, it’s not because Chris Pratt was cast as Mario or that Emperor Palpatine somehow came back from the dead in the last Star Wars movie—although those are both admittedly bad…

[Clip]: Somehow Palpatine has returned.

Paula Pecorella: It’s because the television industry has evolved in a way that abandons the very people who bring richness and diversity in characters and stories to our screens. Yes, we’re talking about streaming. And while I’ve been part of the onslaught of people sitting at the feet of HBO Max on many Sunday nights, waiting for the next episode of Game of Thrones to drop, I would hope and expect that the people who wrote that masterpiece are rewarded for captivating all of our eyeballs. Well, they’re not. Not like they used to be anyway.

Michael Jones Morales: the economic pillars that our industry have been built upon have in the last decade, been turned on their head.

Paula Pecorella: Television writers are being paid less money for these complex, multifaceted, unique narratives that bring companies like Warner Bros., Disney, and Netflix billions upon billions of dollars every year. And now, writers are understandably at their limits, and soon, that could affect you.

[Clip]: We interrupt our program to bring you this important message.

Paula Pecorella: Right now, Hollywood writers are in a heated contract dispute with the nine largest production studios. At the center of that fight is something called residuals: one of the most important ways writers get paid.

Danny Tolli: Residuals are payments that are made every quarter by the companies to the writers for the content that they create. 

Michael Jones Morales: The WGA contracts that currently exist were built upon a model where the content providers generated the revenue through ad sales. So, if I write an episode of television that re-airs over and over and over again, every time that episode re-airs, the content provider generates revenue, and a little piece of that revenue gets shared with everyone that contributed to the creation of it. Now, their revenue is made almost exclusively through, uh, monthly or annual subscriptions. So there is no re-airing. People can watch what they want when they want, which means that we’re not getting the same residuals that we once would have.

Danny Tolli: What I’m accustomed to, uh, as a broadcast writer as a residual, like $20,000 for an episode of TV. In streaming, I just got a check for the same project for $23. And what’s happening a lot is that at a certain point, after a certain couple of years, a streamer has to continue paying residuals and instead of doing that, they much rather just pull the product from their app. And so that’s what we’re seeing a lot of content that we create five years from now completely gone and we are not getting any residual compensation out of it.

Michael Jones Morales: So if you have a favorite show that you loved that you can’t find anywhere anymore, it’s because those content providers don’t want to pay the creators of the show for the right to air it.

Paula Pecorella: Remember when HBO Max removed its very own emmy-award-winning hit Westworld from its streaming library? Hate to break it to you—that was over residuals. Another issue at the heart of the writers’ contract dispute is something called “mini rooms,” which is just a cute way to refer to writer’s rooms that essentially do the same work with a fraction of the workers – at a fraction of the time – to turn over a larger profit. 

Michael Jones Morales: Historically speaking, a writer’s room was generally only constructed for a program that had been ordered to series that you were guaranteed to see at least the first few episodes of on television. Uh, it meant that the content providers spent millions of dollars on a pilot episode. They watched the pilot episode, they said, we love this, let’s order it to series. And a writer’s room was created. Increasingly they are saying, you know what, let’s not spend those millions of dollars on a pilot. Let’s spend significantly less money on a number of mini rooms where we will hire a smaller number of writers per project and we will order two or three or four or however many scripts without actually shooting any of it. And then we can look and read those scripts and decide whether or not this is a season of television. 

Danny Tolli: And what writers were seeing a lot of were that the streamers were only going to pay, uh, weekly compensation to all writers regardless of level. So you could be a co-executive producer with ten years of experience who might have sold some development. So you have a proven track record, you could be making the same as a staff writer who this is their very first job right out the gate. 

Brittani Nichols: We should be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m making more money now than I was making 10 years ago.’ Because that’s how careers work in every industry. You don’t work the same job for 10 years and make less money than you did when you first started doing it. And that’s what’s happening to us.

Michael Jones Morales: It’s fine if they want to hire us weekly on shows that have not been ordered to series yet, that they’re just collecting scripts for, but we need to be compensated in the same way that we were compensated when we were writing shows that they were putting on the air. It’s the same time and creative energy being put into those scripts. The fact that these content providers might be choosing not to make them doesn’t mean that we’re working less hard on them and that we should be paid less for the creation of them.

Paula Pecorella: At the end of the day, this all comes down to greed.  In 2000, the combined entertainment operating profits of Disney, Fox, Paramount, NBC, Universal, and Time Warner were approximately $5 billion. By 2019, adding in Netflix, they were $30 billion. Streaming has boosted corporate profits, but writers are actually earning less now.

Michael Jones Morales: It is absolutely undeniable that the streaming platforms are generating mountains of money through their subscription base. What they’re choosing to do with that money is an entirely different question.

Danny Tolli: There’s this misconception outside of Hollywood that writers are bougie six figure people who live in palaces and Beverly Hills, and why are they complaining about what more compensation? And that couldn’t be far from the truth.

Michael Jones Morales: The fight that the writers in this industry are battling is probably not very different from the fight that they or friends or relatives have been facing with the consolidation of power and money. There are fewer and fewer corporations holding more and more of the purse strings and protecting the coffers and the coins more and more greedily. And that’s certainly not unique to our industry. 

Brittani Nichols: We are making less money now than we were making 10 years ago. And the industry is shifting to prioritize streaming and none of our pay structure or the amount of money that we’re pay reflects those changes. They are treating everything like TV operates the same as it did 10 years ago. And I think everyone, even viewers know that’s just not true. The industry needs to catch up.

Danni Tolli: And if push comes to shove, a strike is incredibly important to show these companies that we mean business and that we won’t stand for them trying to take our livelihoods in Hollywood.

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