Updated May 2, 2023, 9:46am EDT
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Hollywood writers’ strike explained in three charts

The Writers Guild of America West offices are seen in Los Angeles as Hollywood film and TV writers, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of giving union negotiators the power to call a strike if contract talks with studios break down, can order a work stoppage after May 1, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 25, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake
REUTERS/Mike Blake

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The News

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike Tuesday after a breakdown in negotiations between the union and high-profile production studios.

Late night shows are set to immediately go dark as writers walk off the job, and are expected to show re-runs, Deadline reported.

It is the first time in 15 years that the guild will take to the picket lines as writers dispute unfair pay practices ushered in by the streaming era. In 2007, a similar strike lasted 100 days, costing Hollywood $2 billion and upending the production of ongoing television series.

Around 11,500 union members will begin picketing outside studios later today. Here’s a look at the industry, in three charts.

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Know More

According to the WGA, earnings for writers represented by the guild have fallen 23% over the past decade, when adjusted for inflation. The guild says that around half of television writers are paid the minimum amount allowable on their pay scale, up from 33% in the 2013-14 season.

According to data included in the WGA West division’s 2022 annual report, film and television writers reported a combined $1.5 billion in wages in 2021, down nearly 8% from a year prior.

According to the same annual report, the majority of WGA members write for television. In 2021, the last year for which data is available, 4,934 members (roughly 83%) reported writing for television shows, compared to 1,994 film writers.

Among the WGA’s concerns is the impact of streaming platforms such as Netflix on writers’ wages: Despite more jobs for writers due to the boom in series and film production, members say they are making much less money. Half of series writers work in streaming, the WGA said, and the combination of short-order seasons and a lack of season schedules have contributed to lower wages.

Box office revenue has dropped with the rise in popularity of streaming, with losses also impacted by cinema shutdowns required by earlier COVID-19 gathering restrictions. In 2022, U.S. box offices grossed $7.4 billion, a marginal recovery after a record-low $2 billion in 2020.

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Step Back

There are episode reruns in our future.

Hollywood writers last walked off the job in 2007, costing the Los Angeles economy $2.5 billion. That strike lasted 100 days, upending shows already in production, and forcing late-night hosts to fend for themselves. Conan O’Brien famously sat at his desk and timed how long he could spin his wedding ring without it toppling over.

Scripts in production will now pause. In 2007, Bond film Quantum of Solace was upended by the strike, leading to rushed production and a lackluster film. The screenplay was submitted just two hours before the movie was set to begin filming, and no changes could be made after production began.

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  • Average writer earnings were about $260,000 in 2021, according to Variety. But when adjusted for inflation, Hollywood writers haven’t seen much change in their pay since 1995, it reported. And, with a sizable number of writers not reporting any income at all in some years, it is difficult to know what the true average income is for television and film writers.

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