Jasmine Liang and Houston Sasselli
Arts & Entertainment Editor and News Editor
As of Oct. 9, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has ratified their 2023 Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) with a 99 percent member majority vote after 148 days of striking and negotiations with Hollywood studios.
Critical turning points for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ (AMPTP) acceptance of the proposed terms were the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike and powerful CEOs’ participation in negotiations.
The WGA managed to address their major concerns, including minimum staff employment, streaming residuals, compensation increases, script fees (in addition to salary), artificial intelligence precautions, and data transparency. In a statement released by the WGA negotiating committee, they declare: “this deal is exceptional.” They estimate the deal’s value at $233 million/year.
In an interview with NPR, co-chair of the WGA negotiating committee David Goodman claimed, “The deal is exceptional in that it is something that will protect writers, not just now, but in the future.” The WGA promises a better industry on the other side of the strike, igniting a lost hope in aspiring screenwriters — especially students in college-level programs.
Despite the WGA’s reassurance that the agreement is sound, there are some outstanding concerns for writers and consumers. The terms of residual pay include that the series or film must be “viewed by 20 percent or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in the first 90 days in any subsequent exhibition year.” Based on previous trends, this means that most shows won’t qualify. Not only that, but the data released by studios can only be viewed by six WGA members unless the guild pays for a third-party review. This leaves room for complications when checking the domestic streaming data against provided residual payments.
The MBA agreement also doesn’t bode well for the rising cost of streaming. The extra expenses that the writers’ strike necessitates might be passed onto consumers’ subscription fees. Already, most services have at least one ad-supported tier as they absorb losses from the streaming model. This increased price to produce film and television will likely manifest in less media produced each year, but could allow for studios to focus on quality over quantity.
Although the writers’ strike anticipates higher streaming costs and fewer options, it only uncovers problems that have already been simmering. Film and television are expensive to manufacture, and studios have been competing with each other to cheapen the streaming model instead of predicting long-term sustainability; paying writers appropriately for their labor should have never been an optional expense. Now studios must scramble to fulfill their due diligence.
Yet, the fight marches on. In light of this development, it’s crucial to consider the ongoing strike by the SAG-AFTRA which is now over 100 days of striking. It seems that the SAG-AFTRA is steadfast in their demands — even considering a second strike against the AMPTP for video game voice actors.
The WGA urges their members to show allyship by joining the SAG-AFTRA on the picket lines. When signing a contract with film and television, screenwriters are advised to sign under the SAG-AFTRA agreement in support of unionized actors.
The Bottom Line spoke with Jared Boghosian — the lead actor in two film and media studies 106 Crew Production films at UC Santa Barbara in the past two years — on the motivations behind the SAG-AFTRA strike including a decrease in residuals. With a major drop in auditions, it has been difficult for him and other SAG-AFTRA actors to find work. But the stakes are too high to quit; Harper’s Bazaar notes that day by day they continue to fight for “better pay and working conditions as they face a labor landscape transformed by streaming and threatened by artificial intelligence.”
When questioned about the SAG-AFTRA’s financial grievances, Boghosian highlighted a big difference between the payout for broadcast television versus streaming. The age of new media, specifically with streaming services, leads to lower residuals for their actors. Boghosian said, “If I had five dollars for every time I got a one- to two- cent check, I wouldn’t be complaining about residuals so much. It’s disgusting how small the payout is for the internet and new media.”
For the SAG-AFTRA, their main goal is to secure a fair contract that addresses their members’ needs, including better wages and improved working conditions. This strike serves as a testament to the industry’s evolving landscape, where various stakeholders, including writers and actors, are standing up for their rights. Just as the SAG-AFTRA strike tipped the odds into the WGA’s favor, the end of the writers’ strike might give the SAG-AFTRA the momentum they need to have their demands met. An answer to the strike rests on the horizon, as the SAG-AFTRA announced that they would resume bargaining with the AMPTP on Oct. 24. But with everything occurring behind closed doors, the actors on the picket line — and the students waiting to enter the industry — will simply have to wait.