Thousands of film and television writers will be able to go back to work as of Wednesday morning after the Writers Guild of America, East and West, finalized a tentative agreement with the film and television industry after a nearly five-month strike.
The WGA called an end to the strike after securing sweeping wins that largely met many of the guild’s demands. The terms of the new contract — which must still be ratified by the 11,500 film and TV members of the union — includes strict regulations for the use of artificial intelligence on covered projects, including provisions that AI will not write or rewrite any literary material.
Most salary minimums will increase by 5% upon ratification, with more increases in the following two years, and there will be dramatic increases in residuals from streaming services. (HuffPost’s unionized staff are also members of the WGA East, but are not covered by the film and TV writers’ contract.)
“This allows writers to return to work during the ratification process, but does not affect the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval,” the union said in a statement, calling the deal “exceptional, with gains and protections for members in every sector of the business.”
The writers won many game-changing new provisions, according to the union’s summary of what they gained in the new contract. These could set huge precedents for the entertainment industry — and on some issues, such as AI, could have a ripple effect in many industries beyond Hollywood.
In addition to rules prohibiting companies from using AI to write or rewrite shows and movies, AI-generated material can’t be used as source material for shows and movies. The union can also legally push back if companies exploit writers’ work and use it to train AI models. Companies must also be transparent about whether “any materials given to the writer have been generated by AI or incorporate AI-generated material.”
Over the last decade, the rise of streaming has been a huge flashpoint in the entertainment industry. Writers have been asking for their fair share of the success of streaming shows and movies, and they won several major streaming-related provisions that did not exist previously.
For example, writers will now be paid residuals for streaming shows when companies boast about their successful viewership numbers. Throughout the strike, writers have pointed out how streaming services have largely not carried out the practice of residuals, which are paid out when an episode of a show they worked on airs again. Many writers have shared photos of their residual checks, showing payments of sometimes mere pennies.
Also, writers will now be paid foreign residuals for streaming shows, as these platforms increasingly have a global reach.
And under the new contract, companies will have to be more transparent about streaming viewership numbers, which streaming giants like Netflix have often cherry-picked and reported inconsistently. Now, companies will be required to disclose to the union “the total number of hours streamed, both domestically and internationally, of self-produced high budget streaming programs (e.g., a Netflix original series).” The union will also be permitted to share a selected summary of the data with members.
Throughout the strike, writers have called attention to the difficulty of making a sustainable living as a writer, and criticized companies’ practices that have increasingly curtailed opportunities for writers. As Hollywood has long suffered from a lack of diversity and the impression that only people from privileged backgrounds can work in film and TV, whether or not someone can have job security can greatly impact who gets to pursue film and TV writing for a living.
In the new contract, the union won a provision to establish a minimum number of writers hired for a given show and guaranteed employment for a minimum number of weeks. This is meant to push back on streaming companies’ practice of “mini rooms,” which writers have criticized as a tactic for saving money by hiring fewer writers and employing them for a shorter period of time.
In addition, under the new contract, at least two senior-level writers must be on set during production, a valuable way for writers to advance their careers and develop experience to take on leadership roles.
Creatively, it’s also important to have writers on set: As many writers have pointed out on the picket lines, the writer’s job doesn’t end with the script. When writers are on set, they’re often making adjustment to the script or or helping an actor try out an alternate line or joke if the initial one isn’t landing right, among other details that often make the final product memorable for viewers.
The WGA first told members it had reached a tentative deal with studio executives on Sunday. The strike brought the film and television industry to a standstill, putting an end to almost all production for months, which will likely cost studios hundreds of millions of dollars.
Writers had picketed in front of major studios and corporate headquarters almost daily on both coasts, voicing their ire in New York and Los Angeles and drawing the support of the White House. The union had painted the strike as a means to claw back a piece of mammoth corporate profits that came at the expense of the writers who make shows come to life.
The U.S. entertainment industry has faced a reckoning this summer as actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have also been on strike since July. Studios will need to reach a separate deal with SAG-AFTRA.