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Daily Digest: Why This Strike Feels So Different
‘We never talked about Wall Street in '07,' says one showrunner. Now ‘it’s about the whole corporate dominance of America’
Welcome to the first Daily Digest from Strikegeist. For as long as we find ourselves amidst a major work stoppage, I’ll be sharing the day’s major headlines alongside our own original reporting and analysis from the Ankler team.
The theme today? At the end of Week 1 of the first Hollywood writers’ strike in 15 years, battle lines have been drawn.
Out of the gate, a few top-line notes and questions:
Netflix, at once the harbinger of streaming doom and the content sugar daddy fueling the boom, is by all accounts the most happening picket line. I visited five studio picket lines this past week (Netflix, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Universal and Disney), and spirits were feistiest outside of Netflix’s Sunset Bronson Studios. Probably doesn’t help that WGA leadership has pinpointed the streamer as the toughest nut to crack in the negotiations.
To what extent will IATSE crews choose to support the strike? See: this interview from outside New York’s Silvercup Studios, taken by our contributor Janon Fisher, with an IA member who has, uh, strong feelings about his union’s leadership and its stance on the WGA strike.
Hollywood writers can be a difficult lot to feel sympathy for, particularly outside of the bicoastal bubble, but something about this moment feels miles different from the 2007-08 strike, to hear some industry veterans tell it. It’s about more than the writers, and more than entertainment. How many other industries have felt caught in a vise grip between Silicon Valley and Wall Street over the last five to 10 years, squeezed out of stability and into the “gig economy”?
To recap, film and television writers took to the streets of L.A. and New York with clever picket signs. And in a barnburner of a multi-union rally Wednesday night, the Writers Guild of America engaged in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the directors’ and actors’ guilds, Teamsters and other labor unions. (The studios counter-punched with a rare statement through their negotiating vessel at the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.)
And then two of the biggest players in town took it a step further: Disney and Warner Bros. sent letters to showrunners demanding they cross picket lines in order to fulfill their non-writing producing duties on shows in production, riling up showrunners who feel with certainty that nearly all aspects of creating television — editing footage, offering notes on the score, making casting choices — constitute writing or story-crafting in some measure.
At a showrunners-only meeting at the WGA on Saturday, attended by the likes of Damon Lindelof, Paul Lieberstein and Noah Hawley, attendees say the industry’s top writers stood firm.
“Teamsters and IA used to drive past our picket lines in their trucks and give us the middle finger” during the last writers’ work stoppage, one showrunner there told me on the phone this morning. Now, the Teamsters are on stage, declaring, “If you put up a line, the trucks will fucking stop... The only way we’re gonna beat these motherfuckers is if we do it together."
(Production companies have been a little more tepid, with one WGA captain telling me at the Universal picket line that they’ve received boxes of doughnuts from producers who refused to share their names. But the anonymous drive-by doughnuts were well received.)
Why Solidarity Now?
There’s the sense among a certain segment of WGA members that this degree of solidarity would never have happened under the regime of WGAW exec director David Young — a divisive figure who stepped down as chief negotiator duties for medical leave — given his alleged proclivity to fostering something of an “us vs. the rest of the world, including other unions” vibe during the 2007-08 strike.
But this time too, the economic squeeze of trying to eke out a living in Hollywood isn’t unique to writers, not to mention all those technological (see: AI) and shareholder pressures that other industries are also feeling. The strike, announced late on May Day, seems to be tapping into a greater vein of dissatisfaction among other segments of entertainment workers. Workers of the world unite, indeed.
“Now it’s coming for everyone. It’s about the whole corporate dominance of America,” says the same showrunner, later adding, “We never talked about Wall Street in ‘07. Now it’s all about the stock price, it’s all about the earnings calls.”
And with heavy hitters like The Night Agent’s Shawn Ryan and Stranger Things showrunners the Duffer Brothers planting themselves prominently on the front lines against returning to production in any capacity — “Writing does not stop when filming begins,” said the Duffers — Netflix and Disney and the rest of the studios are going to find themselves looking for other levers to pull to get shows back in production.
They’re not scaring anyone, not just yet. According to a separate showrunner (who gave me permission to share these snippets of our text exchange), the sentiment at Saturday’s showrunners’ meeting was heartening:
The threat of lawsuits seems like a fairly empty one, so far. “We have to find a way to work together again” after the strike ends, the first showrunner tells me. “If Disney sues those showrunners, you can guarantee those showrunners will never work for Disney again.”
But if it comes down to a months-long game of chicken, the studios’ deep coffers and threat of litigation may weigh on writers’ resolve. Unscripted producers tell me that networks and streamers have a full pipeline of reality shows and documentaries to draw upon, should the scripted programming well begin to run dry.
For now, both parties are about as far apart as they can be. As WGA lead negotiator Ellen Stutzman told me on the Netflix picket line on Tuesday, “Writers have been pretty clear that they are concerned in the way the studios and the streamers are now hiring writers and expecting them to work — that if we don't have protections in the contract, things like a writers room won't exist anymore.”
To which both sides, no doubt, would say: woof.