Ten years ago, television writers went on a 100-day strike that brought the entertainment industry to a halt.
Now, the Writers Guild of America, a labor union that represents entertainment industry writers, is seeking a strike authorization vote from its members after ending contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers two weeks ago. The AMPTP represents major studios, networks and independent producers, and the talks were meant to forge a new TV and film contract that would replace the current one, which ends on May 1.
Faced with new streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, writers no longer get residuals from re-runs and TV series. And many series are shorter, not written in 22 to 24 episode, May to September seasons like before.
Additionally, the WGA's health plan is facing a $145 million projected deficit over the next four years, something that would leave the plan essentially broke by the end of 2020.
However, the looming possibility of a writer's strike hasn't stirred that much panic at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, as students continue to focus on their college work and hope that the situation is better by the time they graduate.
Screenwriting professor David Isaacs thinks negotiations are going to come through and there will not be a strike. However, he thinks writers deserve their fair share of the financial boom major studios have been experiencing in the recent years.
Isaacs has been writing for TV for over 40 years, with titles like The Simpsons and Mad Men to his credit. He joined the guild in 1975, so he's been a part of four different writing strikes, including the one in 2007. Although he said that strike did hurt a lot of people, writers were simply asking for what they deserved, like they're doing now.
"I don't take anything away from management or corporations or production companies. They put up the money to make the content, but that's where their participation ends," Isaacs said, "They don't have a business without us and we have to stand up for the integrity of what we do."
Isaacs said he thinks it's the guild's job to fight for writer's rights, and aspiring screenwriters in the cinema school must understand that if they want to be in this industry, they will inevitably become a part of it too.
"If you're going out into the community and you're going to be a member of the WGA," he said, "you have to realize that whatever you make, whatever you gain from being in the WGA was built on the shoulders of people before you that went on strike and put their own security in jeopardy to get what we all feel is right."
Zoe Cheng, a sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television, said this topic hasn't been touched upon in her screenwriting classes because a lot of her classmates aspire to write for other mediums, and this strike would only affect those in TV.
Cheng thinks the idea of a writer's strike seems risky. Although she believes that people should get recognized for her work, she cannot fathom how writers could purposely stop writing for TV when so many others are trying to break in. Despite the financial concerns, Cheng said this is still an exciting time to be an aspiring TV writer.
"It does worry me, going into the [entertainment] industry, to know that even though you can accomplish your goals, they might still not be financially sustainable. It's a hard field out there," she said. "But it's definitely the golden age of television. TV shows are getting bolder and more diverse, and it's exciting to see shows coming out that we've never seen before."
Natalie Wong, a freshman screenwriting major, wants to become a TV writer because she believes that they have more creative control of their art, whereas movie writers are clouded by what the studio decides. With the possibility of a new strike, however, Wong hopes that the atmosphere for TV writers improves by the time she graduates.
"The first strike changed the scene and the environment and how people think of writers," Wong said. "Whether it happens or not, afterwards, it's going to be a shift in what people think of writers."
In WGA, voting for the strike will be conducted online and at special meetings during April, as contract talks resume with the AMPTP on April 10.
Reach Staff Reporter Miranda Mazariegos here.