Hollywood screenwriters go on strike for the first time in 16 years

11,500 union members paralyze the production of hundreds of television series.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) began its strike on Tuesday, fulfilling weeks of warnings that it was unable to reach a favorable agreement with the major producers. The WGA, which brings together some 11,500 writers of television programs and series, as well as feature film screenwriters, brings production in Hollywood to a standstill for the first time in 16 years. Several programs and series announced that their broadcasts would be disrupted by the writers' hiatus.

The Guild calls for improved working conditions for screenwriters. An increase in minimum salaries; larger teams; fewer exclusive contracts, or at least for shorter periods of time; and an improvement in extraordinary salaries. According to the union, conditions for screenwriters worsened with the advent and popularization of streaming and video on demand platforms. Nearly 98% of the industry's screenwriters supported the strike.

Faced with the screenwriters revolt, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major production companies, assured that it is ready to present an offer with improved conditions for screenwriters. They maintain however, that the writers' guild continues to block negotiations by maintaining some impossible conditions among its demands.

At the heart of the issue seems to be the streaming platform model. They offer more atomized content to each audience, which also means more annual productions on each platform, for smaller audiences. According to the writers' guild, production companies have reduced the number of scriptwriters on staff in order to compensate the teams and distribute the professionals in more audiovisual productions. Payouts on productions destined for streaming platforms would also be lower, AP estimates around 46%.

The writers' union assured that the production companies have the means to meet their demands. What production companies cannot do is to continue working without scriptwriters. The last screenwriters' strike took place in 2007 and lasted more than three months. After reaching an agreement with the AMPTP, the WGA asked its members to resume their work. At that time, the WGA then failed to make significant changes to the extraordinary payouts in connection with DVD sales. They did succeed in getting platforms such as Netflix or Amazon to be obliged to hire staff from the guild, as well as establishing minimums on bonus payments for downloads. Prior to 2008, screenwriters went on strike in 1988, 1981 and 1960.