Writer’s Strike: What’s the cost of writing?

Many writers and aspiring WGA workers are not only relieved to return to work, but also excited for these new changes, as the WGA received most of what they asked for. Now, the WGA hopes that supporters of the WGA will also advocate for SAG-AFTRA as well.
Many writers and aspiring WGA workers are not only relieved to return to work, but also excited for these new changes, as the WGA received most of what they asked for. Now, the WGA hopes that supporters of the WGA will also advocate for SAG-AFTRA as well.
Helen Beebe

I have been drawing since I was in kindergarten, and seriously writing since 6th grade. While I understood that drawing and writing fiction for a living wasn’t for me, I knew that it was for so many others. There are so many content creators online that have and still inspire me, supporting me in honing my craft. 

Over the summer, the writer’s strike was just something that happened, until I started hearing the true struggles that they were facing. It made me want to know more, dig deeper to what was going on, so I followed the strike closely, awaiting to hear the news that is now finally here. 

This year’s Writer’s strike was close to surpassing the longest Writer’s strike in 1988, 154 days, ending at 148 days in. The strike started May 2, the day after the minimum basic agreement (MBA) expired, offering a chance for a new minimum wage for entertainment writers. 

Previously, the MBA only applied to broadcasted television, how the MBA works is that if a type of writer is not included in the agreement, they didn’t have a frame of reference of pay to go off of. This leaves some writers having to individually negotiate their own wage, which is often lower than other writers, even if they do the same work. 

The WGA picketed outside major studios for the past five months and avoided participation in award ceremonies to fight for rights with streaming, bigger wages, insurance, and protections against AI.

We asked our viewers on the Three Penny Press Instagram if they were an aspiring actor/ writer, as well as if they have every used AI or a streaming service. (Johanna Wen)
What are they fighting for

Streaming started around the early 1990s– the concept of movie streaming in 1998— and went into full swing in the early 2000s with streaming services we know today (Netflix 2007, Amazon Prime 2011, fuboTV 2015.) 

I grew up with Netflix, watching things like Yugioh, Naruto, or whatever kids show I could find. After Covid hit, it became especially popular to rent a service. (That’s how I convinced my parents to get Disney+ on top of paying the $11 monthly fee with my sister.) 

Of the students who participated in an Instagram survey, 96 out of 104 students claim to have had a streaming service at least once in their life. According to Forbes, 78% of US households subscribe to at least one streaming service, Netflix dominating all services with 231 million subscribers. 

For the past six years, entertainment profits have been reaching around $30 billion with spending around $19 billion on programming for streaming. The budgets for content have increased by 50% over the past decade. Despite all of their profits, subscribers, and budget, the average writer’s income has dropped by 4%.

Right now, to live a comfortable life in the United States (2023), you need to earn an average of around $68,000 dollars a year. Both writers and actors are making below those means. According to Glass door and Ziprecruiter, book writers and Hollywood script writers earn around $40,000 annually. As of actors, Ziprecruiter says they annually make even less with $26,000.

Unless you’re popular, you would struggle to make a living with only that one job. Although now, even popular actors have been paid less in residuals due to the lessening in reruns played on live television, like ‘The Office.’ 

Now, the agreement is that the minimums will have a “5%-4%-3.5% increase in minimums,” meaning that starting this year until the next MBA (three years) writers will have a guaranteed increase in base pay per year. 

Writers working for streaming services will have high-budget subscription on demand (HBSVOD) residual, almost half of that being based on foreign subscriber counts. This and other streaming details in the MOA mean: the more subscribers the more money, the longer the episodes worked on gives more money, popularity brings more money and a bonus, so on and so forth.

Artificial intelligence was also on the table of concerns for both writers and actors. 

Taking AP Literature taught by Steffanie Alter, she explained that while Chat GTP has passed other APs, the only APs that Chat GTP has not passed was AP Language and Literature. Although that can change. AI can still learn.

A “Black Mirror” episode, “Joan is Awful,” tells the story of every actor’s worst nightmare. The episode’s protagonist, Joan, has her life turned upside down as she realizes her life is mysteriously turned into a Netflix series. Spoiler alert– it turns out that AI wrote the fictional series “Joan is Awful” based off of Joan and used AI models of famous actors to play her. 

The worst part is thatー while not as extreme as “Black Mirror”ー actors, writers, and artists face this problem right now; the problem of their work being taken as reference without compensation or credit. There are AI generated voices of famous singers like Taylor Swift, Chat GTP that can produce essays in perfect MLA format, as well as AI art generators, which Disney used for their opening of “Secret Invasion.” 

“A world without art is not a world I want to live in, and I believe artists deserve to be paid,” Jennifer Blessington said, English III teacher and author. “I think the rise of AI and other technologies has prompted this moment, and it would behoove us to think seriously about how we compensate those who make art that touches us, teaches us, and moves us.”

In the Memorandum of Agreement: training AI is prohibited, a writer can elect to use AI as long as the company consents and follows policies, a company cannot require to use AI software when writing, and AI is not a writer under the new MBA. 

Victory and supporting actors

WGA’s total proposal would have all writers gain $429 million per year, while Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will give writers $86 million per year (48% of that would just be from a new minimum wage for writers.) The final total agreement is a successful $233 million a year. While it’s not what they had asked for, it is far better than what they started with. 

Writers are a valuable asset to what makes entertainment truly entertainment. Whether it is writing, acting, or creating a work of art, each talent should be well compensated for and respected. The entertainment industry gives us inspiration and connection to the world around us. Their works add to our human experience, supporting us to make change and continue the cycle of creation. 

While the Writers Guild of America has stopped their strike, the SAG-AFTRA’s (actor’s) strike has not. They encourage to stand alongside SAG-AFTRA, as they have picketed and fought with the WGA. Donating to SAG-AFTRA can help support their efforts.

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  • A

    Ariel LagnadoNov 6, 2023 at 9:57 pm

    Really well written with a lot of accurate and informative explanations about the reasons for the strike.

  • A

    AngelNov 5, 2023 at 2:15 pm

    Great story! It’ obvious that you did your research on this topic.

  • M

    Marina MartinezOct 31, 2023 at 2:06 pm

    I love this story, all the information you gathered to write it gives me so much more context on what was happening. You organized it all so well, great story.