Below the Line: What Production Workers Can Do During the Writers’ Strike

Posted on: May 16, 2023

WGA writers striking outside with picket signs in protest.Photo Credit: Ringo Chiu /

By Steffanie Bradley

In the world of entertainment, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) plays a vital role in shaping the stories we see on our screens. However, the industry is currently facing a significant challenge as the WGA has initiated a strike over disputes between writers and production companies over compensation for streaming royalties. “While the companies are making billions of dollars, spending more and more on streaming, writers are making less and less. That’s untenable. It’s unsustainable,” Chris Keyser, co-chair of the negotiating committee, said to the LA Times.

This strike has raised concerns about the future of ongoing and upcoming productions, the availability of work, and potential changes in the landscape of the entertainment industry. Here we will address these questions and provide insights into the current impact of the writers’ strike on film and TV production workers.

Which productions will be affected first or last?

The exact timeline of which productions will be affected first or last during the WGA strike is difficult to determine. Generally speaking, high-profile scripted television shows and feature films are likely to face the immediate impact of the strike. These productions heavily rely on the creative input of writers, and are typically subject to strict timelines and schedules. Any production with a writer’s room currently operating has been halted. Features that have writers on staff for last-minute script changes and consultancy questions have been halted.

On the other hand, reality TV shows, game shows, and some talk shows may experience a lesser impact. These formats often have a shorter turnaround time and rely less on scripted content, which could allow them to continue production to some extent. It will vary from production to production, as some talk shows have fully staffed writer’s rooms to provide daily news and jokes for the host. It will vary from show to show.

Productions that have already completed their writing phase (typically in pre-production or midway through production), or have stockpiled scripts in advance, may be able to proceed for the time being. For example, a show may have completed an entire season’s worth of scripts before shooting, but should they need a rewrite for any reason during the shoot, the production will halt.

Does this mean there won’t be work available, or that there will be a pivot to a different kind of production?

The WGA strike does not necessarily mean there won’t be any work available. While the strike disrupts the traditional production process, it often leads to a pivot toward different kinds of productions. Variety laid out each network (scripted and unscripted) and how strongly they will or won’t be affected here. During the writers’ strike in 2008, shows such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and Survivor were not only in production, but saw a massive spike in viewership for the networks, and consistently employed production crew.

The success of reality shows during that time highlighted the audience’s appetite for unscripted content, and the industry’s ability to adapt during challenging periods.

What happened the last time there was a writers’ strike, and what lessons can we take from it?

The most recent significant writers’ strike occurred in 2007-2008 and lasted for more than 100 days. One of the key lessons from the previous strike is the economic impact it had on both the industry and the writers themselves. Productions were halted, thousands of jobs were affected, and the industry suffered significant financial losses. The strike highlighted several areas that we can learn from and incorporate today:

  1. Collaboration and communication: The strike emphasized the importance of open and constructive communication between writers, production companies, and other stakeholders. Improved collaboration can lead to a better understanding of each party’s needs, and foster mutually beneficial solutions. Early engagement and ongoing dialogue can help prevent labor disputes and ensure that concerns are addressed before they escalate into more significant conflicts.
  2. Diversification of content: The success of reality shows during the strike demonstrated the value of diversifying content offerings. Production companies can explore alternative formats, such as unscripted programming, to provide audiences with engaging content even during labor disputes. By embracing a broader range of programming, the industry can mitigate the impact of future strikes and maintain viewer interest.
  3. Building contingency plans: Production companies learned the importance of contingency planning during the writers’ strike. Having backup strategies in place, such as stockpiling scripts or developing alternative projects, can help minimize disruption and maintain a consistent flow of content. Creating flexibility in production schedules and having contingency plans for various labor scenarios can help mitigate the impact of future strikes.

Are there any production verticals that are safe?

Determining production verticals that are entirely safe during the WGA strike can be challenging. As mentioned earlier, reality TV shows, game shows, and talk shows may face a lesser impact initially due to their reliance on unscripted content or shorter production cycles. These formats can potentially continue with limited disruption, although they might still be affected if the strike goes on for an extended period of time.

Animation and animated feature films may experience less immediate impact, as their production timeline often involves a lengthier pre-production phase. For shows that have scripts ready to go, they can continue production for the time being. The availability of scripts and ongoing story development might still pose challenges if the strike prolongs.

What You Can Do

The current WGA strike poses significant challenges for the entertainment industry, particularly for scripted television shows and feature films. Productions will face disruptions until the strike is resolved. To be ready for when the strike resolves, production workers of all kinds should utilize this time to network and work on personal skills.

Although the impact of the writers’ strike on film and TV crews is undeniable, when the WGA comes to an agreement with the studios, you can have a bigger network and sharpened skills, and you’ll be ready to land your next production job.

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