A tentative deal to end a long-running writers’ strike that has paralysed Hollywood is only a first step in resolving a film industry crisis, as an equally bitter studio stand-off with the actors’ union stretches on.
The Writers Guild of America, which walked out back in May over demands including better pay and safeguards against the use of artificial intelligence, finally thrashed out a deal with studios including Netflix and Disney on Sunday night.
Ratification of that agreement — first by the WGA board, then by its 11,500 members — is widely expected to be waved through without any obstacles in the coming weeks.
Picketing for writers has been suspended and the guild has indicated that it could allow members to return to work even before the final vote is counted.
Late-night TV shows could return to air “within the next two to three weeks,” according to Variety, citing industry insiders.
Explained | Why are Hollywood’s actors and writers on strike at the same after decades?
But a far thornier issue is the still ongoing strike by Hollywood actors, represented by the SAG-AFTRA union, which is likely to take weeks to resolve and will prevent any return to production in the immediate future.
Even after that, with hundreds of film and television shoots backed up, it could take months for Hollywood to clear the logistical logjam and get fully back to work.
“There are presumably upwards of 1,500 productions that all want to start as soon as they can,” said entertainment lawyer Jonathan Handel.
“And so when SAG gives the word, they’re all going to be competing simultaneously… it’s absolute chaos.
“I don’t think we’re going to see normalcy in the production process until sometime after January or February.”
The WGA’s deal with studios achieved compromises on minimum wage increases, bonus payments for writers participating in hit shows, and guarantees that scripts using AI will not undercut human writers and their paychecks.
Many of these issues overlap with the actors’ demands, and SAG-AFTRA negotiators will be poring over the fine details this week, ahead of their own talks with studios.
But, Handel warned, many SAG-AFTRA demands go further than those of the writers.
These include steeper pay rises to counter rampant inflation, and an actual share of revenue for hit streaming shows.
Studios will be wary that whatever they offer to actors is likely to be demanded by other Hollywood professions such as movie set crews and technicians, who have their own contract renewals due next year.
“I think basic wages going are going to be a huge roadblock towards the SAG deal in the next few weeks, because of pattern bargaining,” said Handel.
SAG-AFTRA also has its own specific demands, such as restrictions on the use of remote, self-taped auditions, which became ubiquitous during the pandemic but are disliked by many actors.
Still, Sunday’s deal means SAG-AFTRA negotiators could meet with unions as soon as next week, for the first time since actors went on strike in July.
“The end of the WGA strike will hasten the end of SAG-AFTRA’s walkout,” predicted Variety.
But even “if things go smoothly — which is a fool’s assumption — I still think it would take two to three weeks to get a SAG deal done… which takes you into October,” said Handel.
“Then there’s the ratification process, which takes another month.”
That means the clock is ticking for actors to be able to promote big year-end movie releases, such as Disney’s superhero sequel “The Marvels.”
And publicists are desperate for their stars to start campaigning for some of the industry’s biggest events — television’s Emmy Awards, and the film industry’s Oscars, which take place in January and March respectively.