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The Writers Strike Deadline Is Here. What Will Happen?

Matt and Lucas discuss the looming WGA strike

Los Angeles Venues Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

Matt is joined by Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw to discuss the looming WGA strike on the day of its negotiation deadline, and how a likely strike will affect the industry. They break down what the writers are fighting for, why this is a terrible time for most studios to negotiate a deal, which studios are best suited to endure a prolonged strike, and whether a strike could actually benefit the industry long term. They close the show by making a prediction on the length of the strike.

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In the following excerpt, Matt Belloni and Lucas Shaw discuss why a writers guild strike might actually be necessary to Hollywood’s overall economic health in the long run.

Matt Belloni: I want to talk a little bit about this argument that you floated a little in your newsletter—I’ve talked about this before—that regardless of what the two sides are saying, that a strike might actually be a good thing for the overall health of the entertainment industry. That this notion of technological and business change over the years kind of requires a big shock to the system for the economics to catch up and the talent to catch up. That’s an interesting argument, as painful as it would be, because I think objectively the system we have now isn’t working and is leaving people behind and is ripe for some kind of a huge shakeup. So would the strike be a good thing for that?

Lucas Shaw: So if there had not been a pandemic in the last few years I actually do think that a little strike would be a good thing because you want to reset the system.

Belloni: Wow. Please, all unemployed writers send to get your strike fund.

Shaw: I even gave Matt the email in the pre-show and he couldn’t remember the email. What are we doing here?

Belloni: I’m not giving Mike Bloomberg’s personal email on this show! You could probably find it online.

Shaw: Look, no, the best-case scenario always is that they just negotiate a deal without having to go on strike. But I think that that’s unlikely because you have these two sides so dug in. The media companies and the streaming services have created a model that even though it’s not actually working for them right now financially is at least, as they see it, better than the alternative. And the writers feel that there need to be greater changes than those companies are willing to do. And so if you’ve had kind of 15 years of development of the streaming business and it’s developed in a way that right now neither side is totally happy with, some big, in your words, shock to the system, some way to sort of restructure how this works is not the worst thing if the two sides are willing to be rational and hash out a great deal. But I think my problem is that I always assume or hope for greater rationality than there is and these decisions end up being kind of emotional.

Belloni: Especially with the Writers Guild. There is a long history of emotional reactions. They replaced their lead negotiator—he said he was out for a medical situation—but they now have a new lead negotiator in Ellen Stutzman. And from everything I’ve heard, she’s been good. She’s had a very measured and kind of focused and less hysterical, emotional, screaming-at-the-other-side type demeanor. We’ll see if that works, because her job is not just to extract concessions from the other side; her job is to manage her own negotiating committee and to convince them to take whatever deal she thinks is the best offer. And that, according to a lot of people, is the toughest of the gig because a lot of these negotiating committee members are fired up. They ran for election to the board based on their platform of “We are going scorched earth, we are going to get what we deserve or we are going to strike and hold these MFers out to dry. We are not going to back down.” So her own people could be the issue.

Shaw: Do you feel like the DGA will end up undercutting the writers?

Belloni: That’s a good question. The DGA and SAG-AFTRA, the actors, their deal is up at the end of June and they’re currently negotiating or about to start negotiating. In the past strike in 2008, the directors cut a deal and really were perceived to have undercut the writers. And that’s what led to the end of the writers strike—is the writers felt that they couldn’t get more because the directors had folded, essentially.

That’s a little different this time because the directors let the writers go first. The directors are potentially letting the writers go on strike and the directors have their own issues. They’re big on the transparency issue; they want to see data. They’re big on the residuals issue; they want to see better streaming residuals for film and TV. And the actors are there as well—the actors are the biggest guild.

So, I actually don’t think that the tide here is toward the other guilds undercutting the writers. It’s easy for me to say that now. If we’re in September and there’s a catastrophic all-guild strike and nobody is working and people are losing their homes, that’s a different thing.

Host: Matt Belloni
Guest: Lucas Shaw
Producer: Craig Horlbeck and Jessie Lopez
Theme Song: Devon Renaldo

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