AWG urges caution from members amid US writers’ strike

The Writers Guild of America strike has passed 100 days (Image: WGA)

As the US writers’ strike stretches into a third week, the Australian Writers Guild is urging local writers to show caution and keep the lines of communication open about any opportunities where there is ambiguity or concern.

The dispute between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers shows no signs of a speedy resolution, as a number of key proposals, including staffing requirements for writers’ rooms and duration of employment per season, remain up in the air.

Like the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the AWG issued statements in solidarity at the beginning of the strike, advising its members “not to work on active projects within the jurisdiction of the WGA, to pitch new projects designed for production within the jurisdiction of the WGA, or to cross picket lines, actual or virtual, for the duration of the strike”.

The guild has since updated its guidelines to define its jurisdiction as the AWG-SPA negotiated agreements – being the Series and Serials Agreement (SASA), the Miniseries and Telemovies Agreement (MATA), and the Children’s Television Agreement (CTA) – as well the AWG template agreements. It goes on to note that any Australian or US production company under these agreements falls within the AWG jurisdiction and is therefore unaffected by the WGA strike.

Further, writing services that are not subject to the AWG-SPA agreements or AWG template agreements, but are contracted under Australian law; have production company accessing the Producer Offset; and an Australian commissioning broadcaster or distributor has triggered the production, fall under the jurisdiction.

The same factors can be applied to Australian-based work done for an Australian subsidiary of a struck US company, with productions written and crewed by Australians and/or intended to premiere in the Australian market also covered.

However, the guild states that official co-productions between Australian companies and struck US companies may be affected by the strike, given the potential that they may fall within both the AWG’s and the WGA’s jurisdiction.

Distinctions between jurisdictions have become murkier since the last WGA strike in 2007-2008, with the rise in global streaming platforms creating more opportunities for studios to collaborate internationally.

In an interview with Variety last week, the creators of Colin From Accounts Patrick Brammall and Harriet Dyer said writing on the Binge dramedy, produced by Easy Tiger alongside CBS Studios, had been put on pause as a result of the strike, with Dyer expressing concern over how her future eligibility for WGA membership may be affected.

While the WGA doesn’t have the authority to discipline non-members for strikebreaking or scab writing, the guild has stated that it “can and will bar that writer from future guild membership”.

AWG executive director Claire Pullen said that although the environment had changed in the past 15 years, lessons could be taken from those that had weathered the previous strike on the ground.

“We have a small number of members who were working in the US at the time,” she said.

“What their experience was is that quite a lot of the studios and producers starting offering contracts to Australian writers to fill the gap. Those contracts look attractive because US writers are paid more than Australians but then as soon as the strike ended, suddenly they found the contract was cancelled and the work went back to US writers. Given that experience and all the support for the WGA our members have expressed about the strike, I’d be surprised if any Australian writer crossed the picket line, for both practical and solidarity reasons.”

The strike was never far from the surface of discussion at Screen Forever earlier this month, where everything from the root causes to the potential impact on the Australian market was canvassed.

In a session titled ‘Sink or Swim: a survival guide in a rapidly changing market’, CJZ managing director Nick Murray was reported as saying the strike represented an opportunity for Australian writers and producers to get extra work via new local titles that could fill the gap left by international productions in limbo, noting a similar pattern in the 2007-2008 strike.

“In the last writer’s strike they rang up and said ‘House is finishing early, we lost all these other shows. What have you got that can be on air in six weeks?’ We got a light entertainment show up as a result of that because we had one ready to go,” he said.

However, in the Meet the Streamers session on the final day, the attitude from Binge, Stan, Paramount ANZ and Amazon was very much business as usual they outlined their commissioning priorities for the year.

Paramount Australia and New Zealand senior vice president for content and programming Daniel Monaghan said while he would like to see it resolved quickly, it did seem as though the two parties were “worlds apart”, adding the situation would not impact Paramount ANZ from a commissioning sense.

“Our work will be unaffected and we will commission and continue on commissioning as many locally written stories as we were going to,” he said.

CJZ managing director Nick Murray.

Binge executive director Alison Hurbert-Burns said the company would be monitoring the situation “really closely”, but also didn’t expect to see any ramifications for the streamer’s local slate.

“We’ll be in LA in a few weeks for the LA screenings so it will be interesting to see what’s actually happening on the ground,” she said.

“It feels like there is a big gap at the moment between the parties and some big things to solve.

“Last one was 100 odd days, or three months, and we’d love to think this could be solved sooner rather than later but for our production locally and our slate and commissioning, it’s business as usual.”

Pullen said that while the strike could potentially impact production in Australia, depending on how long it went on, it was difficult to know what that might look like, given there were “so many moving parts”.

“We just saw in the Federal Budget that there was a change to the production incentives announced, we’re looking at changes to copyright law possibly by the end of the year, and we’re negotiating what the local content quotas announced as part of Revive are going to look like,” she said.

“The strike could be hugely consequential for the industry in the US and here, at a time things are changing rapidly. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be as things are resolved quickly and we don’t notice that flow-on effect”.