Across Hollywood, over 11,500 film and TV writers are firing up their laptops, taking out dusty post-its of plot points, and heaving a sigh of relief.
And it’s a well-deserved one: 148 days after negotiations failed last May, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on a new three-year Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA). As of 12:01 AM on Wednesday, the 2023 WGA strike — the second longest in the guild’s history — has officially ended.
The new MBA is a product of five crucial days of discussion in September at the WGA boardroom. It comes just a month after the AMPTP provided their first (and, at the time, “only”) counterproposal, and five months after Hollywood studios flat-out refused to discuss key points like success-based residuals and minimum staffing.
The WGA negotiating committee has described the new MBA, which covers September 25, 2023 through May 1, 2026, as one that “incorporates meaningful gains and protections for writers in every segment of the membership.”
Here are 7 highlights to celebrate.
1. Success-based Streaming Bonuses
The new MBA introduces viewership-based streaming bonuses that reward popular programs — a proposal that the AMPTP rejected back in May.
Under the agreement, writers behind high-budget made-for-streaming shows and films that are watched by at least 20% of a streamer’s domestic subscribers within the first 90 days of streaming get a bonus equivalent to 50% of the fixed foreign and domestic residual. This new bonus structure takes effect for projects released in 2024 onward and rightfully compensates writers who make the media we love.
In this way, the MBA also assures a level of streaming data transparency in what has long been something of a black hole.
Before, writers had no idea exactly how well their shows and movies were doing, with streamers like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon refusing to share viewership data. Now, however, they’ll be required to disclose “the total number of hours streamed, both domestically and internationally, of self-produced high-budget streaming programs.”
Of course, the numbers provided to the WGA will be subject to confidentiality agreements, but the Guild is allowed to share the information in aggregated form — which means there’s at least some assurance against streamers canceling popular queer shows, say, for a “lack of interest.”
2. Regulations on the Use of AI
Another major win for writers is in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI).
Under the new agreement, AI-generated material will not be considered source material, and the technology can’t write or rewrite literary material — which means that AI cannot be used to undermine a writer’s credit. Studios cannot require writers to use AI software, and they must disclose to writers if any materials provided to them were generated by AI.
Moreover, the WGA “reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law” — an issue that many non-TV or film authors are currently lawyering up for.
3. Showrunner = Writer
For the first time, the new MBA also defines the role of “showrunner” as that of a writer. The contract makes it clear that showrunners must be writers — not directors, non-writing producers, nor network executives, which has become a worrying practice in productions in recent years.
4. New Staffing and Work Period Minimums
Another WGA win that has the potential for structural and long-term change is the establishment of new staffing minimums and duration provisions. These address the problem of shrinking writers’ rooms and shorter working periods.
Under the new MBA, a pre-greenlit development room will be composed of at least three writer-producers (including the showrunner), who are then guaranteed 10 consecutive weeks of employment. Once a show is greenlit, a writers’ room must have at least three writers for shows that have six episodes or fewer. Longer seasons with 7–12 episodes are required to have 5 writers, while those with at least 13 episodes must have six writers.
The minimum staff for TV shows must be employed for at least 20 weeks, or the entire duration of the post-greenlight room, whichever is shorter.
5. Weekly Pay Increases for TV
The new MBA includes an increase in weekly pay for staff writers and story editors/executive story editors by 5% in the first year of the contract, 4% in May 2024, and 3.5% in May 2025.
Staff writers will also be paid script fees for the episodes that they write, which feels like something that should be a given, but hasn’t been the norm — that is, until now.
Meanwhile, writer-producers benefit from a new tier that ensures a higher minimum weekly rate, equal to a 9.5% premium over the rates of story editors and executive story editors. These new rates apply to new seasons that start 60 days after contract ratification.
Writers working in development rooms before a series or season order, including those in between seasons, will be paid at a 25% premium, provided that the writers are guaranteed 19 weeks or fewer of work. This new payment scheme applies to writer deals that are made on or after November 1 this year.
6. Better Employment Terms for Screenwriters
Writers who work on film also get an accelerated payment structure when hired on a flat deal basis. Those hired for 200% of the minimum rate or less are entitled to: 50% of their fee upon deal commencement; 25% of the fee 9 weeks after commencement, payable upon invoice; and the final 25% upon delivery.
Screenwriters also get a guaranteed second step when they are hired for a first draft screenplay for 200% of the minimum rate or less. This means that when they are hired to write a movie, they are entitled to the first opportunity to rewrite or revise at no less than the applicable minimum.
Lastly, screenwriters for streaming features with a budget of $30 million and above get an 18% increase to their initial compensation and a 26% increase in residual base.
7. Increased Pension and Health Contributions
Last but definitely not least among our highlights of the new MBA are increased pension and health contribution rates. The new agreement ensures an increase of 0.5% in the second year of the agreement, bringing the health fund contribution from 11.5% to 12%.
For writing teams, each member gets pension and health contributions as if they were writing as an individual (instead of splitting the applicable cap within the team). Those employed in TV shows will have their contribution made on the full weekly minimum (instead of one-half of the weekly minimum).
What Happens Next?
Now that the Negotiating Committee has recommended the agreement alongside the East and West WGA Unions, it’s up to guild members to vote to ratify it. Eligible voters have between October 2 and October 9 to vote.
Already, late night shows — some of the first to go dark back in May — are gearing up to make their small-screen return in the first week of October. Daytime shows, including the controversial The Drew Barrymore Show, are hoping to do the same. Writers for popular shows, like Netflix’s Stranger Things and HBO’s The Last of Us, White Lotus, and Euphoria, are also back at work.
However, the end of the WGA strike doesn’t mean that Hollywood’s hot labor summer (and autumn) is over. As TV shows restart with a new writers’ contract, actors still remain barred from both acting and promoting as part of the SAG-AFTRA strike.
The actors’ union, which represents 160,000 Hollywood performers, has been on strike since July due to issues in AI use and compensation. The SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee is set to meet at the bargaining table with the AMPTP for the first time in 76 days on October 2.
But SAG-AFTRA is not just bargaining with Hollywood studios, streamers, and TV networks. Their negotiations for the Interactive Media Agreement, which covers acting and voice work with gaming companies like Activision Productions, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Take 2 Productions, and WB Games, have also been rocky.
The events of the industry-crippling WGA strike, as well as the historic MBA it produced, affect not just what happens next for the SAG-AFTRA. It also has immense implications for the contracts of two other unions — The Animation Guild and the IATSE, which represents 168,000 Hollywood technicians, artisans, and craftspersons — whose contracts with the AMPTP are set to expire next year.
The wins listed here (and those that can be viewed in the WGA’s full summary) are a testament to the power of unions and collective bargaining — hopefully setting the tone for workers’ rights across the board in Hollywood and beyond.
Read the rest of our coverage of the SAG-AFTRA & WGA strikes
- Hollywood’s Actors Are on Strike. Here’s What’s at Stake
- Studios’ First Proposal to Striking Writers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- SAG-AFTRA Strike: The Film and TV Projects Approved for Production
- Why SAG-AFTRA is Preparing to Strike Against Video Game Companies, Too
- What’s Next After the WGA’s Tentative Agreement?
- A Full Timeline of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA Strikes
- The Writers Guild of America Strike Explained: Why, and What It Means for TV & Film