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Hollywood film and TV writers prepare to strike when their contract expires


Some of Hollywood's film and TV writers are preparing to strike. Their labor union, the Writers Guild of America, is in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for a new contract. Now, a strike could start at midnight if a deal is not reached today. To get a sense on where things stand, I'm joined by Eric Haywood. He's a writer and director in TV and film. He's also on the WGA negotiating committee.

Eric, as I mentioned, you're at the table there. What are the key issues in play, and how close are the two sides?

ERIC HAYWOOD: There are several issues at play, probably more than we have time to completely get into. But in a nutshell, I would say some of the key issues really focus around compensation in the form of not only base pay, but in residual pay and also working conditions. And a lot of these conditions have been severely impacted by the industry's shift to the streaming model over the past several years. It's really turned everything on its head in the last handful of years.

MARTÍNEZ: How close are the two sides, though? I know that we're kind of getting to the point where it's make it or break a deadline, but how close are the two sides?

HAYWOOD: Well, it's hard to quantify just because, you know, we've been negotiating through the weekend. I'm literally losing track of what day it is because we basically get up, and we go to the offices, and we meet, and things are shifting. You know, it's a little bit of a moving target. So where we are right now may not be - and, I'm sure, won't be where we are come midnight Monday night. And where we are at midnight on Monday is really all that matters.

MARTÍNEZ: When it comes to streaming, though, this shift on the part of the industry away from theaters to streaming services - how does that affect the writers?

HAYWOOD: Well, in a number of ways - primarily, you know, not too long ago, we had a model where your average broadcast network television show would air anywhere from 18 to 22 and sometimes even 24 episodes per year. That allowed writers to basically manage their finances in such a way that you could earn a living year to year. The shift to the streaming model - one of the key differences is a lot of these streaming shows will only make anywhere from six to eight to 10 episodes of a given season. And what that does is it shortens the amount of weeks that a writer works, which obviously impacts the amount of take-home pay that a writer gets because most of us work on a weekly paycheck system. Also, the shift to the streaming model has impacted writers in the form of reduced pay, because a lot of writers, including the creators and showrunners of a lot of popular TV shows, are working for a weekly rate that is equivalent to what they may have made four or five or in some cases even ten years ago when they were just coming up the ladder.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, if there winds up being a strike, Eric, how will viewers feel this or notice this? Will any shows go away?

HAYWOOD: It's a little hard to predict, which is one of the more uncertain elements of any kind of strike for this industry. I think it is generally assumed that the "Saturday Night Lives," the "Daily Shows" - those have a much quicker turnaround than your average drama or comedy show. So those shows are expected to shut down pretty much immediately if there's a strike.

Some of the other shows take a little bit longer to work their way through the pipeline. So viewers in some cases may not see an immediate impact. Some of these shows are still working their way through the post-production process. They're still being edited, they're still having music added and titles and visual effects. So in some cases, audiences may not see an immediate impact in terms of what's on their screens, but it will probably hit eventually.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Eric Haywood, writer and director in TV and film. He's also a member of the WGA negotiating committee. Eric, thanks.

HAYWOOD: Thank you.

MARTÍNEZ: And in a statement to NPR, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers say that they have, quote, "approached these negotiations with the long-term health and stability of the industry" as their priority and that they are "fully committed to reaching a mutually beneficial deal." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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