Hollywood Anticipating Writers & Actors Striking In 2001

By Christian
July 25, 2000 - 6:45 PM

The Associated Press is reporting that several Hollywood studios have hastened production on movies and TV shows, anticipating possible walkouts by screenwriters and actors next year. The industry's contracts with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) are set to expire in May and July of 2001, respectively, and many believe this will lead to lengthy contract negotiations.

Some key issues in the upcoming negotiations are expected to include pay for work appearing on cable television and in overseas markets, as well as how to compensate for work distributed in the internet, which did not exist so prominently when the current contract was negotiated. Studios are arguing that no residuals need to be paid to writers for films and television programs distributed over the internet, a position the WGA is highly opposed to. In addition, writers are demanding that studios abandon the practice of giving directors credit by saying "a film by", which writers feel does not do justice to their contributions. Finally, one other issue at stake is the network residual rates from Fox, the WB and UPN, the station on which 'Voyager' is currently airing.

In preparation of possible strikes, studios are beginning to stockpile material, by increasing the number of scripts on stock and already shooting a higher number of movies. On the other side of the fence, WGA and SAG are advising clients to increase saving money. The WGA recently sent out the first edition of a '2001 Negotiations Alert' newsletter to members, in which it warned members that "now is not the time to be buying the biggest or the nicest car you can possibly afford. [...] If you have a TV staff-writing job, begin putting money away now. If you make a feature deal, bank every penny you can."

Of course, Star Trek is one of the Hollywood franchises that could be affected by this in a major way. In 1988 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' faced a similar situation during the 22-week WGA strike that happened then, which led to recycling of old scripts ('The Child') and clip shows ('Shades of Gray'), and an altogether unsuccessful season. With Series V and Star Trek X coming up in 2001, Trek could be hurt by this even more than twelve years ago.

For the tenth Star Trek film, the danger would come mostly from a possible Screen Actors Guild strike. If the film is indeed intended for a Thanksgiving/Christmas 2001 release, it would most likely start filming early next year, so a script would have to be ready far in advance. In order to finish post-production in time, shooting would probably wrap in June, similar to what happened with the previous Trek films. A greater danger would be that in the case of a strike reshoots (as in 'Star Trek: Generations', when a new, more heroic death was written for James T. Kirk) would be made almost impossible.

More seriously affected would be Series V, which is currently intended for a Fall 2001 premiere. While for the previous two Trek series, the pilot episodes were written and shot well in advance of the actual start of production, the first season's regular episodes would be heavily impacted by a strike. This year, 'Voyager' started shooting in late June, and if Series V would follow the same pattern production would be halted after just a few episodes, if the SAG strike would start in early July. As Paramount would probably not want to launch a new Star Trek series under these circumstances, at worst this could mean the series would be delayed to a January 2002 or even Fall 2002 year. However, ironically enough this time such a strike might actually be a good thing, as over the past few years many fans have stated that they would prefer the franchise to take a short rest before launching a new series.

Over the next year, it will undoubtedly become more clear if there will actually be a strike or not. Writers Guild officials have been meeting for over a year to work on a contract proposal, but have not yet received all the data they need from producers to formulate a contract proposal. Once this proposal is on the table and the Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers has had a chance to react to it this will become more clear. Three years ago, the negotiations did not lead to a strike, but the current atmosphere in the entertainment industry is a lot more inclined to such union actions, with the Screen Actors Guild currently in the thirteenth week of their strike against advertisers, and the industry already preparing for a possible strike. TrekToday will keep you informed on this.

More information on this issue can be found in this article, in which the WGA explains what the issues at stake are, and why a strike might become necessary. Also interesting is this article, which notes that Hollywood writers' salaries had almost no growth in 1999, while overall employment fell to a four-year low of 51.3% of membership. Thanks go out to TrekWeb for alerting me of this!

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