A Hollywood writers’ strike loomed Monday as negotiations to reach an agreement broke down before midnight.
The Writers’ Guild of America announced its strike early Tuesday, sending waves of uncertainty across the industry, including in Georgia.
Georgia’s film and TV industry is a huge economic engine for the state, generating $4.4 billion dollars last year.
Between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, Georgia hosted 412 productions, represented by 32 feature films, 36 independent films, 269 television and episodic productions, 42 commercials, and 33 music videos, according to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.
Writers are not the only film and TV industry workers that could be affected by the strike.
Georgia’s film and television industry fuels the job market with the thousands who work directly in productions and those who help provide everything from lumber for movie sets to food for industry workers.
Mark Pettit is an actor and media consultant working in Georgia who has already experienced some changes in his routine in the lead-up to the strike.
“We’ve seen the effects for a couple of weeks now,” he said. “I audition probably six to eight times a week. Last week, I had two auditions. I’ve heard from friends. They haven’t had any.”
Writers want more money for their work in an ever-evolving industry currently led by streaming services but augmented by hit shows and films that continue to make money when studios sell them in overseas markets.
“Writers have sort of been left behind as technologies advance, and it’s happened before,” said John Richards, an award-winning veteran writer for films that include Nurse Betty and Sahara, and a member of the Writers’ Guild of America. “It happened with DVDs, and it was about to happen with online writing, and now it’s the cases you know, it’s going to get out of hand. So, it’s gotten worse for writers while profits have gone up for the major companies.”
Studios argue that high inflation makes it difficult to increase pay for writers beyond “a fair and reasonable agreement,” Variety reported.
“The writers’ strike will have the most effect on the biggest studios,” said Ryan Millsap, chairman of the Blackhall Group, a realtor for some of Georgia’s largest film studios. “The focus for the unions is getting good rates with the big studios and getting all that locked in. The unions are collective bargaining for better rates, and the guys that run the studios are worrying that they’re giving away too much of the profitability and costs to the different unions.”
As a writer, Richards thinks studios focus on profit above all else.
“Corporate entities that are at the top, to be blunt, see writers as a resource the way timber or coal is a resource,” Richards said. “You know, if you need to try to cut costs or answer to shareholders to see where you can squeeze.”
Millsap estimates that more than 25,000 people work in the film and TV industry on any given day in Georgia.
He worries about those affected by the pipeline that begins with writers.
“Georgia is where the productions that have already been greenlit, have already been written and already funded,” Millsap said. “And are ready to be made into actual content.”
“We’re all scared.” Pettit said. “We don’t want this to happen.”
He remembers the 2008 writers’ strike that lasted 100 days.
“I looked back at the first strike; it cost Los Angeles County $2 billion,” Pettit said. “So just imagine Atlanta is now No. 3 in the country, behind Los Angeles behind New York, in (TV/Film) production. So we’re talking tens of thousands of workers here and hundreds of millions of dollars in production costs.”
Richards recalls the tough times he and other writers experienced during the previous strike.
“So, it’s not good,” he said. “It’s something that nobody wants. None of the writers wants a strike.”
But a strike is on.
This is a developing story.
This story comes to Rough Draft Atlanta through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.