U.S. screenwriters have reached a tentative agreement with major Hollywood studios to end their nearly five-month strike, paving the way for a potential return to normalcy for Canadian productions.
The Writers Guild of America said late Sunday that it had reached an agreement in principle with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major studios including Paramount, Sony and Netflix, after 146 days of walkouts.
Though the parties did not clarify the terms of the agreement, the guild said in a statement that “this deal is exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”
Its members were seeking, among other matters, compensation boosts and protections around authorship – a concern as the use of generative artificial intelligence increases. Earlier this year, both the Directors Guild of America and the British Columbia division of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) accepted 5-per-cent wage boosts that were widely seen to set precedents in the industry.
In tandem with the SAG-AFTRA strike that has sent U.S.-based actors to picket lines since July, the writers’ strike had ground screen production to a halt well beyond Hollywood. This extended to Canada, where many projects are produced or co-produced with American studios, or include American writers and actors. The Motion Picture Association’s Canadian office has said that across 2021-22, the country was home to $11.7-billion worth of production work.
WGA members have yet to ratify their agreement. If the strike officially ends, it would help clear Hollywood studios’ agendas to focus on negotiations with SAG-AFTRA members. Much of Canada’s film-production industry is expected to remain dormant through the end of the U.S. actors’ strike, as many productions here depend on the star power and sheer volume of that union’s 160,000 members.
The Writers Guild of Canada said in a statement Monday that the strikes have had a “detrimental” effect on Canadian production.
Its executive director, Victoria Shen, said the guild will be closely examining the terms of the new U.S. agreement when they become public as it begins negotiations with the Canadian Media Producers Association next month.
In a phone interview, ACTRA’s national executive director, Marie Kelly, said that the prolonged production slowdown should persuade governments to invest more in productions written, directed and performed by Canadians. This is a key matter facing lawmakers as they update Canada’s broadcasting laws for the streaming era.
The past year and a half has been filled with many significant developments for the film industry’s labour movement. An unsolicited contract-extension offer from studios that B.C. unions accepted earlier this year, for example, presented historic wage gains at the expense of negotiating any terms around the use of rapidly evolving AI services for an additional year.
Earlier this month, the Writers Guild of Canada and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees came to an agreement for script co-ordinators that ensured entry-level positions received representation by one or both unions. Many script co-ordinators are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, and the unions said the agreement would give them greater protections as they build their careers.
English-language Canadian actors, meanwhile, have been in a labour dispute with major commercial agencies since April, 2022, which ACTRA has described as a lockout with the Institute of Canadian Agencies.
Union actors often depend on income from commercials and other advertising campaigns to supplement, if not largely substantiate, their incomes. The two organizations have not achieved resolution across several rounds of negotiations.
Last week, the ICA revealed that the latest round of mediated negotiations had fallen apart, and said it had proposed an 8-per-cent pay raise during the talks. ACTRA called the agencies’ latest proposal “disrespectful,” alleging it would actually reduce rates for performers by 50 to 60 per cent – in part by lowering the rates for TV commercials in bundled advertising campaigns.
“Members were very, very upset when they finally got the proposal we shared with them,” Kelly said.
The Globe and Mail reported last summer that in a previous round of negotiations, internal ACTRA documents said that the agencies were seeking cuts to performer compensation of as much as 89 per cent.