Screenwriters who are trying to get into the business could face different outlooks on what a strike from the Writers Guild of America could have on their career prospects.
On the positive side, managers and agents may have more time to read scripts from non-union prospects than they typically would. Without the workload from their union-member clients, their readers (often unpaid interns) will have more opportunities to read scripts from non-union writers.
On the other side of the coin, most agencies will not be taking those scripts to market while the strike endures. As Eric Jones with The Tobias Agency told me and his other clients, "I am going to respect my friends at the WGA and cease submissions from Studios and Production Companies until a resolution has been reached."
Without the means to sell their clients' work to producers, the scripts sit and gather dust until both sides resolve their issues. While these issues address the short term, what does a strike mean in the long term for writers at the start of their career path?
For writers who want only to sell a single feature or pilot, the answer is, "Not much." Writers who count on one script to launch their career resemble those people who rely on a single lottery ticket to win a fortune: the odds are against you ever achieving this lofty goal.
For those who want to develop multiple stories and create a lasting career, the answer is, “Plenty.” When the strike resolves, union writers will walk away with more opportunities to make more money and have better working conditions than they had under the previous agreements.
However, until a writer can sell at least one script, they lack the professional credentials (or “points”) needed to join the union and take advantage of these benefits. At the same time, these improvements for union writers could also create a new baseline for non-union writers who want to start in the industry.
So what does a writer's strike mean for non-union writers? Just as with everything else in this tumultuous industry and these turbulent times, the short answer is, “Wait and see.”
In the meantime, here are some Do's and Don'ts to follow during the strike:
DO: Educate yourself on the issues
As someone who aspires to work in this industry, it is incumbent upon you to learn why your potential peers are taking the steps toward walking off the job and, in some areas, shutting down Hollywood to stand up for their principles.
If you have representation, talk to your rep and learn what your options are. If you don't, read the WGA Strike Rules and follow the news in industry publications such as Variety or Deadline.
DON'T: Expect a quick resolution
Whenever people must face a complex problem, they want a simple solution. The problems between producers and writers have been almost 15 years in the making. Add the issues of changing technology, emerging markets, political unrest, and recovery from a global pandemic to the list and you have what could be a long, drawn-out process toward resolution.
This strike will be the eighth labor stoppage since the formation of the Screen Writers Guild in 1941. These strikes have run anywhere from two weeks to twenty-two weeks. Issues ranged from residuals on TV reruns to payments for home video releases to compensation for digital downloads. The reasons that writers can take those payments for granted today stems from the gains made from previous generations who marched a picket line.
DO: Support your favorite writers
If you have a favorite writer, you can find ways to support them during the strike. If they have a book, buy a copy for yourself and one for a fellow writer. If they teach online classes, take the class and learn all you can from them. If you don't have the money to spend, spread the word about their work on your social media platforms.
For those writers who live in New York or Hollywood, screenwriter Michael Jamin recommends going to the picket lines and marching with the writers. Not only does this show your solidarity with the union, according to Jamin, but it also allows you the chance to meet working writers that you may not have had until now.
“Whoever you're talking to (on the picket line) is going to be grateful that you're carrying a sign,” says Jamin. “They will talk to you because there's nothing else to do. Talk about a networking event!”
DON'T: Take “Scab” Work
Although such opportunities are not expected to become available during the strike, a non-union writer could still sign a deal with a company against whom the union is striking. Since the writer isn't a member of the union, the WGA is in no position to punish them for taking the job. However, the strike rules state that "Non-members who break the rules will be prohibited from joining the WGA in the future."
This means that the non-union writer will not be able to take advantage of the benefits that come with union membership, including collective bargaining, minimum wage agreements, health insurance, and pension payments. This “scab” work also puts a black mark against the writer's reputation in the screenwriting community, especially with showrunners, as they could see the non-union writer as undercutting the union's efforts to improve conditions for their fellow writers both now and in the future.
DO: Keep working on your craft
Just because you can't submit your work to producers doesn't mean your work as a writer stops. According to the WGA Strike Rules, writers can still write a spec script during a strike. You can take this time to work on a new idea, rewrite an existing script, or enter contests to get your script noticed.
One of the most effective ways to hone your skills comes from working with an experienced screenwriting consultant.
Story Into Screenplay offers one-on-one live sessions with an award-winning screenwriter and veteran screenplay contest judge who can help you evaluate your project, clarify your goals, and guide you through the process of turning your ideas into a professional-level screenplay.
Get started with a FREE 30-minute session (phone or Zoom) to find out more. Fill out the Google Form to schedule your session today!