When Caroline Renard moved toÂ Los AngelesÂ 10Â years ago, she had zero connections to Hollywood. But she was determined all the same to break into the industry and did all sorts of side gigs — from working at Veggie Grill to driving for DoorDash and Lyft to babysitting — all to pay the bills while she worked on herÂ craft.Â
And that hard work eventually paid off.
She moved up from production assistant on set to an executive assistant at Disney before becoming aÂ writerâ€™s and showrunnerâ€™s assistant until she became aÂ staff writer on aÂ show. But throughout that decade breaking into Hollywood, she oftentimes noticed she was one of the few or only Black women in the room. She credits mentors and great bosses for championing her work, but she frequently felt like it was aÂ battle just to be heard as aÂ creator ofÂ color.Â
Today, Renard is aÂ writer on Disneyâ€™sÂ Secrets of Sulphur SpringsÂ and aÂ union captain with the Writers Guild of America. But the golden era of streamingÂ has officially burst — she was one of more thanÂ 11,500Â writers and others who went on strike MayÂ 2Â after their current contract expired and negotiations fell through with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which represents the nine largest HollywoodÂ studios).
Among the WGAâ€™s demands: Restricting the use of artificial intelligence in writing, establishing transparency in viewership-based royalties, paying writers their weekly minimums during post-production of shows, and preserving a minimum staff of six writers with guaranteed employment for 10 consecutive weeks on prospective shows. These demands were all flat-out rejected by the major studios. And now production in Hollywood has essentially come to a screeching halt.
As negotiations deadlocked,Â the AMPTP released aÂ statement, according to Deadline, thatÂ they had offered “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as increases in streaming residualsâ€ť and are open to further improve the current offer, but that theyâ€™ve been unable to concede to the WGAâ€™s demands around “mandatory staffingâ€ť and “duration ofÂ employment.â€ť
But writers like Renard arenâ€™t willing to back down on the entirety of their demands at aÂ moment that feels existential for her profession — and hope the WGA wonâ€™t back down either.
“If we donâ€™t change whatâ€™s broken now, writing wonâ€™t be aÂ viable career,â€ť says Renard. “There wonâ€™t be aÂ middle class in this industry because writing has become aÂ gig economy. It is notÂ sustainable.â€ť
Renard is referring specifically to the proliferation ofÂ mini rooms, smaller versions of full-scale writers rooms that have grown in popularity as streaming services like Netflix have flooded their platforms with high quantities of shows.
Now,Â itâ€™s more common to see shorter seasons (maybeÂ 10Â toÂ 14-episodes)Â instead ofÂ the former broadcast seasonsÂ that would be longer and carry on for maybeÂ 24Â episodes in aÂ season. These conditions,Â the WGA says, have sucked writers into the orbit of freelanceÂ work.
â€śThe companiesâ€™ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,â€ť the WGA stated in a public announcement about the strike.
This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 11, 2023.
About the Author: Jireh Deng (they/them) is aÂ queer Asian American writer and filmmaker born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley.Â