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What the Hollywood Writer Strikes Mean for Book-to-Film Adaptations

What the Hollywood Writer Strikes Mean for Book-to-Film Adaptations

  After negotiations concluded on May 1 without an agreement, WGA members authorized their representatives to call for a strike. Unfortunately, AMPTP has rejected several proposals offering greater protections and gains in compensation and residuals. These include raising minimum wages for comedy-variety writers, curtailing AI writing programs and increasing compensation. Many celebrities have come out in support of striking writers - Quinta Brunson attended the Met Gala and showed his solidarity. 1. Streaming Residuals An Hollywood writers strike would have far-reaching consequences on production. Not only would movie theaters close and television shows not air as usual; other areas affected would include electricians, caterers and background actors. Before considering how much a strike could harm the economy, one needs only look back to 2007-2008 when work stopped for 100 days due to WGA strike action and saw California economy lose $2.1 billion alone as a result of it. Why does this happen? Because so many people need to be paid in order for the industry to operate smoothly - not just writers but crew and on-set cast members as well who rely on their pay checks for food and rent expenses. So the WGA is pushing hard to increase minimum compensation rates, or residuals, which is what credited writers receive when their script or show is reused and reused again. Unfortunately, current rates only cover a fraction of what was available when negotiations with streaming residuals first started in 2016. While certain programs and movies may already be reused across platforms, meaning their residuals may be lower on certain networks than elsewhere, more new programs and movies are constantly being created. Furthermore, the current contract between AMPTP and WGA expires at the end of June and it appears a strike could ensue without some sort of compromise being found between parties involved. One reason a writer-driven strike could have such a wide-reaching effect is because so many books have been turned into movies and television adaptations adapted for broadcast. When there is a strike, producers looking for new content typically cancel those projects first in order to keep audiences by adding popular and profitable shows into their lineup that attract viewers. Authors often see adapting their book into a TV show or movie as a great way to promote it and increase revenue that goes beyond any advance they received for it. This is especially true with popular bestsellers, such as Station Eleven and The Handmaid's Tale; unfortunately, such deals won't be feasible during a writers strike - the stakes have become much higher since 2007. 2. Mini-Rooms As the Hollywood Writers Guild strike drags on, it is essential to recognize its potential repercussions for future adaptations. Not only could this impact movies that we watch on cinematic screens but television productions as well. Many scripted shows have already had to stop due to writers refusing to cross picket lines; production delays are likely to continue. Writers create the story for films and TV shows, working within a writing room to craft narrative. Once their script has been completed, they sell it back to the studio at an agreed upon price, or sometimes rights are purchased in order to adapt it into something bigger than just written work on paper. However, this process may take months or even years until their story hits theater screens! But when producers or actors read a book with the intent to adapt it for film adaptation, they often fail to consult the author beforehand. This can be an enormously costly misstep: their perspective can provide valuable insight into why certain parts of the story resonate, helping guide any adaptation process. As part of my efforts to understand how book-to-film adaptation works, I interviewed three authors and one editor who have all participated in such adaptations. Each of them graciously shared some insights and advice with me. The Virtual Roundtable was conducted via email and asynchronously. Laura Van Den Berg, Daniel Torday, Melissa Scholes Young and Keylight Publishing (a Turner Publishing prestige imprint) editor Stephanie Beard were generous with their time in providing insights about option and adaptation journeys for their own works as well as others'. One of the major problems writers are encountering today is mini rooms. Instead of creating one writing space per show, multiple smaller teams come together for short periods to conceive its plot before disbanding again - an approach which often creates an atmosphere of mistrust and hinders collaboration which in turn damages final product quality. Artificial intelligence (AI) poses another issue for writers. They fear AI could replace them as storytellers and take over storytelling responsibilities entirely - an extremely real possibility given how much creative freedom comes with film and television writing. Though they remain cautious of AI use in movies and television adaptations, writers remain hopeful of reaching a deal with the AMPTP in due time. Their demands include residual payments for online streaming content; an end to mini room use; and safeguards against AI usage. Let us hope that these discussions prove fruitful both for writers as well as future movie and television adaptations! 3. Artificial Intelligence As the Writers Guild of America strike enters its third week, questions continue to surface regarding its ramifications for television shows and movies you watch regularly. It marks Hollywood's first writers' strike since 2007. Here is what you should know about how it will affect entertainment: Although tensions remain, some producers and executives privately acknowledge the legitimacy of many writers' complaints -- particularly with streaming residuals and so-called mini rooms -- without undue drama. They suggest that reasonable individuals could resolve these matters peacefully. Now that the contract negotiation deadline for writers has passed, and their strike threatens to disrupt all areas of film and TV production, with significant ramifications across both industries. As expected, a full-scale production shutdown would have an enormous impact on movie and TV projects that are often shot months or years ahead of their premieres, making it impossible to halt production and rewrite scripts during an interruption or strike. While studios might keep some series running during such an interruption, new episodes that had already been written would either need to be cancelled or revised accordingly. At first glance, there are already signs that this strike may last longer than anticipated. For example, the president of the Teamsters local that represents Hollywood's "below-the-line" workers such as truck drivers, animal handlers and location managers advised members not to cross picket lines, prompting some directors to decide not to film projects at this time. If more directors and actors follow suit, its effects could become far more widespread across film and TV productions. One possible cause for a prolonged strike could be that writers simply haven't had enough time to finish writing all their scripts before their contracts expire. An extended strike could also bring about artificial intelligence into scriptwriting processes, creating major worries among writers as they fear robots replacing them in doing their jobs and thus decreasing script requirements; and this may result in reduced employment for scriptwriters if that becomes the case. In the meantime, writers are fighting for more money and an increased say in their work's creation. While AI development won't stop in any case, their hope is that once widespread implementation occurs it can be managed such that scripting requirements don't decline and their paychecks increase at an equal pace with those of their counterparts; though at present this goal seems like an achievable one; but in time this goal may prove unrealistic.

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