The Writers Guild of America strike is in its second month, and while Virginia isn’t often seen as a hub for filmmaking, the commonwealth’s TV and movie industry is feeling the impact.
Richmond native Jai Jamison landed his dream job as a writer for The CW’s “Superman & Lois” in 2021.
Just over a month ago, that dream was put on pause as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike temporarily halted his—and thousands of other writers’—work. Writers have been off the job since May 2 after contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) broke down. WGA is striking to push for higher minimum pay, more writers per show, and restructuring the calculation of residual payments.
Shilpa Davé, an assistant professor in media studies and American studies at the University of Virginia, explained the basics of the conflict.
“The main issues are pay, compensation, and security,” she told UVA Today. “As streaming series have become more popular since 2016, there’s been a rapid reduction from the 22-episode season to the 12-episode season to even six- to eight-episode series.
“With less episodes, writers are making less money per series. Some writers can work on multiple series, but depending on the terms, some may be bound [by contract] to one series. In addition, many writers work for an entry-level or minimum basic agreement despite seniority or expertise. So, there is less work and less pay.”
While it’s not the hub of TV and film production that California and New York are, Virginia is still feeling the effects of the writers’ strike, according to Virginia Film Office director Andy Edmunds.
“The industry, in fact, is a $1.2-billion industry in Virginia, with about 5,800 full time jobs,” Edmunds told CBS 6 News. “The industry is statewide … it’s not just productions that are coming into the state spending all kinds of money…really there’s a big indigenous industry, too. Post-production activity from Northern Virginia down to Hampton Roads region.”
Writers and actors aren’t the only workers whose livelihoods are being impacted by the strike; those who work behind the scenes on TV and film productions have had much of their work put on hold, too.
I.A.T.S.E. Local 487 represents over 1,000 workers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and business agent David O’Ferrall said his union was feeling the slowdown before the strike even began.
“A lot of companies held projects up in anticipation of this happening … Our members have been traveling, where there is work, there’s not a whole lot of work going on all over the country right now. The normal places like New York, Los Angeles, and certainly Georgia — production is way down because people were anticipating this strike,” said O’Ferrall. “It’s certainly going to be difficult for some people as if this drags out.”
Both Jamison and O’Ferrall noted their support for the strike.
“We want to support them, but we want to see work come back, we’re hopeful that they’ll come to a resolution in the not too distant future. And we’ll get back to the normal level of work that we’ve had in Virginia and elsewhere around the country,” O’Ferrall said.
Jamison has been marching with his fellow WGA members and believes strongly that AMPTP isn’t offering writers a fair shake.
“These studios have been making billions of dollars on streaming and network television and our ask is just 2% of their profits — something that I don’t think is unreasonable at all,” Jamison said.
“We start with a blank page, a kernel of an idea, then it’s up to us to create the document or blueprint that then employs hundreds and thousands of other workers, but you can’t do any of that if you don’t have a script. We’re just asking for a share in the profits.”
Edmunds is optimistic that, once both sides finally reach an agreement, the strike will ultimately be a benefit to the commonwealth’s film industry.
“For us here in Virginia, what this means is a temporary pause at some of this work,” he said. “I believe that will create a big demand for even more content. So, when this temporary strike is over, there will be even more demand here in Virginia for our great locations and great crews to go to work on a lot of different work. So we wanted to be ready for that.”
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