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The Writers Will Script This Strike Ending

When the meeting arrived, WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and general counsel Tony Segall told Lombardini there would be no further negotiations unless the companies were willing to engage with all of the guild’s demands
When the meeting arrived, WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman and general counsel Tony Segall told Lombardini there would be no further negotiations unless the companies were willing to engage with all of the guild’s demands Photo: Chris Delmas/Getty Images
Jonathan Handel
August 6, 2023

When I first joined the Writers Guild’s legal staff, in 1993, my onboarding memorably featured an orientation video with black-and-white footage of the 1950s blacklist, and that extolled the courage of writers who resisted. An us-versus-them ethos pervaded the reel, and on some level, that worldview still persists 30 years and two industry-halting strikes later. Writers have never forgotten a classic studio mogul’s alleged characterization of screen scribes as “schmucks with Underwoods,” a reference to a contemporaneous typewriter. (Today’s version would be “schmucks with Final Draft.”) Alas, from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the boom of Peak TV, writers have seldom felt respected.

A major talking point in the ’07-’08 strike was what the WGA called “the hated DVD formula,” an ’80s-era scheme that sweeps 80 percent of revenue into studio pockets before calculating the residual—a deeply unfavorable deal for creatives, despite an initial logic grounded in the high cost of manufacturing video cassettes. Even after VHS was supplanted by DVDs, which cost pennies to make, the formula was never renegotiated, and labor lost out on what could have been hundreds of millions of dollars in residuals.