With a May 2 negotiating deadline right around the corner, a push from plenty of writers via social media, and an overwhelming vote yesterday in favor of authorizing a strike, it’s safe to assume that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) may again go on the picket line, aiming for fairer wages and a better health care plan. If you want more the details on why the guild is prepared to strike, we wrote a primer on everything you need to know.
WGA strikes aren’t entirely uncommon: in the last 60 years, they’ve gone on strike four times, the longest one taking 155 days in 1988. Most recently, the WGA went on strike for 100 days between November 2007 and February 2008. Because the landscape of film and TV had changed drastically since the 1988 strike, the impact on audiences was felt a little bit more notably. Relative to the current situation, looking back at the 2007-08 strike may offer a peek into what we can expect as audience members, presuming that the WGA goes on strike again next week.
In the world of film, there won’t be an immediate impact for audiences. (You can breathe a sigh of relief now.) This summer’s big new movies, from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2. all the way through War of the Planet of the Apes and beyond, are either completely finished or in the late stages of post-production. Though many a summer movie gets rewritten on the fly while production commences, few (at most) would be rewritten this late in the process of locking the picture. Whatever changes have occurred in the past decade in the world of TV, there likely won’t be a radical amount of difference between the decade-old WGA strike and the new one in terms of the impact on movies.
That’s the good news. If, however, the last wave of famously affected strike-era films portends anything for the future, it’s all bad news. Some of those earlier, strike-impacted films include Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, Land of the Lost, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Those films don’t share much in common: most notably, they were all released in the summer of 2009, roughly 18 months after the end of the last WGA strike. (Something else these films share in common, though this is of course subjective: they are all very, very bad.) The silver lining within this list is that delay in timing: none of these films were recently anywhere near the end of the WGA strike in February 2008. With that in mind, it’s probably accurate to assume that the earliest effect we might notice as audiences is in the summer of 2018, if not later.
If we look back three decades, there’s a similar pattern at play; the most famously strike-affected film of that era was Tim Burton’s Batman. That film was released in the summer of 1989, but had its original draft (by Sam Hamm) submitted just before the WGA went on strike in March of 1988. In the interim, Burton had other writers, including Warren Skaaren and Charles McKeown, come on board to update the story and spruce up some of the Joker’s…jokes. Both Skaaren and McKeown were available for a simple reason: Batman was in production in Britain, whereas the majority of picketing writers were in the States. Batman, unlike the 2009-era examples, is rightly seen as a fine comic-book adaptation; either way, it does confirm that if we do see an impact, it’s going to become apparent no earlier than next summer, if that.
Considering what we know about some of next summer’s releases – from Ant-Man and the Wasp to Mission: Impossible 6 – the WGA strike may not have an impact on big-budget films until closer to the end of 2018. (Some of the summer movies, including those aforementioned ones, are already in production. At worst, there would be on-the-fly rewrites during the middle of filming of the aforementioned examples.) And even then, there might be only one or two impacted films before the beginning of 2019. In 2008, less than a full year after the end of the strike, the only well-known release that seemed to struggle because of the WGA’s decision was Quantum of Solace. (Which, again with the caveat that such things are subjective, is a badly written film.)
Thinking of the future, one example of a film that might get hamstrung because of the WGA strike would be Fast and Furious 9. Recently, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson were able to move past whatever frustrations they had towards each other on the set of The Fate of the Furious, to agree to work together on the next entry, slated for release in April 2019. The same goes for another title zooming towards production: Captain Marvel, which recently had directors Ryan Boden and Anna Fleck attached, after last year’s announcement that Brie Larson would play the title character. Perhaps the highest-profile movie that might be impacted from 2019 is the fifth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise. At this point, of course, not much is known about the fifth Indy movie: Steven Spielberg is directing, Harrison Ford is starring, and David Koepp is writing the script. But with Spielberg working on Ready Player One and The Post in the interim, it’s possible that production wouldn’t start until 2018 some time, thus feasibly making it so the script gets held up while the strike commences.
The rest of the 2019 calendar is largely unknown: studios like Disney, Universal, and Warner Bros. have staked their claims on various dates, but they have fewer titles than dates announced. Outside of high-profile sequels and comic-book adaptations, a number of the confirmed releases are animated films, such as Toy Story 4 and The Lego Movie 2. However, depending on the writers involved and the animation process itself, it’s possible that the scripts for these films are either finalized, close to being finalized, or will be written by people from IATSE, a different guild from WGA that wouldn’t be impacted by the strike. That doesn’t mean these films might not feel the burn; Toy Story 4 has had its release date pushed back twice, which may well mean that its script is nowhere near ready. (Something close to confirmation of that fact came earlier this month when we learned, after the death of Don Rickles, that he hadn’t done any dialogue recording for Toy Story 4 yet.)
The impact outside of blockbusters may be even more minimal; a decade ago, Netflix and Amazon did not pose the same kind of threat to the big studios as they do now. A decade ago, Martin Scorsese had just won his first Best Director Oscar for the successful crime epic The Departed. Merely weeks ago, he shook up the movie world, moving over to Netflix for his long-gestating project The Irishman.
That may be the most high-profile example to date, but both of these streaming giants are getting into distributing the kinds of mid-range-budgeted films that studios now avoid in favor of big franchise-starters. (We’re only a few months removed from Amazon Studios entering the Oscar race in a big way with Manchester by the Sea, which still took home two Academy Awards.) Moreover, both Netflix and Amazon, as well as Hulu and other streaming services, offer newer films via streaming. Doing so may simply encourage audiences to continue to stay at home instead of worry about going to theaters should something get delayed or removed from the ever-expanding release calendar. In this respect, if not many others, the studios may want to add to their concern; if the WGA strike can dovetail with their fears of streaming displacing new theatrical films, it may be their worst nightmare.
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