Film and television writers in the U.S. have gone “pens down” and hit the picket lines, and fears the strike could have a big impact on Hollywood North are already brewing.
More than 11,000 unionized screenwriters in the U.S. are at odds with the major studios and streaming platforms after negotiations, which began in March, failed to reach a deal before their old contract expired.
“It’s already had a huge impact. It effectively shuts down the development of television immediately,” Shawn Williamson, a Vancouver-based television producer with Bright Lights Pictures, told Global News.
“If you have a green-lit script, you can shoot during the strike, you just can’t have the writers change anything. On episodic television, they require the writers on a daily basis, so there’s an immediate shutdown if you haven’t completed production.”
Some of the shows Williamson produces, like The Good Doctor, aren’t set to resume shooting until July — so they may not see any impact if the strike is short.
But Williamson said for every week the disruption stretches on, many titles will see their release date pushed back by a corresponding amount.
With between 200 and 400 people crewing an average large network production, the shutdown risks having an outsized effect on one of B.C.’s most lucrative industries.
“It’s going to impact the economy in a significant way,” Writers Guild of Canada president Alex Levine explained.
“There’s so many jobs on a TV production that are based in Canada that work for service productions that are run by American showrunners and American writers. Whether it’s the teamsters who drive the trucks, craft services, art department, all that stuff is crewed in Canada, and all of those jobs are going to stop when they run out of scripts to shoot.”
The Writers Guild of Canada has its own separate contract with Canadian producers, meaning its writers working north of the border on domestically-produced content aren’t affected.
Film and television production was worth an estimated $3.6 billion to B.C.’s economy in 2022, according to industry-focused Creative BC, and supports up to 70,000 full-time and part-time jobs.
Prem Gill, the organization’s CEO, said the entire industry in B.C. is watching the strike closely, and hoping for a speedy resolution.
“There’s other things that might be happening in the production cycle. There’s still location scouting going on, and there’s still interest in people looking at British Columbia,” she said.
“In addition to that we also have people (working) in visual effects or animation so it’s a very robust sector.”
The Writers Guild of America’s last strike in 2007 lasted 100 days, but those working in B.C.’s industry say they’re hopeful the two sides can reach a deal sooner this time around.
“We know that there’s obviously a lot of stress out there for folks who are waiting on shows to start or some of the things to pick up they’re waiting on,” Gill said.
“So if it’s a short strike we’ll see no change,” Williamson said.
“If it’s a long strike, it could be months and months before we start shooting.”