Tensions Rise in Hollywood as Potential Writers’ Strike Hangs Over Productions on Final Day of Contract Talks

UPDATED: The WGA told members late Monday to prepare to begin picketing by Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles and New York if a new contract agreement is not reached by midnight PST.

With five hours to go before the contract expiration deadline, WGA and AMPTP negotiators are still meeting at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks.

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“We are still at the AMPTP in negotiations with our midnight contract deadline approaching quickly. If we don’t reach an agreement and a strike is called, picketing will begin tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon,” the guild told members in an email message sent at 7 p.m. PT. “As soon as we have definitive news, you’ll hear from us via email and on our website. We appreciate your patience and ongoing support.”

Outside of AMPTP’s headquarters, there were few signs of the climactic tension building for industry insiders across Southern California and New York. A group of casually dressed people left the building around 7 p.m., smiling and looking relaxed.

EARLIER: With half a day to go until the clock strikes midnight on WGA talks, Hollywood is trying to operate as if it were any other day in town, despite the fact TV and film writers could be on strike Tuesday if the negotiations don’t go their way.

While high and low-budget shows alike shoot in Los Angeles, New York City, Georgia and across the pond Monday, everyone from writers on sets to executives in office buildings knows Tuesday might bring a situation they haven’t dealt with since 2007.

“As expected, it is eerily quiet — it is overcast in LA and that matches the mood of the town,” one comms exec said. “Lots of discussion about what news to announce and how news will play with both sides of the table, so to speak. Definitely feels like the calm before the storm.”

“It really is the perfect storm,” one agency insider said. “The writers’ concerns are completely and objectively valid, which has the studios and producers a bit more rattled than they’d like to admit. Someone has to budge, but Wall Street is unrelenting in its expectations for studios. Our focus has shifted from ‘What if there is a strike?’ to ‘What’s the 30-day plan? 60? 90?’ It’s time to batten down the hatches.”

As the dark clouds are rolling in for some, other industry members are trying to keep their cool.

“This is where you see people’s true colors of optimism and skepticism,” a network exec said. “We’re hearing progress is being made and there’s still a chance it won’t happen. And then there is the doom and gloom crowd, ‘We’re going back to 2007, all of these people will be out of work.’ So people are showing if they are glass half-full or half-empty.”

There are even those on the writers’ end of the talks who are not ready to call it just yet.

“I do think we have cooler heads on the Guild side this time around and am encouraged by the lack of leaks and vitriol from all involved,” an Emmy-winning writer said.

But if an agreement can’t be reached, networks, streamers and studios are ready with plans — some of which have been in the making for years now — to keep themselves going without writers.

“Like everyone else, we’re all waiting to see what happens but are hopeful cooler heads prevail,” said one broadcast network exec. “That said, we have contingency plans in place in the event a strike does occur.”

Over at another network, a source says, “It’s almost like there is twice as much work happening.”

“We have so many things, it’s such a crazy time,” the individual said. “There are things that have to keep going, so it’s almost like everything is happening doubly — because these things are happening no matter what. Like we have upfronts coming. So you’re almost doing everything twice: You’re doing it as if it was normal and as if you are preparing for a strike.”

The first thing that will likely come down Tuesday, if a strike is put in place, is an announcement regarding late-night TV shows, with networks preparing for those to go dark right away.

Meanwhile, soap operas would be another Day 1 concern, though some, like Peacock’s “Days of Our Lives,” are already on hiatus this week.

One big question mark is how international shoots will be affected. While Netflix wrapped production on “Bridgerton” Season 3 in the U.K. in March and “The Crown” just completed its final season, HBO’s “House of the Dragon” an Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and both still filming their upcoming seasons. These are some of the priciest productions in the works right now and, despite their distance from where the WGA contract talks are being held in Burbank, could still be in danger.

Though less of a concern for bottom lines, the Emmys season is upon us and would likely look pretty different during a strike.

“There is a high level of uncertainty, especially during the Emmy FYC window,” a talent rep said. “Will showrunners and writers participate in panels and/or use them as opportunities to highlight their issues?”

One part of the industry that is breathing a little easier today is the film side.

According to multiple sources, movie studios don’t really have a problem until September.

Studio heads have been planning for this for years, hitting dates so they will have titles ready to go. Most big films are already in production with a finished script, or in post-production. There are also scripts turned in for tentpoles, including James Gunn’s “Superman: Legacy.”

So while it seems nothing is going to have to shut down right away if there is a strike, and assuming their crews will be required to cross picket lines because of contracts, studio execs are increasingly worried about the potential for additional strikes from the DGA and SAG-AFTRA, both guilds that have upcoming contract expirations after the WGA’s. If those negotiations go sour enough to reach work stoppages, the film industry would suffer a total shutdown.

As the clock keeps ticking, there are those in the industry who can’t understand why a strike would be in anyone’s best interest, despite the writers’ issues with their deals.

“It befuddles me why, after the entire world just went through a multi-year shut down, that the industry would want to unnecessarily shoot itself in the foot,” one source said. “Self-inflicted wounds never make sense.”

Gene Maddaus, Brent Lang and Adam B. Vary contributed to this story.

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