Hollywood Contraction: How Writers Are Reacting To Ongoing Industrywide Cost-Cutting

Life in post-strike Hollywood was definitely a topic of conversation at Sunday’s Writers Guild Awards, with former WGA West president David Goodman saying “the strike is over, the fight goes on” while adding “as individuals we’re replaceable.”

That sentiment has never been more applicable than now, as the ongoing contraction in Hollywood continues to impact how many writers remain out of work since walking off the picket line in September.

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In March, Deadline kicked off a Hollywood Contraction series by checking in with the above and below-the-line communities to see whether opportunities have picked up since the end of the strikes.

The response hasn’t been positive. Because of fewer shows in the works and the disappearance of pilot season, the availability of gigs are now few and far between — with many considering a life outside of Hollywood.

Before Sunday’s WGA Awards celebration on both coasts, we asked writers to weigh in on the contraction and whether they’re optimistic about the future.

Tony Gilroy (Andor, Rogue One): “I think it’s been a sort of glacial tectonic change over the last 15 years as people realize that, you know, writers are where it’s at. I mean, that’s where the power is. And writers figured out they could direct, you know. The story is king, everybody always knew it. Everybody always knows it. You forget it at your peril. And brilliant directors and brilliant producers and brilliant people are going to continue to be really important. But in the end, yeah, this is what comes off the desk. It’s the shootable pages. It’s what comes off the desk. Well, [contraction]’s gonna happen. That happened. Because yeah, I mean, that was gonna happen anyway, maybe. It’s like sports. I mean in baseball you can’t have 600 teams, there aren’t that many talented people with that much experience. And then what happens is all the talented people with experience would all split up, because if anybody has talent and experience, they automatically got their own show. So you never get to show where there’s 2-3-4 talented, experienced people working on the same show. It was like a basketball team. Everybody has one all-star or one maybe wannabe and then they try to run the whole franchise off that and it doesn’t work. I mean, fewer will be better content. It will find its level.”

Neil Gaiman (Good Omens, Lucifer): “I sort or remember somewhere in 2019, I remember looking around and saying, ‘This is a gold rush. We’re in a boom town. And I’m not sure how long this thing is sustainable.’ And I was thrilled to have been able to, you know, to help get Sandman set up during the boom and stuff like that. Right now, the boom is over, the gold rush has finished. And I think people are starting to go, ‘OK, how do we make money out of television again?’ And that is going to change things. That being said, you know, Dead Boy Detectives comes out in 10 days. I’ve seen half of Sandman Season 2, and it’s astonishing. I’m writing Good Omens Season 3, and we start shooting that in January. So I’m making stuff. And I’m definitely feeling that, OK, the ship is still sailing. But the boom is over. I think the boom would have been over anyway. I feel like the strike, you know, our strike and the actors strike in a lot of cases became an excuse for the streamers in particular, to just go, ‘Oh, we actually bought more than we will ever need. And maybe we can let some of the stuff go.’ And maybe we can, you know, so I think that happened as well. They’re trying to reinvent television right now. And I don’t know what it’s gonna be like, five years from now. But I do know that a writer who can come up with stories, who has a great story that people will care about, will have a job, and that’s the important thing and especially for the young ones.”

John Hoffman (Only Murders in the Building): “It’s very good that you’re doing that series of stories because I think, you know, it’s a push and pull. It’s a moment in the business that happened, that everyone had to sort of stop and reset. And that reset is still happening. I want to provide hope to people that I think things are starting to come back, starting to turn now, finally. I had a big time last week or two weeks ago, I went out for a Disney/Hulu event. And I talked a lot to the people there and they were all feeling that same way. So, I want to give hope to the writers about new things coming along and a bit of a revival. And yet I also want to give perspective on you know, we fought for really right reasons over this last year. It had everything correct behind it. And I think the better conditions will come around when more work happens. And I just want to say hold fast and hang tight.”

Illana Glazer (Broad City): “You know, what I see is that like, like in every other industry, something like tech bros and private equity came in and purchased the land, and then decided to build condos that nobody wanted. And now what’s not even funny, but so funny is they’re thinking about selling ad space. That’s in air quotes. Oh, really? You mean the way the model was for a hundred years? Duh, bitch. I am so proud of the writers and actors guilds for striking last year, that was so important. This contract is a three-year contract. I actually think that the most important contribution of the writers and actors guild striking last year was visibility for the labor movement and making that part of a cultural conversation that has to end with billionaires being taxed soon. I think that was like, I felt like very patriotic, striking with my guild. And that’s how I see the landscape. Yeah, I mean, I the landscape as I like, literally, as I just described, but, to summarize in a precarious position that we need to continually fight for and continue to intersect it with other industries as well as other issues, human rights issues.”

Ron Nyswaner (Fellow Travelers): “I think every three or four years, those of us who make our living in this say, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s going through a big change.’ So in the post strikes, you know, businesses being consolidated, that sort of thing, I think a lot of us are nervous about what the future is. My feeling is that my job is to find and tell undeniable stories. And so that’s my job. And if it gets a little harder, then I have to make the story more undeniable. You know, we went out with Fellow Travelers, I was told at one point, no one will ever buy this. We had multiple offers. And we had total support all along the way. So I think that if the business is to get a little smaller and a little tougher, then that means we have to be better. Look, I pitched many things in my life that didn’t sell. So that’s, I don’t know if that’s going to be any different. But you know, again, my obligation is to tell stories that interest me first, but to be aware of how to engage an audience. That’s what we have to do.”

Julio Torres (Los Espookys): “The sort of vibe that I’m getting from people in the industry is that everyone feels like the belt is tightening a little bit and, and it’s getting harder to get things made. But I feel like, weirdly, that makes me feel like maybe work where the aim isn’t necessarily to be commercial will be able to get a little more attention and thrive a little bit. I don’t know. I might be completely delusional, but I’m like, could this usher in the comeback of the true indie film? Given that all of these conglomerates are less and less interested in taking risks? Could we be making cheaper movies that make less money and be happier doing that? I’m more interested in doing work that feels interesting than in having a script deal with whomever. That’s like a glass-half-full take.”

Anna Hagen: (The Diplomat): “I’ve had the great privilege of being in a writers room under Debora Cahn, who takes mentorship incredibly seriously and getting writers onto set. And, yeah, so I think I have a sort of unique and very privileged perspective in that sense. And I mean, the positive of it is it does seem like it’s a moment when what you can put on TV, and what stories can be told is flexible and open in a way that is, you know, leading to some really great content being created. Really great stories, really great TV. I hope it won’t continue to be a harder time. I’m optimistic, or I guess here’s the better version of it, I’m inspired by the people who are making stuff. And so for all of the difficulties of the moment I think the strike was really meaningful and the victory significant and I’m hopeful about what will come out of it.”

David Teague (Cassandro): “It’s still tough, I think, yeah. Optimism, in some ways. So with my work, I go back and forth between documentary and fiction. So you know, writing in both categories. On the fiction side, one thing I’m noticing is it took a while, I think after this strike, to really feel like things are opening up. I feel like, maybe there’s a little glimmer right now, it’s hard to tell. But, definitely I feel like it took, you know, it wasn’t like back to work. It was definitely like, I think there was a lot of risk aversion, because all the big companies are sort of retrenching.”

Josh Gondelman (Desus & Mero): “I mean, on one hand, there’s been so much wonderful work and such a breadth of new talent and new voices that are emerging. I think that’s really exciting to see as a writer, you know, like something Cord Jefferson as a first-time writer-director is like, so thrilling to see. But I think industrywise it’s been really tough and I feel like there’s a feeling that things still haven’t quite woken up and that we’re waiting for the industry to like come back to life and frankly make, for many of these companies, the only product that they sell. [Re: Platforms not buying as much?] Yeah, it feels that way certainly. I mean, the rooms that are happening are happening. But I think that people who are looking for work are finding it may be a more arduous search than unusual.”

Katrina Mathewson, Tanner Bean, Ese Shaw, Marcos Gonzalez, Kerry O’Neill, Mekki Leeper (Jury Duty): The group answered with a resounding “yes” if the they’ve heard about or have felt contraction. Specified Leeper: “There’s a ton of tremendously talented people who are not working right now, and it’s really unfortunate and scary and it would be a shame to lose those people because they make television and working here a lot better.”

David Matalon (Totally Killer) “On the feature side, the pipeline is kind of empty. Some studios I know have only one movie going into production. So, yes, there’s contraction, but there are still jobs out there. You can sell specs.”

Sasha Perl-Raver (Totally Killer) “These things are pendulum swings. It will swing in the other direction eventually, hopefully. Everything is a cycle. As long as I’ve been doing this, someone will say ‘It’s really hard right now.’ But you’re still going forward and someone will buy something. I have heard there’s more people in rooms. And that was part of the fight and that’s wonderful. And people who weren’t getting opportunities are getting opportunities and people are being kept accountable. Yes, there’s a shrinkage, but there are small wins along the way.”

Jim Mickle (Sweet Tooth): “Every once in a while you talk to someone and they’re like ‘Stuff is still going’, but for the first time I’ve heard a lot of people reaching out asking ‘Have you heard of anything?’ There’s a lot of studios figuring out are they going to go forward with stuff they were doing before [the strike]. A lot of studios were expecting more material after the strike, and there wasn’t as much.”

Alex Convery (Air): “I really believe in the thing we’re told in kindergarten: Control what you can control. All I can control is writing, and writing specs. I do believe the right script will find the right people at the right time.”

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