By Heather Butts
Toronto (CTV Network) — The U.S writers’ strike began more than a month ago—a fight for better pay, protection from AI and job security—as streaming services dramatically change the industry.
“The ability of screen writers to make a living is being threatened,” Alex Levine, president of the Writers Guild of Canada told CTV National News. A lot of the series they are producing have smaller orders, six or eight episodes, and that has allowed them to really grind down on writers and get more work out of fewer writers.”
His group, along with production crews and actors, are standing in solidarity this week, holding protests of their own. While the strike is causing massive production delays in the U.S., it’s also having a direct impact on Hollywood North.
“They hire our crews, they use our locations, and that work is stopping,” says Levine.
Unions estimate tens of thousands of people are off set and sitting on the sidelines. That includes everyone from actors and producers to makeup artists and craft services. People who work on shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” and the Netflix series “The Craving.”
While the strike started in May, many started to feel the pinch long before.
“The slowdown started a lot earlier, productions weren’t willing to commit to production during a period of uncertainty, and without the ability to do rewrite and changes,” Matt Williams, a key grip who works out of Vancouver, said. Williams worked his last full-time gig in March and says some others have been out of work since January.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) represents 34,000 people in Canada. They work behind the scenes covering positions such as lighting, grip, construction, makeup and wardrobe. Across the country, IATSE estimates its members have lost millions of dollars in wages—roughly $13 million in Halifax and Montreal, $36 million in Toronto and it says B.C.’s loss is “incalculable” because it’s so big.
“Probably the worst hit has been British Columbia, so much of foreign-service U.S.-based production gets done in British Columbia, so they have been impacted,” said John Lewis, VP of IATSE and director of Canadian affairs. “At this time, we would have anywhere between 30 and 40 productions shooting that are U.S.-based, in July we will have none that are going to camera in British Columbia. That’s unheard of.”
Film and television production in Canada contributed $13.73 billion to the country’s GDP last year, with $7.58 billion in foreign investment in production. As the weeks roll on, there is concern that the industry, just bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be taking a major hit. And it could get worse. Some shows are still filming, but as they wrap up, crews will be left out of work.
“There’s nothing picking up, there’s nothing starting, so (it’s having a) dramatic, significant impact on our members, but also the entire industry,” said Lewis.
And as production schedules head into the next season, that puts even more pressure on crews.
“It’s not just the summer season, but it’s availability of actors, creative talent. They have specific timelines and when they’re available to shoot, and so all that gets played into it,” adds Lewis.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which represents actors in the U.S., is also in negotiations at the moment, so if that union decides to join the picket line, it will bring an abrupt halt to all shoots involving American actors—possibly the next major hit to the industry.
The Writers Guild of Canada will enter negotiations in the fall, the organization is currently watching the scenario unfold in the U.S.
“We’re hoping there’s a mutually satisfactory real solution of these issues, how the WGA handles this can help us at the bargaining table and find a fair deal for our membership as well,” said Levine.
Meanwhile, film and TV crew members in Canada are hoping for the best, as they head into what is usually a busy summer.
“It’s very difficult to see a period of time when things are going pick back up again,” said Williams, who is currently out of steady work in Vancouver.
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