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The U.S. writers strike began 1 month ago. Here’s how it’s affecting the Canadian industry | CBC News



The Ontario film and television industry had a record-breaking year in 2022, with substantial growth partly thanks to U.S.-produced shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Boys, which shoot in Canada.

But only 15 projects set up shop in Toronto this year amid talk of the now-ongoing U.S. writers strike, compared to 25 last year, according to Marguerite Pigott, the city’s film commissioner and director of the entertainment industry.

Workers and supporters of the Writers Guild of America protest outside Universal Studios Hollywood after union negotiators called a strike for film and television writers in Los Angeles on May 3, 2023. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

“Scouting slowed down January to March, so we absolutely knew what to expect. The whole industry knew what to expect,” Pigott told CBC News.

The strike began one month ago — and the Canadian industry has steeled itself for the ripple effects of a labour action that has shut down scores of Hollywood film and television productions.

A similar effect to what Pigott described has taken hold in western Canada. British Columbia hit a low of 28 active productions just before the beginning of the strike — around half of what it would typically be at that time of the year, according to Gemma Martini, the CEO of Martini Film Studios in Langley.

While Toronto’s domestic industry is still going strong, Canadian film and TV staff who work across borders have suffered losses, said Pigott.

“There’s no question that people in the industry are feeling the pain, especially people on crews.”

Feature films rarely begin shooting without a finished script; Canadian independent productions that work with Writers Guild of Canada members are untouched by the strike south of the border. 

But a large number of U.S. series, like Abbott Elementary, have reportedly been delayed. Ditto for Canadian co-productions like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is shot in Toronto, and HBO’s The Last of Us, which will film its second season in Vancouver.

Pigott emphasized that it’s a matter of if, not when, the U.S. industry returns to Toronto. Outside of Ontario, Canadian cities like Montreal, Halifax and Calgary are favoured shooting locations for our American neighbours. 

“We know the writers strike is going to end at some point,” said Pigott. “When it ends, there will absolutely be that boom.”

Solidarity overrides everything, says Canadian writer

A man with a dark beard wears a navy blue baseball cap.
Abdul Malik, a screenwriter and former labour organizer in Edmonton, said he has stopped working on his U.S. projects in solidarity with the writers strike. (Gabrielle Brown/CBC)

Many Canadian writers who’ve developed projects in the U.S. have put down their pens to support Writers Guild of America members.

Abdul Malik, a screenwriter and former labour organizer based in Edmonton, put all of his U.S. projects on hold when the strike began last month.

“If the roles were reversed, I’d want the Americans to do it for me, right? So solidarity sort of overrides everything in that case,” he told CBC News.

Malik, whose credits include CTV medical drama Transplant, the Prime Video series Streams Flow From A River and newly announced CBC drama Allegiance, said the streaming era has resulted in more U.S.-based opportunities for Canadian writers.

“That isn’t to say that Canada isn’t sustainable for me right now, but the upside of America is really high for Canadian writers if they can make it there,” he explained.

Meanwhile, U.S. networks could be eyeballing Canadian content as a strike contingency to fill out their fall schedules. For the record, the CW Network picking up Run The Burbs, Son of a Critch, Moonshine and other Canadian programming seems to be unrelated to the strike. 

If the roles were reversed, I’d want the Americans to do it for me, right?– Abdul Malik

But NBC recently ordered two more seasons of Transplant. We may see more of these deals throughout the summer, Malik said.

“I think you could make a reasonable assumption that a lot of American networks are looking at the quality content we produce in Canada and brokering deals with producers to air it in the U.S.”

Malik said his friends in Los Angeles have been absorbing a decline in working conditions for years. Canadian scribes are experiencing many of the same issues plaguing their U.S. peers: smaller writers rooms and a shorter timeline to develop projects at a faster pace, he added.

“I do think there’s a vested interest across the Canadian media sphere to keep writers in the country … it doesn’t mean that we’re not feeling the squeeze here, either.”

Writers gave studios ‘a gift,’ says prof

The Hollywood studios have a triple-threat on the horizon — and not the actor-dancer-singer kind.

The Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have contracts with the studios set to expire on June 30 — the latter union will hold a strike authorization vote this month. High-profile actors like Colin Farrell, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Coolidge have shown up to support writers on the picket line.

They might be winning the PR battle, but the writers guild has “terribly miscalculated their leverage” against the Hollywood studios, said Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University. 

Studios drew a hard line on negotiations with writers, saying their profitability is declining as intense content competition and high costs hurt their bottom line.

“The studios need to recalibrate their costs, and they couldn’t have imagined a bigger gift than a union forcing everyone to slow down and cut costs multilaterally,” Galloway told CBC News.

From traditional networks like ABC to streaming giants like Netflix, studios have been preparing for an action with so-called “strike-proof” lineups — mostly a combination of non-scripted reality shows, and international series like the aforementioned CanCon, though you’ll see South Korean and Indian exports pop up in your algorithm too.

A bald man with a gray beard wears dark glasses with a thick frame.
Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University, said the writers have ‘terribly miscalculated their leverage’ against the Hollywood studios. (New York University)

Galloway was blunt: “The practical reality is the content bank of these studios is much deeper than the personal bank accounts of these writers.” 

He said the real enemy to writers are platforms like TikTok, which are pulling young audiences away from traditional Hollywood entertainment.

“I think all of the leverage and all of the incentives point to one thing: a nuclear winter for writers,” he said.

Malik, the writer, said he disagrees with Galloway’s analysis. 

He believes networks will lose eyeballs from their “strike-proof” slates, and that TikTok and YouTube — while part of a larger entertainment ecosystem — aren’t naturally built to support the type of dramatic entertainment that people love, à la Breaking Bad or Succession.

He expects the strike to last at least until September, if not beyond. It’s simply a matter of who flinches first: the writers guild or the studios, he said.

“Hopefully I’ll be going to the U.S. with the knowledge that they have a stronger contract and a lot more stuff that would benefit me and other Canadian writers like me.”

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