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Now What? The Five Crises Confronting a Post-Strike Hollywood

Hollywood’s "summer of strikes" may be about to wrap, but don’t pop the champagne just yet. Existential issues still loom large.

As brutal as 2023 has been for the entertainment industry, it’s possible the town will someday look back on this moment wistfully. And not just because of the picket line solidarity or cozy mogul hangs in the bargaining room.

The strikes helped earn gains for Hollywood workers in such areas as streaming residuals and AI, just as they cost the national economy more than $5 billion. But the walkouts also marked the decisive end to a bullish and ultimately unsustainable chapter in Hollywood, an era that was already on its way out when writers put their pens down May 2. This was an age when money flowed freely and companies vying to build their nascent streaming platforms competed for talent with generous and plentiful overall deals. An era when 599 scripted shows a year kept 599 different casts and crews employed. One when actual human beings — not AI — did the creative work of making films and television shows.

The Hollywood Reporter Issue 29 Now What Illustration by Sporting Press
Illustration by WalrusNYC

But that heyday has officially ended, thanks to unsexy factors like high interest rates and industry consolidation, and the strikes gave studios cover to drop their unwanted deals and trim their budgets. The new, post-strike Hollywood is going to be a much leaner one. “This business has now gone through a pandemic, a dual strike and an economic downturn, and the companies have sobered up,” says one agency executive. “The business is getting tougher. For the working-class writer, director, producer, you’re going to see a contraction.”

Post-strike Hollywood also is likely to transition from what has been a strange era in the entertainment business, one when success was often divorced from compensation, thanks to the streaming formula of big up-front paydays without the prospect of performance-based rewards — or even information about how a show or film did on a platform. It’s a system, many industry sources say, that led to a lot of crap. “Where was the incentive to stay on budget or make something great?” asks an agency source.

“There needs to be more of a focus on quality,” says Avatar producer Jon Landau. “That doesn’t necessarily mean tentpole. Whether it’s a big movie or TV show or a small one, we have to make it good.”

Post-strike, expect companies to be pickier about what they make and talent and financiers to be more closely aligned on fiscal responsibility and quality. For some creators, more guardrails and feedback will be welcome. “People are hungrier now,” says producer Todd Black. “Writers are, producers are, and studio executives are. I think we’re going to see over the next couple of years, hopefully, more productivity and more selectivity, and in some ways, I think it’s a good thing.” 

In the meantime, however, the industry must still grapple with five crises the strikes might have overshadowed but certainly did not solve. — Rebecca Keegan and Chris Gardner