Writers strike rules are simple if you’re in the Writers Guild of America, the guild representing writers: Don’t write for any struck company, and don’t negotiate or discuss present or future writing projects. But what if you’re one of the countless non-WGA writers, often known as pre-WGA writers, who want to support the strike and avoid being a scab? What, exactly, does the WGA want you to do and not do?
We spoke with screenwriter Christopher Kyle, the secretary-treasurer of the WGA-East, about some of the questions we’re seeing from pre-WGA writers on social media, including: Can writers still post their scripts on services like The Black List? Can they enter screenwriting contests? Can they seek an agent or manager during the strike?
The questions are important not just because writers don’t want to hurt their fellow writers, but also because the WGA can withhold membership in the future to anyone who engages in scabby behavior during the strike. (A scab is a person who works in spite of a strike, often taking a job that a union worker is taking a principled stand against performing in order to get a better contract.)
We took many questions to the WGA, and the guild put us in touch with Kyle (whose credits include Alexander and K-19: The Widowmaker) because he is one of the striking WGA members authorized to speak with news media. But before we get to his very helpful answers, here are some useful links.
First, here is a link to look up a company, to see if it is a signatory to the WGA agreement. The guild is striking against all signatories, from major companies like Netflix and Warner Bros. to small ones you’ve likely never heard of. If you want to avoid crossing a picket line, you’ll want to avoid them all during the strike.
Second, here is a link to the WGA’s 2023 Strike Rules. You can also use this link to contact WGA attorneys, at no cost, if you have any questions about proper strike behavior that aren’t addressed below.
Finally, here is a short summary of what the WGA wants for its members.
And now, our Q&A, in which we address not just contests, hosting platforms, and seeking managers, but also whether you can make no-budget or micro-budget movies that don’t involve signatories. Kyle also tells you exactly what to say if you’re an independent filmmaker and a company approaches you during the strike, trying to buy your film.
What Are the Writers Strike Rules for Pre-WGA Writers?
MovieMaker: We’ve been scanning Twitter and Reddit and lots of other places, and there are a lot of questions from pre-WGA writers about how to conduct themselves. They don’t want to accidentally scab or cross the picket line unintentionally. So I wanted to share some of the questions I’m seeing.
Christopher Kyle: The main and most important thing is to not work for, or have contact with, signatory companies — the companies we’re striking against. That means don’t take a job writing on a film or TV show that’s covered by our contract. Don’t have meetings with executives from companies. Don’t option a script that you wrote on spec to a company — anything like that. Those are the kinds of things that are strictly prohibited. And if someone did those things, then it would be unlikely they would ever become a member of our guild.
MovieMaker: You said “meetings” — that includes any meeting with a representative of a signatory in which you even talk hypothetically about a project?
Christopher Kyle: Even if it’s just a general meeting, like a “getting to know you,” not talking about a specific project. The spirit of the strike is that we’re trying to shut down the industry, and anything that can keep the wheels turning is something that is not helping us. So all our members, and anyone aspiring to be a member, should not be meeting with those companies right now.
Can You Shoot a Truly Independent Film During the Writers Strike?
MovieMaker: Some of our readers are individuals making small-scale films with friends, and people who perhaps aren’t even expecting to make their money back. Does the WGA have a position on whether these non-WGA filmmakers can go forward making independent films during the strike?
Christopher Kyle: This is not the sort of thing that’s probably going to lead to any discipline. We’re encouraging writers to show solidarity by not creating work that could end up in the companies’ pipeline. I know a lot of these smaller films, or student films or shorts or things, are never going to become commercial films. And those are not things anybody’s worried about. But if you write an independent film and take it to a festival and Netflix wants to buy it, then as soon as you sell it to Netflix, then now you are in violation of the strike rules.
MovieMaker: Got it. And what if you make the film now and then you sell it after the strike is over?
Christopher Kyle: That’s not going to be an issue, yeah. If you don’t market it until after the strike is over, that’s fine.
MovieMaker: So theoretically, if I wrote a script today and shot it with my friends, and took it to a film festival next year and sold it to Netflix next year — assuming the strike is over next year — I would be OK.
Christopher Kyle: Yes, that would be fine.
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MovieMaker: I saw one writer-director online who said they were going to stop production of their short film now, in solidarity. I don’t know if they intended to sell it to anyone during the strike. But do you have a position on whether that’s the right thing to do?
Christopher Kyle: If they’re doing any kind of work for a covered company — even if the only work they would be doing is directing, because the script is finished — if they’re members, we’re encouraging them not to go forward with that. But that’s not something we can discipline. We can’t discipline someone for serving their director role, even on a script they wrote, if all they’re doing is directing and not doing any writing.
So that’s kind of a tricky area. It’s one where it’s not technically a violation. But we’ve been talking to showrunners on TV, and writer-directors, and encouraging them to postpone their projects, or put their projects on pause until after the strike.
We’re asking them to go beyond the rules themselves. We’re not going to discipline them for doing non-writing work. But we’re asking them in solidarity to not do it.
MovieMaker: Discipline for non WGA-writers would mean not being admitted into the guild. But isn’t scabby behavior also just frowned upon? Is it something that could bite you later, even if you don’t technically violate a rule?
Christopher Kyle: If it becomes known that people scabbed during the strike, you know, showrunners are writers, and showrunners are the people who hire people to write on television shows, and almost all the showrunners are members of the guild. So if your name gets out there as being someone who worked against us during the strike, it might be hard to find a showrunner who wants to put you on staff.
MovieMaker: Yes. And it’s hard enough to get those jobs as it is.
Christopher Kyle: And it’s hard enough to get those jobs anyway. I was an aspiring screenwriter one time too, and I can understand how tempting it is. And it seems like your big break. But you’ve got to think of your long-term career. And the things we’re striking for are going to be beneficial to people who aren’t even members of the guild yet, because it’s going to improve the system for the future.
MovieMaker: Can writers post screenplays on sites like The Black List or Coverfly? I’ve seen some writers who are not WGA saying they’re not even posting scripts that they wrote prior to the strike.
Christopher Kyle: We actually were in conversation with Franklin Leonard at The Black List, and I believe he sent an email to everybody who has an account telling them what the rules were. [Editor’s Note: He did.] The basic idea is that they don’t have to take their scripts down from those platforms. But they cannot sell a script or option a script, and they can’t take a meeting that comes because somebody read their script on the platform. But they don’t have to pull their scripts down.
Can You Get an Agent During the Writers Strike?
MovieMaker: Can a pre-WGA writer sign with an agent or a manager during the writers strike?
Christopher Kyle: Yes. They can sign with an agent or manager, but they have to make it very clear to that representative that they can’t do anything with their work: They can’t set up meetings, they can’t send out the scripts. So you can sign with an agent, but then an agent can’t really do anything for you until after the strike.
And you want to be really clear with that agent, so that they understand that they can’t start to market you with your work and set up meetings, because if they do, then they have put you across the strike rules.
MovieMaker: And that’s also detrimental to the agent, because they’re also going to lose money on you.
Christopher Kyle: Yes. The only thing I would say is, I would guess that agents have time on their hands right now. It may be a good time for an aspiring writer to send them a script to read. Because they may have more time to read it.
MovieMaker: Is that considered distasteful or tacky or anything?
Christopher Kyle: Tacky to sign with an agent? We’re not we’re not in conflict with agents. So if agents want to use this time to find clients that they’re then going to market in the future, I think that’s fine. But you know, they can’t start that marketing until after the strike.
MovieMaker: Got it. Okay. And there’s no conflict at all with using screenwriting platforms for coverage service?
Christopher Kyle: I don’t think so, unless their coverage service is somehow sponsored by one of the signatory companies, which I can’t imagine is the case.
MovieMaker: I get emails from contests that say, basically, “Here’s your chance to pitch your ideas to managers and agents” or to “pitch your ideas to producers.” It sounds like pitching to managers and agents is fine, but pitching to producers would clearly be out of bounds.
Christopher Kyle: Correct.
Can You Enter Film Festivals During the Writers Strike?
MovieMaker: Can independent filmmakers enter their films and film festivals during the writers strike?
Christopher Kyle: Yes, but as I said before, if they put their film in a festival and it leads to an offer of sale or option from a company that we’re striking against them, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of that without running across the rules.
MovieMaker: So if Netflix or another signatory reached out to you and said, “We love your film, we want it,” what is the proper response? Is it no response? Or should you say, “Let’s talk when the strike is over”?
Christopher Kyle: That’s what you should say. “I really appreciate your interest in my work. I’m in solidarity with the striking writers. As soon as the strike is over, I hope to have this conversation with you then.”
MovieMaker: Can independent filmmakers seek investors or crowdfunding during the strike?
Christopher Kyle: As long as the investments aren’t coming from a signatory company.
Can Writers Talk to Press During the Writers Strike?
MovieMaker: Some writers or writer-directors have turned down interviews with us in recent days. And I don’t want to accidentally drag someone across a picket line. Is WGA asking writers not to talk to news media about their projects?
Christopher Kyle: Yes, we have asked writers not to participate in any kind of promotion or advertising for their films. So that includes press interviews about their films, FYC events, even going to premieres. We were in conversation with a writer this morning. And he agreed not to attend a premiere of his own film. So yes, that is part of our attempt to say, “This is not business as usual. And we’re not going to return to business as usual until we have the deal.”
MovieMaker: Because the idea is, ”Let’s cut off the pipeline, let’s just not put a product out in the market, or let’s do nothing to promote the product that’s on the market.” Right?
Christopher Kyle: Right. Every ticket sold is benefiting the companies right now. So we’re not going to participate in that until they make a good deal with us.
MovieMaker: Great. And I don’t mean to call it “product.” That sounds gross. [Laughs]
Christopher Kyle: They call it product, content. We like to call it movies and shows, but…
MovieMaker: And what about directors and actors and others? We’re seeing things like Drew Barrymore not taking part in the MTV Movie Awards.
Christopher Kyle: That’s been great, the support we’ve gotten from other guilds. IATSE, the Teamsters, SAG-AFTRA — it’s been tremendous. Obviously, we don’t have any control over what members of other guilds do. But we’re so grateful when they choose not to participate or don’t cross our picket lines.
Who Are the WGA Signatories Being Picketed?
MovieMaker: This may be a dumb question, but can you also explain who the signatories are? Is it just the major companies, or is it every producer?
Christopher Kyle: There are actually hundreds, maybe thousands of them. There’s a lookup on the WGA-East website. But it’s kind of a moving target. Because companies are constantly creating new LLCs and organizations, each of which then has to become a signatory in order to hire writers. So there’s way more than just the ones you know of, like Paramount and Sony and Disney.
Basically, if it’s a company that has ever made a commercial film or television series, then they’re going to be a signatory.
MovieMaker: So the only ones not covered would be somebody saying essentially, “I’m going to four-wall this movie.”
Christopher Kyle: Some super low-budget independent films that are not made for commercial distribution. Yeah, I’m sure those are made without being part of the signatory. But any kind of film that is made for commercial distribution, it’s going to be by a signatory.