Hollywood strikes create uneasy future for film students

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After 146 days of striking, Hollywood writers of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a tentative agreement with major film and television studios. The strike for higher and more stable pay, fairer deals regarding artificial intelligence and residual payments from streaming services, was just short of becoming the longest strike in WGA history.

A tentative agreement has been reached, its details not yet known, but the state of the industry is still uncertain. Webster teachers and students within the film and television industry are grappling with questions on how to approach a future in their fields. 

“Scriptwriting students now have an opportunity,” Alumnus Vincent Italiano said. Italiano graduated in 2022 with a major in Film, Television and Video Production.  “The industry is on pause and while nothing is produced, writers can make something of it. Write some scripts, make some pitch decks, then hide them away. When the strikes are over and studios are frantically trying to distribute they’ll be hungry. You’ll have something to serve.”

Film students shooting a scene in class with instructor June Kyu Park. Photo by Zoe DeYoung.

Italiano currently works as a freelance videographer and stagehand. According to Italiano, the current model of releasing and re-releasing reruns will eventually get old, and studios will need more content, which he hopes will bring new life to Missouri’s film industry. 

While there is some potential for students to take advantage of the chaos, Italiano has seen firsthand the side effects of the strikes.

“Moving out in an already terrible economic climate, only to have your main source of income that you specialize in disappear with the career you studied for has been soul-crushing. I have the privilege of waiting it out before I take my next big step, but so do studios,” Italiano said during the strike. 

Current students must navigate both increased competition among writers and the emergence of new technologies like AI, a subject that garnered significant attention during the strikes.

Elizabeth Livers, a scriptwriting major set to graduate this semester, aspires to join the scriptwriting industry. With the concern of AI also on the horizon, Livers finds herself uncertain about its potential applications.

“While some professors bring up AI in the screenwriting field, I wouldn’t say they’ve really educated me on the topic. I honestly learned what it was because I overheard a private conversation a student was having with a teacher, and I Googled it,” Livers said. “If it’s going to be normal now, I feel we should learn to use it appropriately.”

What is Webster doing to prepare students for the questionable climate of the industry? Peter Hanrahan, a scriptwriting professor at Webster, doesn’t sugarcoat it when talking to students and shares the pros and cons of joining the industry.

“We always discuss the inherent challenges and practical realities of screenwriting as a career, and, in recent classes, we have discussed the reasons behind the strike. The last writers’ strike, in 2007-2008, lasted four months, and we’re almost to that point this time,” Hanrahan said.

 Natalia Kaniasty, an assistant professor of media arts, echoed Hanrahan’s sentiments.

“As the film and television industry evolves, the school has to as well. It is important for those of us teaching in the film program to have ongoing dialogue about our approach to filmmaking as a medium and as a career path. I believe we are doing that,” Kaniasty said. “We are all working professionals. By maintaining our ties to the business, we ensure that we are preparing our students for the current industry.”

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Griffin Wiebelt-Smith
Staff Writer | + posts