Q & A: How a writers strike would play out

If there's a strike, what writers would be involved?

The nearly 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America, who write primarily for television shows and movies.

What writers are not involved?

Writers for commercials, sports programs and reality TV, who are not covered under the guild contract.

What about writers for animated productions?

This is a gray area. Although the Writers Guild has contracts for prime-time animated TV shows including "The Simpsons," most animated features are covered under Animation Guild Local 839, which is part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Some writers for these animated shows belong to both unions.

A dual member who chooses to work under the Animation Guild agreement would be crossing the picket line in the eyes of the Writers Guild, risking fines and loss of membership. The IATSE says it is prepared to take legal action if the Writers Guild prohibits its members from working on animated features.

If there's a strike, will writers be able to finish their current projects?

The guild says that striking writers must "immediately" stop writing for all the major studios and production companies and cannot begin any new project while on strike.

Could a striking writer talk to studios about projects?

Not under guild rules. The guild says striking writers must not negotiate or discuss current or future writing projects with a company that is a target of the strike, which includes most studios and networks. Striking writers also may not sign or deliver documents related to a writing assignment or sell or option a script.

What about "spec" scripts already submitted?

The guild says that once a strike begins, writers should ask studios to return their "spec literary material."

What about writers who also work as producers and directors?

Writer-directors and writer-producers -- also known as hyphenates -- would be allowed to do "non-writing" during a strike, although there's considerable disagreement over how this is defined.

The guild says "writing services" include cutting a production for time, making changes in technical or stage directions, reassigning lines because of cast changes and making casual, minor adjustments in dialogue or narration just before or during a shoot. But the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and networks, say all of those are "non-writing services."

What if a Writers Guild member continues to work during the strike?

The guild constitution says that such a member "may be suspended, declared not in good standing, expelled from membership in the Guild, be asked to resign, be censured, fined or otherwise disciplined, or any combination of the foregoing."

But producers note that federal law gives union members the right to continue to work without the threat of fines if they resign full membership in the union and instead elect "financial core" status. In this situation, the writer would pay equivalent dues and fees as a member but would not have any guild voting rights.

What if a nonunion writer crosses the picket line?

The Writers Guild says it "can and will bar that writer from future Guild membership." But such writers would have a legal right to work under financial core status.

scott.wilson@latimes.com