Why are Hollywood workers striking and how will it impact the industry?

The writer’s strike that has been happening in Hollywood since May 2 has officially become the writer and actor strike, and it’s become one of the biggest Hollywood strikes in history.

It’s the first joint strike between the actors and writers in more than six decades. It’s also the first joint walkout since 1980. 

But what is the Hollywood strike all about, how did it happen, and what effect will it have on the industry, on film releases, and television series? How long will it last?

What about awards shows (like the Emmys in September) and film festivals? And what do actors have to say about it?

We understand that there are so many questions, so let’s roll the reel on what’s really going on. 

So who exactly is striking?

On Thursday, July 13, SAG-AFTRA (SAG stands for Screen Actors Guild, and AFTRA stands for American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) formally voted to go on strike.

What is SAG-AFTRA?

The union was formed by the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012. As per the SAG-AFTRA website:

“SAG-AFTRA brings together two great American labor unions: Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Both were formed in the turmoil of the 1930s, with rich histories of fighting for and securing the strongest protections for media artists.”

The guild, which represents approximately 160,000 actors and performers, have joined the writers—who have been striking for more than 70 days already —on the picket lines.

Contract talks collapsed mid last week and the union that represents the 160,000 actors walked out. 

In a statement, the union said the negotiating team had voted unanimously to call a strike after failing to land a new deal. 

Who is the strike against?

The strike is against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers—or AMPTP—which is a trade association that represents more than 350 major American entertainment corporations.

These include conglomerates such as Disney, Netflix, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery. (The group represents NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.), and SONY. These all fall under the umbrella of the AMPTP.

A month of tense negotiations brought the actors and film and television production companies to a standstill. 

The dispute pits SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP against each other after they failed to agree on some key issues. 

In a recent statement, the AMPTP reacted to the strike:

“A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for, as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life. The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.” 

What are some of the sticking points?

The Actors’ Guild is protesting exploitative business practices created by the streaming economy. 

The issues that are being negotiated are very similar to the issues presented by the writers. 

One primary issue is the dwindling residual payments: performers receive these payments whenever a project they’re in is syndicated, aired elsewhere, or re-used by different entertainment networks. 

The Actors Guild Why are Hollywood workers striking and how will it impact the industry?

We all heard about how the cast of Friends would make millions and millions of dollars in syndication money. Those days are long gone. 

As per the The New Yorker:

“Television actors have traditionally had a base of income from residuals, which come from reruns and other forms of reuse of the shows in which they’ve appeared. At the highest end, residuals can yield a fortune; reportedly, the cast of “Friends” has each made tens of millions of dollars from syndication.”

The piece goes on to elaborate that streaming services “scrambled” that model, and it put into peril the ability of working actors to make a living. 

For example, actor Matt McGorry, who played a corrections officer on Orange is the New Black, the series that put Netflix on the map and was the original streaming sensation, said that he had to keep his day job because “it paid better than the mega-hit TV show we were on,” he said. 

The strike is also in regards to the pay and impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the actors. 

“Screenwriters are afraid studios will use A.I. to generate scripts. Actors worry that the technology could be used to create digital replicas of their likeness (or that performance could be digitally altered) without payment or approval.”

Actors want to have a say in how their voice and likeness are used by studios. “This way they aren’t turned into virtual meat puppets against their will.”

And for the kicker: An AMPTP “groundbreaking” A.I. proposal according to SAG-AFTRA’s National Executive Director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, studios want to pay background extras for one day of work, but own their likeness forever. 

They propose that background actors should work one day, get scanned, and then the company owns that scan, their image, and their likeness. They get to use that scan for future projects basically forever in any project they want, without any consent or compensation. 

Both sides are digging in their Hollywood heels 

“The studios are very dug in,” says Sharon Waxman, Editor-in-Chief of The Wrap. “And the actors are very dug in because this is in no one’s interests.”

At a press conference last Thursday, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher (known for being in the 1990s sitcom, The Nanny) called the studio response insulting and disrespectful. 

“What’s happening to us is happening in all fields of labor,” she said. “When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors who make the machine run, we have a problem.”

Drescher also said: 

“I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far we are on so many things. How they plead poverty that they’re losing money left and right when they’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs.

“It’s disgusting. Shame on them. They are standing on the wrong side of history.”

Disney CEO Bob Igor appeared on CNBC and described the actors’ and writers’ demands as unrealistic. Something many people are calling a little “rich” coming from someone who could be paid as much as $27 million this year—in fact, seven other major studio execs are paid close to this range—while many workers struggle to pay their bills. 

The actors pulling out puts production to a stop, period

actors pulling outputs production Why are Hollywood workers striking and how will it impact the industry?

“We already had the writers on strike so no new shows or series could be written,” says Waxman. “Now that means that all current production that involves actors, which is everything, means that it has to come to a halt.”

When the writers went on strike, production companies could still continue work with the scripts they already had. But actors joining the strike puts the whole of production to a halt. 

International shows like The House of Dragon and Industry can continue filming because these have primarily British actors. 

The stars have spoken out on what they think of the strike

Actor George Clooney has led A-listers voicing support for the strike, and colleagues such as Jason Sudeikis and Susan Sarandon are among the stars who have been seen on the picket line.

“This is an inflection point in our industry. Actors and writers in large numbers have lost their ability to make a living. For our industry to survive that had to change,” Clooney told CNN in a statement on Sunday. 

Just before the strike was announced, actor Matt Damon shared his own thoughts:

“What we would be striking for—if it happens—is unbelievably important,” he said. “We have to protect the workers. [What they are offering] is completely unacceptable. We can’t have that so we have to figure out something that is fair.”

He added: “It’s the difference between having healthcare and not.”

Actor Zoe Saldana said that whatever happens, “it [should be] with the purpose of reaching resolutions quickly so that people can go back to work.”

In an interview with Sky News (as per The Guardian), HBO series Succession star Brian Cox said that the strike “could get very, very unpleasant” and that it “could go on for quite some time. They’ll take us to the brink and we’ll probably have to go to the brink. So it may not be solved … until towards the end of the year.”

Film festivals, awards campaigns, and press junkets will be canceled or pushed back 

Under the agreement, celebs are not allowed to promote any upcoming work: this means appearances on talk shows and other media interviews are canceled. 

Waxman says it’s a bad situation all the way around. “[The studios] will have to start putting out reruns at a certain point, depending on how long the strike drags on. It will [also] affect film festivals.”

This also means no more movie premieres for a while.

Case in point: the cast of Oppenheimer walked out on the London premiere promoting the film as soon as the strike was announced to “go and write their picket signs”.

Does this mean it will be “Rerun City” for viewers for a while?

The effects may not be visible at first because studios still have projects in the pipeline. But as production comes to a standstill, it throws the studios’ business model for a loop. 

Some are saying that the lack of new content could come in September, so be prepared to re-stream some of your favorite shows or give already-existing content a glance. 

There is also a buzz in the air that those who support the strike have decided to cancel streaming subscriptions until the strike is over.

Studio executives will no doubt feel increased pressure to get back to the negotiating table. 

We’ll be plugged in to see what happens next in Hollywood. 

Also read: What is up with the controversies surrounding the upcoming Women’s World Cup?

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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