DemDaily: The Hollywood Revolution
July 19, 2023
Last Friday, July 14th, SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild, went on strike, joining film and television writers who have been on picket lines since May -- igniting a full scale Hollywood revolution.
It the first time since 1960 that studios have faced a dual work stoppage of writers and actors, forcing them to halt productions across the United States and abroad.
The 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike almost three months ago, shutting down some of the country's most popular sitcoms, network programs and late night shows, and freezing work on hundreds of other projects in development after negotiations broke down between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
SAG-AFTRA, which represents roughly 160,000 actors, is seeking resolution with AMPTP on many of the same compensation and job security issues as the WGA, including royalties or residuals, and limits on how artificial intelligence (AI) is used in film and television.
|SAG-AFTRA's rules prevent striking performers from acting, singing, dancing, doing stunts and promoting their projects, whether on red carpets or award shows. Meanwhile, WGA members are prohibited from providing any writing services to a struck company.
Among other demands, the actors are calling for increased pay and residuals, which union members say has significantly diminished amid the rise of streaming services. Residuals are financial compensation paid out to actors whenever TV shows or movies they’ve appeared in are replayed.
"You have to make $26,000 a year to qualify for your health insurance and there are a lot of people who get across that threshold through their residual payments," said actor Matt Damon. "There's money being made and it needs to be allocated in a way that takes care of people who are on the margins." Just 12.7% of SAG-AFTRA members earn the $26,470 necessary to qualify for the union’s health plan.
While Hollywood's elite have been coming out in droves to support their fellow actors, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said that a vast majority of actors “are just working people just trying to make a living, just trying to pay their rent, just trying to put food on the table and get their kids off to school. Everything that you watch, that you enjoy, that you’re entertained by are scenes filled with people that are not making the big money.” The strike, she said, is a response to an unfair system that’s diminishing and demeaning to performers.
Also of enormous concern is the potential for union members to be replaced by rapidly evolving artificial intelligence (AI). AI can be trained on actors’ digital likenesses or voices, which can then be used to generate new performances on-screen, in voice-over or other capacities.
SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that the AMPTP’s proposal for AI stipulated "that our background actors should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness and to be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent and no compensation.”
|According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for California actors in 2022 was $27.73 per hour. However, notes the BLS, actors aren’t paid full-time year-round due to the nature of the job.
The AMPTP, the trade association that represents studios, TV networks and streaming platforms like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Paramount, the Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Discovery, pushed back citing their offer of "substantial Increases" in minimum pay, pension and healhcare contribution caps. That included a 76% increase in foreign residuals paid from big-budget streaming shows, and an AI protection clause -- all rejected as inadequate in negotiations.
On Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger said striking actors’ and writers’ demands are “just not realistic. They are adding to a set of challenges that this business is already facing, that is quite frankly, very disruptive.”
In another controversial comment on the strikes, published in Deadline last week, an anonymous studio executive told a reporter, “the endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” An “insider” quoted in the article called it “a cruel but necessary evil.”
Strength in numbers
The twin strikes are having a ripple effect across the industry. In solidarity, the Directors Guild of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States (IATSE) and dozens of national labor unions have expressed their support publicly and 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 has to change. For actors that journey starts now.” - George Clooney
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Sources: LATimes, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, The Guardian, Vox, CNN Business, Deadline