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SAG-AFTRA Strike: Here's Why Hollywood Actors Have Walked Off the Sets

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced their strike on 13 July.

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SAG-AFTRA Strike: Here's Why Hollywood Actors Have Walked Off the Sets
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For the first time in 60 years, Hollywood is facing an industry-wide shutdown.

After four weeks of failed negotiations with the studios, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which represents more than 1,50,000 film and television actors, announced on 13 July, that it would go on strike, joining the screenwriters on the picket lines who walked out in May.

But why are Hollywood's actors and writers striking? What was the union's deal with the studios about? And how will it impact your favourite shows and films? We explain:

SAG-AFTRA Strike: Here's Why Hollywood Actors Have Walked Off the Sets

  1. 1. Why are Hollywood's Actors and Writers Striking?

    Several writers and actors are picketing outside the studios.

    (Photo Courtesy: SAG-AFTRA/Twitter)

    The industry-wide strike of the actors and writers follows a row about pay and the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) with major film productions and streaming services like Netflix, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, Paramount, Amazon, and Disney, etc., that all fall under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

    • The two unions failed to reach an agreement with the studios on a fairer share of profits and increased protection from AI rights.

    • The unions raised their concerns about contracts not keeping up with inflation, residual payments (a form of royalty payments) in the OTT space, and the issue of 'mini rooms'.

    • It also demanded putting up stringent barriers against AI mimicking their work in films and television programmes.

    Earlier in June, several A-list actors signed a letter to guild leadership stating that they were ready to strike, calling this moment "an unprecedented inflection point in the industry."

    Would top stars participate in this strike?

    Entertainment industry lawyer Jonathan Handel told Al Jazeera, "There will be visibility from the big stars. But this strike is not about bringing more money to people who already have millions."

    The strike will not benefit top actors financially since the individual contracts that their agents negotiate with the studios significantly surpass the union minimums at stake.

    • On Thursday, 13 July, the cast of Universal Studios' most anticipated film of the year, Oppenheimer, walked out during the film's London premiere in support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

    • Lead actors of the film like Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Florence Pugh left the premiere after posing for the media.

    The cast of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.

    (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

    Speaking about the strike, Damon told Variety, "It's really about working actors. A lot of people are on the margins, and residual payments are getting them across that threshold. This isn't an academic exercise. This is real life-and-death stuff. Hopefully, we get to a resolution quickly. No one wants a work stoppage, but we've got to get a fair deal."

    Expand
  2. 2. What Do the Hollywood Studios Say?

    The AMPTP represents over 350 American television and film production companies in collective bargaining negotiations with entertainment industry trade unions like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and the Directors Guild of America, among others.

    • The trade association asserted that it has offered "historic pay and residual increases" along with higher caps on pension and health contributions in its proposal.

    • AMPTP also claimed that their offer addresses the union's concerns with regard to audition protections and a "groundbreaking" approach to artificial intelligence, among other advantages.

    "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," the AMPTP shared in a press statement.
    • The studios stressed that the industry upheaval has not been pleasant for them either.

    • It claimed that many studios' share values have plummeted and profit margins have shrunk as moviegoers have been hesitant to return to theatres and home viewers have shifted away from cable and network television to OTT.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Will It Impact Your Favourite Shows and Films?

    Hollywood productions have drastically slowed down since the Writer's Guild of America (GWA) strike began in early May this year. According to reports, some businesses have resorted to layoffs or even project cancellations.

    A still from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

    (Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

    Several big and small businesses are attached to the entertainment industry, which makes the financial impact of the Hollywood strike substantially huge and tough to estimate.

    • Although its impact is not as immediate on film releases as they were already written and shot years ago and have a lengthy distance between the post-production process and their theatrical screenings, which can also be rescheduled.

    • In terms of soap operas and streaming shows, only a few US-based productions containing a specific contract and game and reality shows would continue without the actors.

    • According to FilmLA, no scripted television permits were issued in the first two weeks of July in Los Angeles.

    However, SAG-AFTRA has suggested that it could propose waivers to exempt small-scale and truly "independent films".
    • Popular shows like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have finished scripts and were able to continue filming during the strike period but without any writers on set.

    • Disney has delayed a number of Marvel superhero films, stretching out their release dates.

    • Earlier this week, Fox unveiled the fall schedule of several unscripted television series like The Masked Singer, Celebrity Name That Tune, and Kitchen Nightmares.

    HBO's Succession led the Emmy nominations 2023 by 27 nods.

    (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

    • ABC has also announced its fall schedule, full of nightly lineups like Dancing With the Stars, Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, and repeated telecasts of Abbott Elementary.

    • The 75th Emmy Awards nominations, which were recently announced, have also been significantly affected by the strike.

    • As per reports, organisers are in discussions about postponing the 18 September ceremony by several months.

    Entertainment lawyer Handel told Al Jazeera, "Fifteen years ago, when the writers were on strike – it was a 100-day strike – and the estimate was a little over $2 billion (Rs 200 crores). So that translates to $20 million (Rs 16.48 crore) a day. Adjusted for inflation, that’s close to $30 million (Rs 3 crore) a day lost in California alone."

    Would the strike impact overseas productions?

    SAG-AFTRA is an American labour union based in Los Angeles. However, the strike's impact wouldn't be confined to the United States.

    Handel told Al Jazeera, "When SAG-AFTRA actors are working on the movie being shot in Europe, or Australia, or Asia, or wherever, they will have to stop work."

    • Important premieres, San Diego’s Comic-Con, and fall film festivals like the Toronto and Venice film festivals will also be affected by the strike.

    • The strike also prevents the union's members from promoting films and television shows.

    Expand
  4. 4. When Is the Strike Likely to End?

    There is no definite answer to this question, as historically, some Hollywood strikes have lasted for several months and some barely over a few hours.

    • The last actors' strike, which staged a major walkout in 1980, lasted for three months, whereas the 2007 writers' strike lasted for 100 days.

    • Writers have already been picketing for more than 70 days now, as their union has yet to return to negotiating with the studious.

    SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, at a press conference on 13 July, shared:

    "That’s up to them. We are open to talking to them tonight. It’s up to them if they’re willing to talk in a normal way that honours what we do. This is going to drag on and is not easily resolved because both sides view this as existential."

    Adding that the strike may last until fall, Drescher asserted that "there’s a lot of bitterness between the writers and the studios and the actors and the studios" at the moment.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Why are Hollywood's Actors and Writers Striking?

Several writers and actors are picketing outside the studios.

(Photo Courtesy: SAG-AFTRA/Twitter)

The industry-wide strike of the actors and writers follows a row about pay and the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) with major film productions and streaming services like Netflix, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, Paramount, Amazon, and Disney, etc., that all fall under the umbrella of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

  • The two unions failed to reach an agreement with the studios on a fairer share of profits and increased protection from AI rights.

  • The unions raised their concerns about contracts not keeping up with inflation, residual payments (a form of royalty payments) in the OTT space, and the issue of 'mini rooms'.

  • It also demanded putting up stringent barriers against AI mimicking their work in films and television programmes.

Earlier in June, several A-list actors signed a letter to guild leadership stating that they were ready to strike, calling this moment "an unprecedented inflection point in the industry."

Would top stars participate in this strike?

Entertainment industry lawyer Jonathan Handel told Al Jazeera, "There will be visibility from the big stars. But this strike is not about bringing more money to people who already have millions."

The strike will not benefit top actors financially since the individual contracts that their agents negotiate with the studios significantly surpass the union minimums at stake.

  • On Thursday, 13 July, the cast of Universal Studios' most anticipated film of the year, Oppenheimer, walked out during the film's London premiere in support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

  • Lead actors of the film like Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Florence Pugh left the premiere after posing for the media.

The cast of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Speaking about the strike, Damon told Variety, "It's really about working actors. A lot of people are on the margins, and residual payments are getting them across that threshold. This isn't an academic exercise. This is real life-and-death stuff. Hopefully, we get to a resolution quickly. No one wants a work stoppage, but we've got to get a fair deal."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Do the Hollywood Studios Say?

The AMPTP represents over 350 American television and film production companies in collective bargaining negotiations with entertainment industry trade unions like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and the Directors Guild of America, among others.

  • The trade association asserted that it has offered "historic pay and residual increases" along with higher caps on pension and health contributions in its proposal.

  • AMPTP also claimed that their offer addresses the union's concerns with regard to audition protections and a "groundbreaking" approach to artificial intelligence, among other advantages.

"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," the AMPTP shared in a press statement.
  • The studios stressed that the industry upheaval has not been pleasant for them either.

  • It claimed that many studios' share values have plummeted and profit margins have shrunk as moviegoers have been hesitant to return to theatres and home viewers have shifted away from cable and network television to OTT.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

How Will It Impact Your Favourite Shows and Films?

Hollywood productions have drastically slowed down since the Writer's Guild of America (GWA) strike began in early May this year. According to reports, some businesses have resorted to layoffs or even project cancellations.

A still from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Several big and small businesses are attached to the entertainment industry, which makes the financial impact of the Hollywood strike substantially huge and tough to estimate.

  • Although its impact is not as immediate on film releases as they were already written and shot years ago and have a lengthy distance between the post-production process and their theatrical screenings, which can also be rescheduled.

  • In terms of soap operas and streaming shows, only a few US-based productions containing a specific contract and game and reality shows would continue without the actors.

  • According to FilmLA, no scripted television permits were issued in the first two weeks of July in Los Angeles.

However, SAG-AFTRA has suggested that it could propose waivers to exempt small-scale and truly "independent films".
  • Popular shows like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have finished scripts and were able to continue filming during the strike period but without any writers on set.

  • Disney has delayed a number of Marvel superhero films, stretching out their release dates.

  • Earlier this week, Fox unveiled the fall schedule of several unscripted television series like The Masked Singer, Celebrity Name That Tune, and Kitchen Nightmares.

HBO's Succession led the Emmy nominations 2023 by 27 nods.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

  • ABC has also announced its fall schedule, full of nightly lineups like Dancing With the Stars, Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, and repeated telecasts of Abbott Elementary.

  • The 75th Emmy Awards nominations, which were recently announced, have also been significantly affected by the strike.

  • As per reports, organisers are in discussions about postponing the 18 September ceremony by several months.

Entertainment lawyer Handel told Al Jazeera, "Fifteen years ago, when the writers were on strike – it was a 100-day strike – and the estimate was a little over $2 billion (Rs 200 crores). So that translates to $20 million (Rs 16.48 crore) a day. Adjusted for inflation, that’s close to $30 million (Rs 3 crore) a day lost in California alone."

Would the strike impact overseas productions?

SAG-AFTRA is an American labour union based in Los Angeles. However, the strike's impact wouldn't be confined to the United States.

Handel told Al Jazeera, "When SAG-AFTRA actors are working on the movie being shot in Europe, or Australia, or Asia, or wherever, they will have to stop work."

  • Important premieres, San Diego’s Comic-Con, and fall film festivals like the Toronto and Venice film festivals will also be affected by the strike.

  • The strike also prevents the union's members from promoting films and television shows.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

When Is the Strike Likely to End?

There is no definite answer to this question, as historically, some Hollywood strikes have lasted for several months and some barely over a few hours.

  • The last actors' strike, which staged a major walkout in 1980, lasted for three months, whereas the 2007 writers' strike lasted for 100 days.

  • Writers have already been picketing for more than 70 days now, as their union has yet to return to negotiating with the studious.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, at a press conference on 13 July, shared:

"That’s up to them. We are open to talking to them tonight. It’s up to them if they’re willing to talk in a normal way that honours what we do. This is going to drag on and is not easily resolved because both sides view this as existential."

Adding that the strike may last until fall, Drescher asserted that "there’s a lot of bitterness between the writers and the studios and the actors and the studios" at the moment.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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