This article is available in: French
Above: Fran Drescher – President, SAG-AFTRA (and known as an actress for shows such as The Nanny), announcing the launch of the strike. The speech is available on Youtube.
20203 will be a historic year in Hollywood history. Screenwriters have been on strike since last May, and the major labor union Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced that they launched a strike order.
In other words, actresses and actors are now on strike as well.
Behind this announcement, the same root causes can be found: actors and actresses demand better compensation (thanks to residual), and they fear AI might threaten their jobs.
Behind the strike : residuals, AI and more.
As a reminder, residuals were established back in the 60s. In a nutshell, screenwriters, actors, actresses receive payments aven after the first commercial run of a movie, or after the first broadcast of a TV show. When a movie is sold on Blu-Ray, or when there are reruns. Residual pay is based in part on ratings/sales. It should be noted that not everyone can get residuals: non-credited screenwriters do not get residuals, for example.
When it comes to streaming services, however, residuals are calculated differently. They don’t really depend on ratings, but rather on the number of subscribers, as the Writers Guild of America explains. A film that becomes a massive hit on Netflix will not generate more residuals than a feature film watched by a handful of subscribers. Unions explain that due to this radical change, as well as other adjustments, their members get much less residuals that they used to.
Which is why they want to re-negotiate these terms. The Washington Post highlights that residuals weren’t that high to begin with. However, actress Sanaa Lathan points out in the same article that these residuals helped actresses and actors pay their bills while pursuing casting opportunities, allowing them to sustain themselves between roles.
The other major concern that is at the root of this strike is, of course, the use of unregulated artificial intelligence. Screenwriters fear that these technologies will have a negative impact. For example, studios could hire less screenwriters for a specific project, and ask them to proofread AI generated content. Actresses and actors, on the other hand, are concerned that their voice and appearance may be used in problematic ways, on projects they can’t choose and without compensation.
SAG-AFTRA also raises other concerns: benefit plans “are under stress” and the shift to self-taped auditions since Covid force actors and actresses “to take on audition costs that have always been the responsibility of casting and production”, explains the labor union.
Actor’s strike: halted production, impact on other industries
Examples include Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2, Mission impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 2, Lilo & Stitch, Venom 3.
Of course, this strike, coupled with the screenwriters strike will also impact the rest of the industry. As an example, there won’t be any new shots for VFX studios to work on.
The magnitude of the impact this will have on the industry as a whole will of course depend on the duration of the strike. French newspaper Liberation highlights that the number of shooting permits dropped 63% compared to last year.
The movement has been fueled by statements of Disney CEO Bob Iger. He stated that the unions’ demands were “unrealistic,” citing the industry’s financial constraints and the consequences of the pandemic. Naturally, this discourse did not sit well with unions, especially considering that Bob Iger earns $27 million annually as Disney CEO. The exorbitant salaries of other studio executives further intensify this resentment.
Consequences of the strike are already clearly visible. The Oppenheimer cast walked out of the UK premiere, due to this announcement. You can expect other actors and actresses to stop promoting their upcoming movies. The Emmy Awards, next September, might also be canceled.
This strike is already historic: this is the first time since 1960 that screenwriters, actors and actresses are on strike at the same time.