Hollywood reels as screen actors join writers on strike
As Hollywood actors took to the picket lines outside major studios Friday morning, two of Hollywood's most powerful labor unions are striking simultaneously for the first time over 60 years.
To the echoes of "One day longer, one day stronger," being chanted on the strikers' picket lines, 160,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike on Thursday at midnight, joining the 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) who have been on strike since May.
"We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories," said SAG-AFTRA in a public letter signed by many of the most famous names in Hollywood.
The SAG-AFTRA strike, supported by thousands of Hollywood stars and other actors, came after negotiations for a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the entity that represents major studios and streamers including Amazon, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, and Warner Bros Discovery, broke down.
In the last dual strike in 1960, it was Ronald Reagan, as president of the Screen Actors Guild (and future president of the United States of America), who led the labor walkout.
The latest labor action has industry creatives going head-to-head with the "Big 5" Hollywood studios as well as big-money streamers and brought the 134-billion-US-dollar American entertainment industry to a grinding standstill while their differences are ironed out and imbalances addressed.
The strike comes at a challenging time for the entertainment industry, which is still grappling with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid technological advancements. Streaming services have disrupted traditional revenue models, while the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) poses both opportunities and threats to creative professionals.
On one side, the actors and writers are seeking improvements in compensation, better benefits, and safeguards against the growing use of AI in the industry.
Actors also want greater transparency from giant streamers so they can share fairly in the revenues generated from their work. Streamers do not share any metrics of their audience viewership and project sales revenues even with the creators of those works. SAG-AFTRA wants to bring in neutral third parties to perform analytics to help determine fair payments to actors.
These issues reflect the industry's changing landscape, including the meteoric rise of streaming services, and the potential impact of AI on the creative professions.
On the other hand, studio executives argue that increased spending on content creation to meet consumer demand has negatively impacted profits, leading to job cuts. The AMPTP asserts that it has offered historic contract improvements, including increased pay and residual payments for certain shows streaming overseas. The studios maintain that they are committed to reaching a deal and getting the industry back to work.
"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," said the AMPTP on Twitter. "The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry."
The ongoing WGA strike, which began in May, has already caused significant disruptions in Hollywood, with many TV shows and movies having to cancel or delay production.
However, the actors' strike will have an even more profound impact. In the realm of public opinion, it will certainly make an impact to see many famous actors joining the strike effort, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Eva Longoria and Glenn Close.
TV series will be forced to an indefinite hiatus, and movie theaters, already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changing viewing habits, will face another major financial challenge, when movies that have already been shot are unable to be released.
Both writers and actors are prohibited from promoting their projects during the strike. This restriction means no premiers, talk, show appearances or magazine cover stories that haven't already been scheduled.
The strikes will also impact industry events, such as San Diego Comic-con for actors, where writers and directors usually interact with fans and promote their work. Award shows like the Emmys and potentially the Oscars may be delayed if the strikes continue into 2024.
Only animation (not including voice actors) reality shows and projects shooting outside the United States with non-SAG actors can continue during the strike.
The hope is that negotiations will resume soon and lead to a resolution before the strikes become prolonged.
However, if the strikes continue, the consequences for the industry and the economy will be substantial, affecting not only workers directly, but also support services and regional economies dependent on the entertainment business, such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.
"If they don't resolve these things and it drags out, it's going to be a disaster," A-list Hollywood producer Arthur Sarkissian told Xinhua.
The 2007 writers' strike lasted 14 weeks and caused significant economic distress to the entire entertainment industry.
Many actors and writers blame much of the current loggerheads on the bloated executive salaries at streamers and studios, which can be tens of millions per year to each executive. They suggest reducing executive salaries to give fair wages to the creatives who generate the material that makes Hollywood the leading content-provider in the world.
"We're all in it together. Without the writers and actors, they have nothing. And without the studios and distributors, the others have nothing. It's gotta be a win-win," Sarkissian added.