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Hollywood actors join writers in strike

July 13, 2023

The start of an actors' strike marks one of the biggest Hollywood labor fights in decades as actors to begin picketing alongside writers.

Actors' union SAGA-AFTRA and writers' union WGA workers striking outside of Bronson Studios building, which houses Netflix, on July 12
US actors will join writers (pictured here) in a strike over compensation for streaming services and questions regarding the use of AI imagesImage: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY/picture alliance

Many famous Oscar and Emmy winners will join writers in picketing in New York and Los Angeles on Friday as the major Hollywood labor dispute drags on.

This strike marks one of the most significant labor conflicts in the industry in decades and will result in the shutdown of remaining productions that have continued filming since the screenwriters' work stoppage.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) president, Fran Drescher, and other actors have shown solidarity by joining the writers on picket lines.

With the formal inclusion of the actors' branch, which consists of 65,000 members, both guilds will unite in their concerns over contracts keeping pace with inflation, residual payments in the streaming era, and protecting against the use of artificial intelligence to replicate their work in film and television.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, center, pose with SAG-AFTRA members during a press conference announcing a strike by The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on Thursday, July, 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Union representatives announced the strike in a Thursday press conference after a negotiation deadline passedImage: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/picture alliance

Strike instrument of last resort

The deadline for Hollywood actors to reach a deal with major film and television studios had passed on Thursday.

The union leadership voted for the work stoppage hours after their contract expired and talks broke off with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director of the SAG-AFTRA, called the strike "an instrument of last resort."

He added that they voted unanimously for a strike to begin at midnight Thursday (0700 GMT Friday).

Soon after the strike was announced, picketing screenwriters went on to chant, "Pay your Actors!" outside Netflix's Hollywood offices. 

'Expectations not realistic'

The AMPTP, representing major employers like Disney, Netflix, and Amazon, expressed their disappointment over the strike, highlighting the negative impact it will have on the thousands of workers involved in supporting film and television production.

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday told CNBC the actors' and writers' expectations were "not realistic," calling the decision to strike "very disturbing."

Earlier this week, an exclusive report in Deadline.com said that the studios and the AMPTP are anticipating that by October, the majority of writers will face financial difficulties after spending months on picket lines without work, forcing them to accept any terms of the negotiations.

Actors' union joins writers on strike

This is the first industry-wide shutdown in 63 years, with film and television production said to grind to a halt.

In May, more than 11,000 film and television writers went on strike that disrupted production on a slate of big-budget movies.

SAG-AFTRA's walkout leads to a "double strike" not seen in Hollywood since 1960. 

SAG-AFTRA members appeared to be taking the strike seriously as stars of the "Oppenheimer" movie left the London premiere on Thursday hours before the union officially called the strike.

UK, London | Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy und Florence Pugh bei der Oppenheimer-Filmpremiere
The strike will affect performers' abilities to promote current films, as well as film for future onesImage: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP/picture alliance

What to know about the negotiations

On Wednesday, talks took place with mediators in a last-ditch effort to avoid a second industry strike.

"After more than four weeks of bargaining, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) ... remains unwilling to offer a fair deal on the key issues that are essential to SAG-AFTRA members," the Screen Actors Guild said in a statement.

Meanwhile, AMPTP said it was disappointed by the failure to reach a deal.

"This is the Union's choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors' digital likenesses, and more," the AMPTP said in a statement.  

A-list stars, including Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, have voiced their support for the industrial action.

The strike will mean that stars will not be able to promote new releases or attend industry events such as Comic-Con, which is set to be held next week.

The union represents roughly 160,000 actors and television and radio presenters as well as other media professionals.

"SAG-AFTRA supports WGA" poster held by protester
Writers have already been marching for two months, with the actors' union expressing support for the actionImage: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY/picture alliance

What are the actors' demands?

The union was demanding higher compensation from streaming services as well as higher pay to counteract inflation.

In addition to salaries when working, actors earn "residuals" every time a production they star in is aired on a network or cable.

However, streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ do not disclose viewing figures and pay actors the same flat rate regardless of viewership.

SAG-AFTRA is also demanding the implementation of safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Actors want assurances that their digital images will not be used without their permission.

rm, kb,sdi/sms (Reuters, AFP)