Members of SAG-AFTRA, the union comprised of more than 150,000 film and television actors, have joined more than 11,000 screenwriters on strike after a breakdown in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Film and television productions have halted, ushering in the industry’s first tandem strike since 1960 and essentially shutting down Hollywood.
A major point of contention has to do with residuals, the money actors receive for repeat showings of their film and television projects. The growing dominance of streaming has increased the issue’s urgency, as SAG-AFTRA negotiators are demanding residuals based on the viewership of films and television shows on streaming platforms. However, the studios – among them Netflix and Amazon – have not agreed to release viewership statistics. The debate over who owns an actor’s likeness if it is generated or reproduced by AI is also at play, as well as the improvement of working conditions and health benefits.
Fran Drescher, the sitting president of SAG-AFTRA, announced the strike last Thursday, noting that studio bosses “plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting.” Drescher continued, “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us.”
Most of Hollywood’s major players seem to be on board. A SAG-AFTRA letter detailing the necessity of a strike was signed by Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Charlize Theron, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a slew of other A-listers. Members of the Oppenheimer cast walked out of the film’s Thursday night premiere in London. Director Christopher Nolan quipped that they were “off to write their picket signs.”
Most of the films slated for release this year have already been shot, but television shows have already seen delays in their upcoming seasons as a result of the writers’ strike, which began in May. Many late-night talk shows have already resorted to airing reruns, and marquee titles like Stranger Things and Yellowjackets have halted production indefinitely.
As far as the actors are concerned, participation in film or television production with any of the major studios is no longer an option. Projects that are currently filming are likely to see delayed release dates, as all ongoing productions have been halted for the duration of the strike. Additionally, union members are also barred from promoting completed projects by giving interviews and attending award shows, premieres, and screenings. This could spell bad news for upcoming industry events, including the Toronto and Venice film festivals and San Diego Comic-Con.
Writers have been on strike for more than 70 days and counting, and while screenwriters have walked out before, the last time they were joined by actors was under the Reagan administration. The last major actor walkout was staged in 1980 and lasted more than three months. It remains to be seen how long the strike will continue or what it will take for an agreement to be reached.
However, as of Tuesday, July 18th, there are 39 independent film and TV projects that have been exempted from the strike. Among them are two films from A24, the independent studio behind recent award season juggernauts Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Whale. They include Mother Mary, a “pop melodrama” that stars Anne Hathaway as a fictional musician, and Death of a Unicorn starring Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega. More waivers for projects without ties to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers could be announced as the strike continues.