‘We are the victims here’: Hollywood actors strike, shutting down the film, TV industry
Hollywood actors have voted to strike, joining already-striking writers in a move that shuts down the production of countless movies and TV shows.
“I went in earnest, thinking we could avert the strike, so the gravity of this move is not lost on me,” Screen Actors Guild president Fran Drescher said Thursday at a news conference in Los Angeles announcing the strike, which officially begins at midnight local time Thursday and will find actors on the picket lines Friday morning.
“We had no choice. We are the victims here, being victimized by a very greedy entity,” she said. “They stand on the wrong side of history. We stand in unprecedented unity. At some point the jig is up, you can’t keep being marginalized and disrespected. The business model has been changed by streaming and AI. If we don’t stand tall right now, we’ll all be in jeopardy. At some point you have to say, no, we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Hollywood writers have been on strike since May 2, holding out for improved payment contracts at a time when less-than-lucrative streaming deals are bumping up against the looming threat of artificial intelligence taking writers’ jobs. Actors are also looking for better pay deals, especially from streaming services such as Netflix.
The strike caps a month of tense negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the major studios. On June 28, an open letter from more than 1,000 SAG members was sent to the union’s leadership. The letter, signed by Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and other big stars, expressed the membership’s sincere willingness to strike if they were not able to achieve all demands in a new contract.
Both sides had already extended talks by 12 days after their initial contract expired June 30.
The combined SAG and Writers Guild of America strikes mean the immediate shutdown of any TV show or movie currently in production, and includes promotional appearances ranging from red carpet walks to media junkets. While the duration of the strike is an unknown, some reports suggest studios are willing to hold out into the fall to win concessions.
“The studios are consolidating in a bid to compete with Netflix, the only one who seems ready for Hollywood’s fully digital era,” says Aymar Jean Christian, associate professor of communication studies and director of the Media and Data Equity Lab at Northwestern University.
“The streaming model is making the studios both more powerful and cost-conscious,” he says. “This will be a grind. Unless the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) gives in quickly, which seems unlikely, this could be the longest production slowdown in history.”
For their part, studios shifted blame for the strike to actors for walking away from talks and said “historic” pay increases and other benefits had been offered. In a statement, the AMPTP said, “This is the Union’s choice, not ours. … Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
This marks the first time in 63 years that both Hollywood actors and writers have been on strike simultaneously. Commercial actors last walked off the job for six months in 2000, while the last strike by film and theatrical actor members of SAG lasted 14 hours, back in 1986. The writers staged a 100-day walkout in 2007 and 2008.
The ongoing Writers Guild strike has meant that many TV shows and movies have had to cancel production, although animation (minus voice actors), reality TV and some projects shooting outside the U.S. with actors who aren’t in SAG have been able to carry on. But with an actors’ strike, very little can continue.
For movie theaters, already facing an uphill climb after the pandemic and a shift to at-home viewing, it means another big financial challenge after they’re run through their supply of already-shot movies.
Strike rules forbid actors from promoting their projects, a constraint writers have faced since May. That means no premieres, no talk show appearances and no glossy magazine cover stories that aren’t already banked. (USA TODAY’s interviews with actors for upcoming movies such as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were conducted before the strike began.)
The strike will also depress the fun at fan favorite events such as San Diego Comic-Con, usually chock-full of popular actors, writers and directors pitching their movies and TV shows to thousands of cosplaying admirers.
The Emmy Awards, planned for Sept. 18 on Fox, would likely be delayed until both strikes are resolved. If the strikes drag on into 2024 (unlikely but possible), other major awards shows like the Oscars would be put on hold.
The actors will join the writers on picket lines at a transformational moment in the entertainment industry. The WGA is asking for a guaranteed minimum number of writing staffers, increased royalties for streaming TV shows and movies, and the regulated use of AI. Actors share many of the same concerns and demands.
The studios reached a deal with a third major Hollywood union, the Directors Guild of America, that was ratified by its membership on June 24. But that settlement did not move the writers or actors toward an agreement with the studios.
Contributing: Brian Truitt, USA TODAY