Hollywood is witnessing an unprecedented event as actors and screenwriters from two unions join forces for the first time in over six decades, initiating a strike that could have far-reaching consequences for the film and television industry. After more than a month of negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and studios, streaming services, and production companies, talks reached an impasse. The atmosphere turned increasingly hostile, prompting union leaders to vote in favor of a strike starting on Friday. Even the intervention of a federal mediator failed to bridge the gap.
According to union leaders, actors have been shortchanged by the streaming model dominating the industry, resulting in a loss of income for performers while executives benefit. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing studios and streamers in the negotiations, presented proposals that failed to address the actors’ concerns adequately.
The possibility of reaching a deal seemed promising after a 12-day extension of the contract and continued negotiations before an initial deadline in late June. However, tensions only escalated. Fran Drescher, known for her role in “The Nanny” and serving as the head of the union, expressed feeling deceived, suggesting that the extension was merely a ploy for studios to promote their summer movies for an additional 12 days.
The actors’ frustration stems from the impact of the streaming model on their earnings. Previously, actors could rely on royalty checks from reruns of popular shows like “Seinfeld” or “The Office.” However, the streaming model has significantly diminished this source of income, as residual payments are no longer tied to a show or movie’s popularity. Actors are now seeking a long-term share of the revenue generated by streaming platforms.
This issue is one among several shared by both actors and screenwriters. The shift to streaming has resulted in shorter seasons and longer breaks between shows, leading to less work for both groups. Additionally, both fear the unregulated use of artificial intelligence, with actors concerned that studios want to exploit their likenesses without hiring or compensating them.
Actors are also grappling with the increasing burden of self-taped auditions, which were previously the responsibility of casting and production teams.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers maintains that it presented actors with a generous deal, including the largest minimum pay increase in 35 years and a groundbreaking proposal to protect actors’ digital likenesses using AI. They argue that the strike will bring financial hardship to numerous industry professionals.
Union rules prohibit actors from engaging in any aspect of their work beyond shooting films and TV shows. They are not allowed to make personal appearances, promote their work on podcasts, attend premieres, or participate in production work such as auditions, rehearsals, voiceovers, or wardrobe fittings.
As the strike commences, actors are expected to spend their days on picket lines outside studio headquarters and production hubs. Prominent actors, including Matt Damon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jessica Chastain, have expressed support for the strike and are likely to be the face of the picketing. However, the strike will also affect tens of thousands of actors who struggle to find work and maintain a steady income, leading to significant financial hardships for them.
The joint strike by actors and screenwriters will force most ongoing U.S.-based TV shows and films into hiatus. Upcoming seasons of television series will likely face indefinite delays, and some movie releases may be postponed. However, reality shows, game shows, and most daytime talk shows are expected to continue unaffected.
The duration of the strike remains uncertain, as there are currently no planned or imminent talks between the writers’ union and the studios. The longest writers’ strike in history, which occurred in 1988, lasted five months, while the most recent writers’ and actors’ strikes in 2007-2008 and 1980 respectively lasted around three months each. With both sides united in their grievances and facing similar challenges, a protracted strike may be on the horizon, leaving them jointly out of work for an extended period.