Picket lines in Hollywood could soon get an influx of recognizable people, as the actors’ union is increasingly likely to join writers in a strike. It would be the first time since 1960 that Tinseltown’s actors and writers are on strike at the same time.
The news comes as leaders of SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which includes movie studios, broadcast TV networks and streamers, have been unable to come to an agreement on a new contract, as the current one had been set to expire June 30 at midnight. Negotiations between the sides began May 31.
As recently as June 24, former The Nanny star Fran Drescher, who’s now the president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, told members that union representatives were having “extremely productive negotiations that are laser focused on all of the crucial issues you told us are most important to you. And we’re standing strong and we’re going to achieve a seminal deal.” She sounded less hopeful Thursday on Good Morning America, acknowledging that there was no progress in some areas.
That deal has yet to pan out. Deadline reported June 28 that the parties were considering a contract extension through July 7, and, in fact, extensions were made in 2014 and 2017. Per Variety, as of late Friday, there were still “major differences” on issues, including the use of artificial intelligence. In a joint statement late Friday obtained by Yahoo, the two parties announced they had agreed to an extension with the contract now set to expire on July 12. “The parties will continue to negotiate under a mutually agreed upon media blackout,” they groups said. “Neither organization will comment to the media about the negotiations during the extension.”
Here’s a breakdown of why this happened and what it means for entertainment fans:
What do the actors want that they’re not getting from the studios and networks?
The actors want better overall salaries and job protection, including the regulation of AI and increased residuals from streaming, the way many of their performances are now delivered to consumers.
On June 27, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Quinta Brunson, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rami Malek, Elliot Page and hundreds more members sent an internal letter to Drescher and union leaders demanding that they press for a “seismic realignment” of working conditions, including minimum pay rates, exclusivity clauses, residuals when their work is streamed or used to train AI, as well as regulation of the practice of self-taped auditions.
“We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points, and we believe that, if we settle for a less than transformative deal, the future of our union and our craft will be undermined, and SAG-AFTRA will enter the next negotiation with drastically reduced leverage,” they wrote.
Days before the letter was sent, members had voted overwhelmingly in favor of striking — a whopping 98 percent of the 65,000 members who voted — if a deal wasn’t reached by the deadline. The idea of a strike exploded in popularity after the star-studded declaration, and, by Wednesday, more than 1,000 members, including Pedro Pascal, Charlize Theron and Drescher herself, had signed on.
The studios, meanwhile, are looking to stay profitable. Officials at Netflix, for example, announced this month that the company would lay off 300 employees amid slower revenue growth.
How is this related to the the writers strike?
It’s separate, although the writers, who went on strike May 2 after contract talks collapsed between their union, the Writers Guild of America, and AMPTP, are asking for some of the same things as actors. They’re mostly seeking higher pay, especially amid changes in how people consume content and how that content is created. A big issue for them is that streaming has prompted an industry shift. Traditional residuals — a writer’s compensation when you watch their show — are drying up. Shows also now go into production in shorter spurts, which means that some writers struggle to cobble together a steady income. The writers also wanted guarantees that shows would employ a specific number of writers for a specific amount of time, rather than what’s known as “mini rooms” for writers, and that their jobs would be protected from being taken over by AI.
So it’s not directly related, but it illustrates the state of the entertainment industry, which, like the rest of the world, is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Gone are the days of a broadcast TV series that airs once a week for 20-plus weeks, now replaced by a streaming show that might have eight episodes that drop all at once, which, of course, affects the cast and crew.
And this has real-world consequences for the people who write those jaw-dropping episodes and movies. Take actress Rebecca Metz (TV’s Shameless and Better Things), who told Agence France-Presse on June 28 that, in the last few years, she’s seen her residuals shrink to a “tiny fraction” of what they used to be, because streamers often pay flat rates to performers, rather than rates based on a program’s popularity. So, someone who plays a minor character in a show you’ve never heard of earns the same in these residuals as someone on, say, a hit like Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building.
“When we’re not working for a good stretch, all of a sudden we’re worried about qualifying for our health insurance,” Metz told the news outlet.
OK, so what does the actors strike mean for my favorite TV shows and upcoming movies?
It’s definitely not good. If there’s any upside it’s that, since writers were already on strike, many productions had shut down anyway. Those include Saturday Night Live, which ended its season early, and scripted shows like Stranger Things, Hacks and Cobra Kai, as well as movies, such as Marvel’s Blade, so there won’t be too drastic of a change in the immediate future. However, there are shows and movies that had been written before the writers went on strike that will now be unable to film without actors.
In the short-term, a lot of shows have already been filmed and are in the can, but audiences would still see changes like a possible delay of the Emmy Awards, which are currently scheduled for Sept. 18. (Because what would TV’s annual awards fete be without the casts of Abbott Elementary and The Bear?) The annual fan fair that is Comic-Con International, which had been planned for July 20-23 in San Diego, could be a bust.
A strike would also mean actors would stop promoting their projects through these kinds of appearances, which would also leave the entertainment news industry, as well as talk shows, at a loss.
Also, an actors strike will likely affect our choices of movies and TV shows for years to come, as productions shut down and planned projects stack up.
How long will this last?
While no one knows exactly, we can get an idea from the handful of previous times that actors have gone on strike. The most recent were in 1980, when a work stoppage lasted about four months as performers sought to be compensated for “Pay-TV, video disc and video cassettes,” and in 2000. The Los Angeles Times reported then that actors wanted higher payments for commercials, to no longer be paid a flat fee for making ads that aired on cable. They wanted to be paid in residuals, just as they were with shows. “The actors also want to address the fledging issue of how they will be paid when ads run on the Internet,” the newspaper noted.
The double strike makes the situation especially dire for pop culture disciples.