Hollywood actors may be on the verge of joining screenwriters in what would be the first two-union strike in the industry in more than six decades, with huge consequences for film and television production. Here is a look at how it could play out, and why it’s happening.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH ACTORS’ NEGOTIATIONS?
The contract between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and the studios, streaming services and production companies that employ them expires Friday night at midnight Pacific time.
Unionized actors have voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike when it does. But that’s hardly a hard deadline. Both sides have indicated a willingness to talk for what may be several days past the expiration, as happened before resolutions were reached in the same negotiations in 2014 and 2017.
Reports have said the talks have been productive. But some actors have expressed worry that their leaders may not be pushing hard enough.
More than 1,000 of them, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, have added their names to a letter to negotiators saying they are willing to strike, and are concerned they are “ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.” The letter says “this is not a moment to meet in the middle.”
The guild, led by president and former “Nanny” star Fran Drescher, represents over 160,000 screen actors, stunt performers, broadcast journalists, announcers, and hosts, but a strike would involve only actors working on television shows and films.
WHAT DO THE ACTORS WANT?
Many of the same issues that drove writers to strike are on the table for actors, including what the guilds say is shrinking compensation brought on by a streaming ecosystem in which royalty payments are no longer tethered to the popularity of a film or TV show.
A role or a writing credit on a show that became a hit with a long life in reruns is no longer the cash cow that it once was. And the unions say inflation is outpacing the scheduled pay bumps within their contracts.
For both scribes and performers, the move to streaming and its ripple effects have also meant shorter seasons of shows with longer gaps between them, and therefore less work.
And like the writers, actors fear the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA said in a memo to members that the burgeoning ability of AI to recreate the performances of its members is “a real and immediate threat” that it wants to head off.
Issues particular to actors include the new and increasing burden of self-taped auditions — the cost of which used to be the responsibility of casting and productions.
HAVE HOLLYWOOD ACTORS GONE ON STRIKE BEFORE?
Movie and TV actors last went on strike for three months in 1980, though actors in broadcast commercials have gone on strike twice since then.
Overall they have had far more labor peace than screenwriters, whose walkouts have been far more frequent. That includes the current standoff, in which 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike for nearly two months, with no end in sight.
In 1960 the actors’ union, led by then-SAG president and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, went on strike for six weeks that fell in the middle of a five-month writers’ strike, the only time two major Hollywood unions walked off the job at the same time.
Actors have shown broad support for striking writers, and many have joined them on picket lines in an act of what has so far been symbolic solidarity.
WHAT EFFECT WOULD THE COMBINED STRIKES HAVE FOR VIEWERS?
The writers’ strike had an almost instant effect on late-night network talk shows, including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” ABC’s “ Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” which all went on hiatus immediately. “Saturday Night Live” axed its last three episodes of the season.
In the two months since, many scripted television series have also shut down, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Max’s “Hacks,” Showtime’s “Yellow Jackets,” and Apple TV+’s “Severance.” Some movies have reportedly also been paused.
Actors joining writers would force nearly every other show or film that hasn’t already been shot into a similar shutdown. Forthcoming seasons of television shows would be delayed indefinitely, and movie releases will be pushed back.
Streaming menus on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video will show no immediate differences, though lovers of those outlets’ original series would eventually have to wait longer for their favorites to return.
Exceptions would be productions taking place outside the United States. And reality shows, game shows and most daytime talk shows will likely be unaffected.
The two strikes are also casting doubt on the viability of the Emmy Awards, whose nominations are scheduled to be announced on July 12 before a September ceremony, though the Tony Awards and BET Awards managed to shows go on despite the writers strike.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE WRITERS?
The writers’ strike has seen persistent picketing and some major rallies for two months, but so far no movement. There are no current negotiations happening between the strikers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, streamers and production companies in all the industry’s union negotiations. The longest previous writers strike, in 1988, lasted five months.
Along with the issues they have in common with actors, writers are especially concerned with the shrinking staffs that are used on shows, which they call “mini-rooms.” They have meant much less work, and far fewer guarantees of future work.
The AMPTP says the writers’ demands would require that they be kept on staff and paid when there is no work for them. The group also said that it had offered generous pay increases.
The two sides were so far apart on its negotiations that talks broke off hours before the contract expired. No one expects that will happen on Friday with actors, but whether a strike can be avoided in the coming days remains to be seen.