The SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America have called for Hollywood strike together for the first time in 60 years.
As the Washington Post says, “A historic double strike that would effectively shut down the U.S. television and film industries.”
The walkout halted operations globally, causing more economic hardship and inconvenience to the film and television industries, which have already been jolted by the writers’ strike, which began on May 2.
How did we get here?
On June 7, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers began contract discussions with the actors union, barely three weeks before their contract was set to expire.
Things became heated early on when union officials sought and gained — by a wide majority — strike permission from members even before negotiations began.
On the eve of the contract’s expiration date, the two parties agreed to prolong negotiations for two weeks until July 12. Initially, it looked that the union was close to striking an agreement after union representatives stated that discussions had been “extremely productive” and that they were enthusiastic about reaching an agreement.
The union requested that a third-party business assess the performance of programs and that residual payments be related to how they perform because many performers had been shortchanged by the streaming revolution. AMPTP firms objected, claiming that many streaming sites are not yet profitable.
The parties also disagreed on suggestions to limit the use of self-tape auditions, increase payments to the union’s health and pension plan, and raise basic pay to account for inflation.
What’s the strike for?
Union members in the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are making this sacrifice for the very survival of the industry. There’s a lot of glee at the strike, which makes total sense because we hope it will ultimately lead to the studios being forced into a position to re-negotiate for a better deal.
But in the midst of all this, please don’t forget that there are real people forgoing paychecks and income for the big picture of this strike. And the studios are going to squeeze them as hard as they can, leading to real human suffering.
Production companies within the AMPTP have started putting out casting calls and screenwriting calls to new talent to try and undermine the strikes. Writers’ rooms have been shrinking while the speed and quantity of content they’re being asked to produce has been increasing at a rapid rate. They’re hiring writers to workshop, then laying them off with no pay or credit for their contributions to preliminary work. In some cases they’re using AI to mimic writing styles to fill in the gaps. In some cases they’re using AI and just hiring writer’s to touch it up. Writers aren’t being paid appropriate residuals for streaming service exclusive media, meaning they’re getting paid pennies to begin with and then nothing after that no matter how popular shows are (while producers rake in millions).
Blame the studios for not paying them fair living wages, trying to turn the profession of screenwriting into pure freelance work, and not agreeing to regulate AI but merely offering to “study it”, among other things.
Actors have been subject to unethical working conditions for ages, from verbal abuse to 24-hour shoots with little to no breaks to other poor working conditions that under the current SAG-AFTRA contracts with the AMPTP are now disallowed. The AMPTP is also pushing for a contract change that would allow production companies to hire actors for a day of filming to train AI, then use their likeness in perpetuity with no compensation for the use of their voice and likeness. Many actors are underpaid and overworked, struggling to make rent, on Food Stamps, and unable to afford health insurance. The AMPTP is pushing for new contracts that would further exploit an already exploited workforce in a multibillion dollar industry as they line their own pockets.
The Hollywood strike is about far more than paying writers, it’s about demanding a stop to the kind of corporate greed that forces these kinds of strikes to happen. They could easily end the strike now and pay the writers what they want and they would be making about 0.01 percent less per year. Think of it that way, for the equivalent of a penny a year to the big studios, this strike could have ended months ago. Instead they’re blithely posting about how they’re going to starve people until go back to work because they lose their houses.
The CEOs of these big studios, Netflix and Paramount have basically devolved into straight up 80s cartoon villains twirling their mustaches and talking about how they’re going to force writers to lose their homes and starve because they won’t accept scraps while the CEOs are feasting on the profits of their work.
This has to end.