Leaders of a Hollywood’s actors union voted Thursday to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades, shutting down production across the entertainment industry after talks for a new contract with the studios and streaming services broke down.
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Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, said at a news conference that the union leadership voted for the work stoppage hours after their contract expired and talks broke off with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers representing employers including Disney, Netflix, Amazon and others.
“A strike is an instrument of last resort,” he said. Union leaders said at a news conference that they voted unanimously for a strike to begin at midnight. Outside Netflix’s Hollywood offices, picketing screenwriters chanted “Pay Your Actors!” immediately after the strike was announced.
It’s the first strike for actors from film and television shows since 1980. And it’s the first time two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the actors’ guild president.
“Employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said. “Shame on them. They are on the wrong side of history.”
With a stoppage looming, the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer in London was moved up an hour so that the cast could walk the red carpet before the SAG board’s announcement.
The looming strike also cast a shadow over the upcoming 75th Emmy Awards, whose nominations were announced a day earlier.
Disney chief Bob Iger warned Thursday that an actors strike would have a “very damaging effect on the whole industry.”
“This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption,” Iger said in an appearance on CNBC. “There’s a level of expectation that (SAG-AFTRA and the WGA) have that is just not realistic.”
An extension of the contract, and negotiations, for nearly two weeks only heightened the hostility between the two groups.
Before the talks began June 7, the 65,000 actors who cast ballots voted overwhelmingly union leaders to send them into a strike, as the Writers Guild of America did when their deal expired more than two months ago.
When the initial deadline approached in late June, more than 1,000 members of the union, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, added their names to a letter signalling to leaders their willingness to strike.
The stakes in the negotiations included both base and residual pay, which actors say has been undercut by inflation and the streaming ecosystem, benefits, and the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence.
The group representing the studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), said earlier it was disappointed by the failure to reach a deal.
“This is the Union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more,” the AMPTP said in a statement.
The actors’ guild has previously authorized a strike by a nearly 98 per cent margin. With the actors on strike, they will formally join screenwriters on the picket lines outside studios and filming locations in a bid to get better terms from studios and streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.
Members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since early May, slowing the production of film and television series on both coasts and in other production centres. Issues in negotiations include the unregulated use of artificial intelligence and the effects on residual pay brought on by the streaming ecosystem that has emerged in recent years. Actors have joined writers on picket lines for weeks in solidarity.
An actors’ strike would prevent performers from working on sets or promoting their projects.
Attending a photo event on Wednesday, actor Matt Damon said that while everyone was hoping a strike could be averted, many actors need a fair contract to survive.
“We ought to protect the people who are kind of on the margins,” Damon told The Associated Press. “And $26,000 a year is what you have to make to get your health insurance. And there are a lot of people whose residual payments are what carry them across that threshold. And if those residual payments dry up, so does their health care. And that’s absolutely unacceptable. We can’t have that. So, we got to figure out something that is fair.”
The looming strike has cast a shadow over the upcoming 75th Emmys. Nominations were announced Wednesday, and the strike was on the mind of many nominees.
“People are standing up and saying, ‘This doesn’t really work, and people need to be paid fairly,’” Oscar-winner Jessica Chastain, who was nominated for her first Emmy Award on Wednesday for playing Tammy Wynette in George & Tammytold the AP.
“It is very clear that there are certain streamers that have really kind of changed the way we work and the way that we have worked, and the contracts really haven’t caught up to the innovation that’s happened.”
“The impact of this strike on the industry and events like ours cannot be denied. We urge our partners and colleagues to resume an open dialogue. We will continue planning for this year’s festival with the hope of a swift resolution in the coming weeks,” said Alejandra Sosa, the director of communications with the Toronto International Film Festival.
© 2023 The Canadian Press