Hollywood Actors Join Screenwriters In Industry-Stopping Strike As Contract Talks Collapse

The performers join more than 11,000 TV and script writers represented by the Writers Guild of America who have been on strike since early May. Issues in negotiations include the unregulated use of artificial intelligence and effects on residual pay brought on by the streaming ecosystem that has emerged in recent years.

Thursday, July 13th 2023, 4:42 pm

By: CBS News


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Hollywood actors formally went on strike after negotiations between their union and motion picture studios collapsed, a serious blow for the entertainment industry that could cripple film and TV productions across the U.S.

About 160,000 actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are walking off the set effective midnight Friday, SAG-AFTRA leaders announced on Thursday afternoon. It is the first industrywide work stoppage by the labor group since 1980.

"Actors deserve a contract that reflects the changes that have taken place in the industry. Unfortunately the current model devalues our members and affects their ability to make ends meet," Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union's national executive director, said in a press conference.

The performers join more than 11,000 TV and script writers represented by the Writers Guild of America who have been on strike since early May.

At issue in the SAG-AFTRA negotiations is the use of artificial intelligence in movies and the impact of streaming services on actors' residual pay.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists had set a deadline of 11:59 p.m. PDT Wednesday, when their contracts expired, for a deal to be reached.

But the time came and went without an agreement and SAG said its negotiating committee then opted to recommend that the SAG-AFTRA national board call a strike.

The actors will formally join screenwriters on picket lines outside studios and filming locations in a bid to get better terms from studios and streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. It's the first time since 1960 that the two guilds were on strike at the same time.

Members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since early May, slowing production on film and television series on both coasts and in productions centers like Atlanta.

Issues in negotiations include the unregulated use of artificial intelligence and effects on residual pay brought on by the streaming ecosystem that has emerged in recent years.

Actors, including SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, have joined writers on picket lines for weeks in solidarity. An actors strike prevents performers from working on sets or promoting their projects.

Impact of streaming and AI

In a message to union members after the pacts ran out, Dresher said, "Over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem. Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions, and all actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay."

The studios' Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers issued a statement saying, "We are deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations. 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."

Whether the cast of Christopher Nolan's film "Oppenheimer" attends Thursday's London premiere hangs in the balance of whether the actors strike.

Damon: "Absolutely unacceptable"

Attending a photo event on Wednesday, star 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 bucks 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 & Tammy," told 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."

First published on July 13, 2023 / 4:29 AM

© 2023 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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