Hollywood actors are set to initiate a strike due to what they perceive as a significant threat to their profession. The strike comes as a result of unsuccessful negotiations between the actors’ union and motion picture studios, and its impact on the entertainment industry could be devastating, potentially halting film and TV productions throughout the United States.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents approximately 65,000 actors, made the official announcement on Thursday afternoon. The strike will commence from midnight on Friday, marking 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.
“What’s happening to us is happening across all forms of work,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a press conference in Los Angeles to declare the strike action. Studios “plead poverty, that they are losing money left and right, while they give millions to their CEOs. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment,” she said.
“Not only is it unfair, it’s really un-American,” she added. “Share the wealth, because you cannot exist without us.”
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. 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.
Fears of AI
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.
“Actors now face an existential threat to their livelihoods from the use of AI and generative technology,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
“They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and the company should be able to own that scan, that likeness, for the rest of eternity, without consideration,” he added.
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios and streaming services, including Paramount, said the strike was “the union’s choice, not ours.”
The union “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 group said in a statement, adding, “SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
Disney chief Bob Iger, who recently extended his contract by two years, said a strike would have a “very damaging effect on the whole industry.”
“There’s a level of expectation that (SAG-AFTRA and the WGA) have that is just not realistic,” Iger told CNBC Thursday morning.
SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers. The walkout affects only the union’s 65,000 actors from television and film productions, who voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike before talks began on June 7.
Broadway actors said in a statement that they stand “in solidarity” with SAG-AFTRA workers.