Hollywood will grind to a halt after leaders of a major actors union voted to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (SAG-AFTRA) — which represents approximately 160,000 actors and entertainers —announced early Thursday morning that negotiations for higher wages from studios had ended without a deal.
By Thursday afternoon, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland announced the union leadership officially voted for a work stoppage to begin at midnight after their demands for higher wages and protections against artificial intelligence were not met.
Under the rules of a strike, SAG-AFTRA members would not be able to film any movie or TV series, take part in any press or film premieres or promote anything at this month’s San Diego Comic-Con.
The announcement marks the first strike for actors from film and television shows since 1980. It is also 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.
The pending strike will affect Disney’s Avatar and Lion King sequels, as well as shows that were scheduled to return to television in the fall, like The Simpsons.
Actress Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland announced the union would strike beginning at midnight
The cast of Oppenheimer walked out of the film’s UK premiere after the strike was announced
Members of the Writers Guild of America picket at The Walt Disney Studios on July 13
Announcing the strike Thursday afternoon, actress Fran Drescher, who serves as the president of SAG-AFTRA, said ‘We demand respect! You cannot exist without us!’
‘What happens to us is important,’ The Nanny star said. ‘What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor.
‘When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors who make the machine run, we have a problem.’
‘The jig is up, we demand respect,’ she said.
Almost immediately afterwards, picketing screenwriters outside Netflix’s Hollywood offices started chanting ‘Pay Your Actors!’
At the same time, the cast of Oppenheimer walked out of the film’s UK premiere in ‘solidarity’ with the actors’ union.
Jamie Lee Curtis also posted an image on Instagram saying ‘It looks like it’s time to take down the masks and pick up the signs,’ while Jamie Lynn Spears posted: ‘Today will likely be my last day of being able to post about any of my upcoming projects until there is a resolution to the strikes.
‘We will just have to make up for it with the next Zoey project,’ she said, referring to the planned reboot of her Nickelodeon show, Zoey 101.
But Disney boss Bob Iger had earlier argued that the actors were being ‘unreasonable’ with their demands.’
‘There’s a level of expectation they have that is just not realistic,’ he claimed on CNBC.
‘And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing.
‘That is, quite frankly, disruptive.’
Actors such as Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Mark Ruffalo have said they would support the strike, and on the pink carpet for the Barbie premiere Thursday, Margot Robbie said she would ‘absolutely’ stand by the union.
Disney CEO Bob Iger slammed actors who are threatening to go on strike on Thursday, saying they ‘are not being realistic’ and are being ‘disruptive’ to the industry
“There is a level of expectations that [the writers and actors] have that is just not realistic,” says $DIS CEO @RobertIger on the @sagaftra and WGA strike. “They are adding to a set of challenges that this business is already facing and that is very disruptive.” pic.twitter.com/ySYvfQBYA5
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) July 13, 2023
SAG-AFTRA was demanding higher pay to counteract inflation, and guarantees for their future livelihoods.
In addition to salaries when they are actively working, actors earn payments called ‘residuals’ every time a film or show they starred in is aired on network or cable — which is particularly helpful when performers are between projects.
But streamers like Netflix and Disney+ do not disclose viewing figures for their shows, and offer the same flat rate for everything on their platforms, regardless of its popularity.
Muddying the waters further is the issue of AI.
The union was seeking ‘a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses.’ Actors are worried that their digital images could be used without their permission or proper compensation.
In a statement following the strike announcement, the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers said it was disappointed in the breakdown in 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,’ the group said in a statement.
It said it had agreed to ‘the highest percentage increase in minimums in 35 years, a ‘substantial increase’ in pension and health contribution caps and an 11 percent increase in one year for background actors, stand-ins and photo doubles and an additional 17 percent increase for background actors required to do extensive self-styling.
Those who are required to deliver lines during a run-through and photo doubles who are required to memorize and deliver lines on camera would get an additional 62 percent increase under the proposal.
But Drescher said the two sides remain ‘far apart’ on ‘so many things,’ citing excessive payouts to top executives as the studios ‘plead poverty.’
Jamie Lynn Spears posted on Instagram that Thursday ‘will likely be my last day of being able to post about any of my upcoming projects until there is a resolution to the strikes
Jamie Lee Curtis shared a picture saying ‘It looks like it’s time to take down the masks and pick up the signs’
On the pink carpet for the Barbie premiere Thursday, Margot Robbie said she would ‘absolutely’ support the strike
Meryl Streep is set to strike following failed talks between the union and studios. She is pictured at ‘The Laundromat’ premiere, at the Toronto International Film Festival, in Canada, September 9, 2019. Jennifer Lawrence is also set to strike. She is pictured on the set of a Longines watch commercial on June 29, 2023 in New York City
Mark Ruffalo (left at the premiere of ‘Lakota Nation vs. United States’ in New York City) is also set to strike, as is Quinta Brunson (right at the 60th Annual ICG Publicists Awards)
Before talks even 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 signaling to leaders their willingness to strike.
It added that instead of continuing to negotiate, ‘SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.’
The union said in a statement that any Emmy campaigning by actors will immediately grind to a halt, and the strike could threaten the annual awards show, with its leaders mulling a delay to November or even next year.
Upcoming releases due to hold promotional events and red-carpet premieres that will now be canceled include Disney’s Haunted Mansion and a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
The strike will also halt production of Mufasa: The Lion King and Avatar sequels.
And for TV shows, production has stopped for Chicago Med, Fire and P.D., Young Sheldon and The Simpsons.
But the strike will likely only affect American productions, with Max’s House of the Dragon still in production as it is filming in the UK and mainly employs British actors.
Broadway productions will also not be affected as it is under the Broadway Actors Association, but that union has expressed its support for the strike.
Actor Rob Lowe joined members of the Writers Guild of America in its strike on May 2
In New York City, Busy Philipps and Cynthia Nixon are seen attending a Writers’ Guild strike
Wanda Sykes gave a speech at the Writer Guild of America East Strike
The last time actors went on strike in 1980, the entertainment industry lost an estimated $100million — which would be equivalent to about $370million today.
‘There is so much at stake,’ Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer told Business Insider. ‘I don’t think filmed entertainment has seen a more rapid change in such a short period of time than since the end of World War II.’
He added that a joint strike could ‘well go into the end of the year.’
On the other hand, it is likely the two guilds’ contracts will be negotiated simultaneously.
Having both high-profile actors on the picket lines along with writers will generate good PR for the strikers, which will in turn incentivize the entertainment companies to come to the table, Paul Hardart, director of the Entertainment, Media and Technology Program at NYU’s Stern School of Business explained.
‘I do think SAG going on strike expedites things,’ he said. ‘I think you’ll see pressure from external forces — whether it’s the governor of California, the president of the United States — moving this along.’
But, he admitted, ‘I could be completely wrong.’
Several actors have already been seen picketing in support of the Writers Guild. Seth Meyers is pictured on the picket line in May
Actress Jail Fonda is seen here supporting the Writers’ Guild strike last month
SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers.
But the walkout affects only the union´s 65,000 actors from television and film productions.
Meanwhile, the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since their own talks collapsed and their contract expired on May 2.
The stoppage has showed no signs of a solution, with no negotiations even planned.
In an email to its members Thursday, the New York Times reports, the Writers’ Guild said Hollywood studios have ‘proven unwilling to meet the justifiable demands of actors and writers at the bargaining table,’ and the union will support the actors.
‘The last time both of our unions struck at the same time, actors and writers won landmark provisions that we all continue to benefit from today — residuals and pension and health funds,’ it said.