Hollywood actors are joining writers on the picket line.
SAG-AFTRA — a labor union that represents about 160,000 people in the entertainment industry, including actors, recording artists, radio personalities and other media professionals — announced in a July 13 press conference that its members are going on strike.
The strike comes after weeks of failed negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major motion picture studios including Paramount, Sony, Netflix, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. (NBCUniversal, the parent company of TODAY.com, is also part of the alliance.)
In an impassioned speech given at a press conference on July 13, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher laid out the stakes in what she called a "serious moment" and "very big deal" for the industry and beyond.
"We stand in solidarity in unprecedented unity. Our union and our sister unions and the unions around the world are standing by us, as well as other labor unions. Because at some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized, disrespected and dishonored. The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don't stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family," she said.
Here’s what to know about the actors’ strike, and how it will affect the movie and TV industry.
Why are actors striking?
Actors and other SAG-AFTRA members are fighting for better pay and working conditions, as well as contracts that include provisions on artificial intelligence.
Dwindling compensation is one major concern for the union, especially around payments called residuals. Actors receive residuals when their work is re-used beyond its initial performance, such as when a movie or show is re-aired or re-released on DVD or basic cable.
Actors receive residuals when their projects are shown on streaming services, too — but according to SAG-AFTRA, they are compensated at a much lower rate for streaming projects, and their pay is calculated differently.
“As you know, over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” Drescher said in an open letter to union members on Thursday before the strike.
Alarm over the use of artificial intelligence are also driving the strike. In an earlier open letter to SAG-AFTRA, union members expressed concerns about how artificial intelligence could exploit performers by using their likenesses without fair compensation.
“We think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI,” the letter read, in part.
Drescher also said she believes artificial intelligence poses “an existential threat” to the “creative professions.”
“All actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay,” she wrote in her letter to SAG-AFTRA members.
What is the studios' response?
In a statement, AMPTP said its members were disappointed by the breakdown in negotiations, calling the strike "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 statement read.
AMPTP said the strike will "deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
Wait — isn’t there already a strike happening in Hollywood?
Yes, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been on strike for more than two months. The WGA, an alliance of two labor unions representing film, TV, news, radio and online writers, went on strike May 2.
The WGA’s demands echo the demands of the SAG-AFTRA strike, calling for better pay and working conditions, as well as fairer contracts that include stipulations about the use of artificial intelligence.
The writers’ strike has shut down production on several TV shows, including “Abbot Elementary,” “Severance,” “Stranger Things” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as late-night shows including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Production on some sets was able to continue during the writers’ strike, with actors still able to perform. Now, however, with both actors and writers striking, the entertainment industry is essentially grinding to a standstill.
What does the actors' strike mean for movies and TV shows?
The SAG-AFTRA strike will disrupt the film and television industry, shutting down the production of countless movies and TV shows in the U.S. and some abroad.
Actors on strike would also be barred from promoting their latest projects via interviews and red carpet appearances.
In anticipation of this promotional blackout, the July 13 London premiere of “Oppenheimer” was moved up by one hour so that the cast could still attend before the strike was confirmed.
Shortly before 3 p.m. ET, director Christopher Nolan said before the beginning of the “Oppenheimer” screening that the cast left the event due to the strike, per Variety.
Which members of SAG-AFTRA have openly supported the strike?
Hundreds of Hollywood stars are supporting the strike. Last month, more than 400 prominent performers — including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Glenn Close, Eva Longoria, Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney — signed an open letter to SAG-AFTRA in support of industrial action.
“We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories,” the letter read, in part.
The letter cited concerns over compensation and the rise of artificial intelligence and warned that SAG-AFTRA should not “settle for a less than transformational deal.”
Have actors gone on strike before?
SAG-AFTRA last went on strike in 1980, as the union fought for residual payments for actors amid the rise of home entertainment media such as videocassettes and pay cable, according to Backstage.
SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America have each gone on strike multiple times. However, actors and writers have only been on a “double strike” once before — in 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the president of SAG.
How long will the strike go on for?
When asked how long the strike would go on for, Drescher replied, "That's up to them," referring to AMPTP.
"We're open we're talking to them tonight. All of this is up because of their behavior. It's up to them," she said.
The last SAG-AFTRA strike lasted for three months.
What can't actors do during the strike?
The Strike Notice and Order, which was sent in an open memo to all members of SAG-AFTRA, is a list of actions union members. are barred from taking at this time. The list includes all performing in works and publicizing projects. That means no red carpets, no premieres and no interviews about movies or TV show projects.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com