photo credit: @jennyhan
When hearing the phrase “turmoil in Hollywood”, one would probably think of a juicy cheating scandal or the breakup of an iconic couple (i.e. the end of Brangelina). However, last week, the SAG-AFTRA organization launched a strike against major production studios, prompting an uproar in Hollywood. The decision of SAG-AFTRA to launch their protest came after the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has been on strike since May(1), was unable to come to an agreement with major studios after seeking salary increases, better residual payments, increased staffing minimums and regulations on the use of artificial intelligence (AI)(2). Here, we will summarize the events that culminated in the SAG-AFTRA strike, common questions our followers have, and how media consumers could be affected.
What exactly is SAG-AFTRA?
SAG-AFTRA is the culmination of two major labor unions in Hollywood: SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, and AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Each union was separately founded in the 1930s with the goal of protecting media artists(3) SAG and AFTRA joined forces in 2012 and has since been referred to as SAG-AFTRA. According to their mission statement, SAG-AFTRA states (4):
We are actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, dj’s, news writers, news directors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. Our work is seen and heard in theaters, on television and radio, sound recordings, the internet, games, mobile devices, home video: you see us and hear us on all media distribution platforms.
SAG-AFTRA serves a broad range of artists nationwide, not just the writers and actors everyone seems to be talking about. Additionally, SAG-AFTRA has offices in both New York and Hollywood, the country’s two notorious entertainment hubs. Members of SAG-AFTRA include household names such as Anne Hathwaway, Neil Patrick Harris, Laverne Cox, and the late Betty White (5), but not all members are famous. In fact, most are working class actors with second jobs, struggling to make ends meet (6). For example, numerous actors that have guest roles or small parts have “SAG cards”, cards similar to a license that indicate SAG-AFTRA membership.
Who are they striking against?
The SAG-AFTRA strike began when their contract with American Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expired. AMPTP represents major production companies including the following (7):
– Major motion picture studios: Paramount Picture, Sony Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros.
– Broadcast television networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC
– Streaming services: Netflix, AppleTV+, Amazon
What does SAG-AFTRA want?
There are a broad range of concerns that sparked the SAG-AFTRA strike, but there are a few key issues of particular importance. One, the organization is asking major production companies for higher wages and better benefits to reflect inflation and revenue increases. This is especially important for working class artists. SAG-AFTRA president and The Nanny star Fran Drescher, told CBS News that “Most of my members don’t even meet the threshold to get health insurance, which is $26,000 a year, and in most jobs that would be considered a part-time job”(8). Dresher claims that meanwhile, CEOs of streaming companies are making $78,000 a day. Second, SAG-AFTRA is seeking increased residuals, which are long-term payments for airings of content after its initial release. Prior to the blow up of streaming services, it was easier to keep production companies accountable because the time of airings and number of views could be easily tracked. However, streaming platforms usually do not release data regarding media consumption, giving them the power to report what they want, and in turn, pay what they want in residuals. A third key negotiation is in regards to AI. Writers want to be assured that AI won’t take their jobs, by insisting that AI should not be used to write or rewrite content. Further, actors want clear language in their contracts to prevent the exploitation of their image and talents. In theory, AI could be used to generate scenes that look like real-life actors, putting actors’ jobs in jeopardy(9). While there are other things on the table in terms of negotiations, these issues are the main points driving the strike.
What makes this strike historical?
Historically, there is a strike in Hollywood about once a decade. For example, SAG members went on strike in the 1980s, and screenwriters striked in 2007 to 2008. However, this time, SAG-AFTRA is joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA), forming an extremely powerful alliance in the fight with major production companies. The last time this happened, the WGA and a group that would later become the SAG banned together in the 1960s, effectively shutting down Hollywood for six weeks. That strike was resolved when an agreement was formed that developed a residual system, and provided members with healthcare and pensions(2).
How can this affect production in Hollywood? Will my favorite shows be affected?
Since so many major production studios are being affected by the protest and it is unknown how long it will take for negotiators to come to an agreement, it is difficult to predict exactly how the production will be affected. For example, for many of us, our secret pleasure is The Summer I Turned Pretty, and we cannot wait for season 3. Luckily, season 2 of the show was not affected, but the future is unpredictable.
While the outlooks of many productions are unclear, there have been reports on a few shows and movies, summarized below(10)– hopefully they aren’t your favorite!
Productions that have been stopped: Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2, Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning, Wicked: Part One, It Ends With Us
Productions that are still ongoing or have been temporarily resumed: The Chosen Season 4, House of the Dragon Season 2, Industry Season 3, Bride Hard, Mother Mary
What are your thoughts on the strike? Are you worried about the next season of your favorite show being delayed or canceled? Let us know!
“Writers Guild of America Calls Strike, Effective Tuesday, May 2.” Writers Guild of America West, 1 May 2023, www.wga.org/news-events/news/press/writers-guild-of-america-calls-strike-effective-tuesday-may-2.
Treisman, Rachel. “3 Lessons Past Hollywood Strikes Can Teach Us About the Current Moment.” NPR, 19 July 2023, www.npr.org/2023/07/19/1188363449/sag-wga-strikes-hollywood.
“Our History.” SAG-AFTRA, www.sagaftra.org/about/our-history. Accessed 22 July 2023.
“About SAG-AFTRA.” SAG-AFTRA, www.sagaftra.org/about. Accessed 22 July 2023.
Malach, Maggie. “Commercials! PSAS! Law & Order! 20 Stars Reveal How They Got Their SAG Cards.” Peoplemag, 23 Feb. 2023, people.com/awards/how-stars-got-sag-cards/.
Trepany, Charles. “Striking SAG Actors Aren’t All Famous- Here’s What Matters Most to a Working-Class Actor.” USA Today, 18 July 2023, www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/tv/2023/07/17/sag-aftra-strike-working-class-actors/70420280007/.
“Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.” Wikipedia, 21 July 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliance_of_Motion_Picture_and_Television_Producers#:~:text=AMPTP%20member%20companies%20include%20the,TV%2B%2C%20and%20Amazon%2C%20certain%20cable.
Novak, Analisa. “SSAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher Says Union Is Being Stonewalled Amid Strike.” CBS News, 20 July 2023, www.cbsnews.com/news/fran-drescher-sag-aftra-president-union-being-stonewalled-strike/.
Collier, Kevin. “Actors vs. AI: Strike Brings Focus to Emerging Use of Advanced Tech.” NBCNews.Com, 14 July 2023, www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/hollywood-actor-sag-aftra-ai-artificial-intelligence-strike-rcna94191.
Zornosa, Laura. “Why Actors Are Going on Strike.” Time, 13 July 2023, time.com/6294212/sag-aftra-actors-strike/.