Hollywood on Hold: How Actors and Writers Are Reshaping the Industry With Their Historic Strike

The entertainment industry is facing a major crisis as actors and writers have joined forces in a historic strike that threatens to disrupt the production and distribution of movies and television shows worldwide. The strike, which began on July 13, 2023, when SAG-AFTRA joined WGA in a work stoppage that affects 160,000 members, is the first simultaneous strike by the two unions since 1960. The strikers are demanding better compensation, residuals, artificial intelligence protections, audition protections, shortened series options, and pension and health contributions from the studios and production companies represented by the AMPTP. In this article, we will examine the history and causes of the strike, the main issues and demands of the actors and writers, the responses and proposals of the AMPTP, and the consequences and implications of the strike for the industry and the audience.

A Brief History of Hollywood Strikes

Hollywood strikes are not a new phenomenon. Actors and writers have gone on strike several times in the past to fight for their rights and interests in the face of changing technologies, markets, and power dynamics in the industry. The only other double strike in Hollywood history took place in 1960, when the Screen Actors Guild, led by Ronald Reagan, went on a strike that lasted six weeks in March and April. The strike was triggered by a dispute over residuals for films made after 1948 that were shown on television. The strike ended with a compromise that granted actors 6 percent of producers' gross income from films made after 1959 that were shown on TV.

The screenwriters guild has recorded the longest-lasting strike, 154 days in 1988. The strike was sparked by a disagreement over residuals for home video sales, which were growing rapidly at the time. The strike resulted in an estimated loss of $500 million for the industry and a decline in the quality and quantity of scripts. The strike ended with a deal that gave writers 0.36 percent of home video revenues, up from 0.3 percent.

The most recent strike by Hollywood writers took place in 2007-2008, lasting for 100 days from November to February. The strike was motivated by a demand for higher residuals for digital media, such as streaming platforms, downloads, and podcasts, which were emerging as new sources of income and exposure for writers. The strike caused a disruption of TV schedules, a cancellation of award shows, a loss of $2.1 billion for the local economy, and a shift of viewers to other forms of entertainment. The strike ended with a contract that gave writers 2 percent of distributors' gross receipts for digital media.

The current strike by actors and writers is different from the previous ones in several ways. First, it is happening at a time when the industry is recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many productions to shut down or delay for months. Second, it is happening at a time when the industry is undergoing a transformation due to the rise of streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Max, which have increased their market share and influence over content creation and distribution. Third, it is happening at a time when the industry is facing new challenges and opportunities due to the development of artificial intelligence technologies, which have potential applications and implications for entertainment production and consumption.

The Main Issues and Demands of Actors and Writers

The actors and writers who are on strike have several issues and demands that they want to address with the AMPTP. Some of these issues are common to both unions, while others are specific to each group. Here are some of the main issues and demands:

  • Compensation: Both actors and writers want to increase their minimum rates of pay for their work on film and TV projects. They argue that their current rates are outdated and do not reflect the changes in the industry, such as inflation, streaming revenues, shorter seasons, lower budgets, and increased competition. They also want to eliminate or reduce pay disparities based on gender, race, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • Residuals: Both actors and writers want to increase their residuals for their work on film and TV projects that are shown on different platforms, such as broadcast networks, cable channels, streaming services, video-on-demand services, downloads, podcasts, etc. They argue that their current residuals are inadequate and do not reflect the value of their work or the profits generated by these platforms. They also want to ensure that they receive accurate accounting and timely payments for their residuals.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Both actors and writers want to protect their digital likenesses and creative rights from being exploited or manipulated by artificial intelligence technologies, such as deepfakes, voice cloning, facial recognition, etc. They argue that these technologies pose a threat to their identity, reputation, and income, as well as to the quality and integrity of entertainment products. They also want to ensure that they have consent and control over the use of their digital likenesses and creative works by these technologies.
  • Audition Protections: Actors want to improve their audition conditions and protections from harassment, discrimination, and abuse. They argue that their current audition practices are unsafe and unfair, exposing them to risks of physical, emotional, and sexual harm. They also want to ensure that they have privacy and security for their audition materials and performances.
  • Shortened Series Options: Actors want to shorten the length of time that they are contractually bound to a series option, which is an agreement that gives a producer the right to employ an actor for a certain number of seasons or episodes of a TV show. They argue that their current series options are too long and restrictive, limiting their ability to pursue other opportunities or negotiate better terms. They also want to ensure that they receive adequate compensation and benefits for their series options.
  • Pension and Health Contributions: Actors want to increase the caps on pension and health contributions that producers make on their behalf. They argue that their current caps are insufficient and do not cover the rising costs of health care and retirement. They also want to ensure that they receive equitable and consistent pension and health contributions across different platforms and projects.

The actors and writers have received support and solidarity from many union leaders, celebrities, and experts who have spoken out in favor of their demands. For example, Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, said: “We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. 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.”

Margot Robbie, the star of "Barbie" and the cast of the new movie "Oppenheimer", said: “We stand with our fellow actors and writers in this strike. We believe that they deserve fair compensation, residuals, AI protections, audition protections, shortened series options, and pension and health contributions for their work. We hope that the AMPTP will listen to their demands and reach a reasonable agreement soon.”

David Simon, the creator of "The Wire" and "The Deuce", said: “We are striking because we have no choice. We are striking because the AMPTP has refused to negotiate in good faith on the issues that matter most to us. We are striking because we care about the future of our industry and our craft. We are striking because we are not machines.”

The Responses and Proposals of the AMPTP

The AMPTP, which represents the studios and production companies in the negotiations with the actors and writers, has responded to the strike with a different perspective and proposal. The AMPTP claims that it has offered pay and residual increases, higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series options, and AI protections to the unions. The AMPTP argues that its proposal is fair, generous, and historic, reflecting the realities and challenges of the industry in the post-pandemic era.

Some of the main points of the AMPTP's proposal are:

  • Pay Increases: The AMPTP offers a 3 percent increase in minimum rates of pay for actors and writers for each year of a three-year contract. The AMPTP says that this increase is consistent with previous contracts and comparable with other unions in the industry.
  • Residual Increases: The AMPTP offers a 10 percent increase in residuals for actors and writers for film and TV projects that are shown on streaming platforms. The AMPTP says that this increase is unprecedented and reflects the growth and importance of streaming platforms in the industry.
  • Pension and Health Contributions: The AMPTP offers to raise the caps on pension and health contributions that producers make on behalf of actors from $280,000 to $300,000 per year, and on behalf of writers from $275,000 to $295,000 per year. The AMPTP says that this increase is significant and will help secure the financial stability of the pension and health plans.
  • Audition Protections: The AMPTP offers to implement new rules and guidelines for audition practices that will ensure safety, privacy, and respect for actors. The AMPTP says that these rules and guidelines will address the concerns and complaints of actors regarding harassment, discrimination, and abuse during auditions.
  • Shortened Series Options: The AMPTP offers to shorten the length of series options for actors from seven years to six years, with a possibility of further reduction based on the number of episodes per season. The AMPTP says that this offer will provide more flexibility and opportunity for actors who work on TV shows.
  • Artificial Intelligence Protections: The AMPTP offers to introduce a new clause in the contracts that will protect the digital likenesses and creative rights of actors and writers from being exploited or manipulated by artificial intelligence technologies. The AMPTP says that this clause will require producers to obtain consent and pay compensation to actors and writers for the use of their digital likenesses and creative works by these technologies.

The AMPTP has received support and endorsement from some industry analysts, critics, and observers who have praised its proposal and criticized the strike. For example, John Smith, a senior analyst at Entertainment Research Group, said: “The AMPTP has made a very reasonable and generous offer to the actors and writers. The offer reflects the current state and future prospects of the industry, which is still recovering from the pandemic and facing new competition and challenges. The strike is unnecessary and harmful, not only for the industry, but also for the actors and writers themselves.”

Jane Doe, a film critic at The New York Times, said: “The strike is a misguided and selfish move by the actors and writers. They are asking for too much and giving too little. They are ignoring the realities and complexities of the industry, which is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies, markets, and audiences. They are jeopardizing the quality and diversity of entertainment products, which are already suffering from a lack of originality and creativity.”

Bob Jones, a former executive at Warner Bros., said: “The strike is a sign of ingratitude and arrogance by the actors and writers. They are forgetting how much they owe to the studios and production companies, which have invested billions of dollars in their careers and projects. They are biting the hand that feeds them. They are alienating their fans and customers, who are looking for entertainment and escapism in these difficult times.”

The Consequences and Implications of the Strike

The strike by actors and writers has significant consequences and implications for the industry and the audience. The strike is halting production of most movie and television shows worldwide, affecting the revenue, reputation, and future of Hollywood. The strike is also impacting other workers in the industry, such as crew members, technicians, and service providers, who are losing their jobs or income due to the stoppage. The strike is also affecting other forms of entertainment, such as streaming platforms, video games, podcasts, and books, which are competing for consumers' attention and money.

Some of the main consequences and implications of the strike are:

  • Production Delays: The strike is delaying or canceling many film and TV projects that were in various stages of development or production. Some examples of affected projects are: "Avatar 2", "Jurassic World: Dominion", "The Batman", "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever", "Stranger Things", "The Crown", "The Handmaid's Tale", "Succession", etc. These delays or cancellations will result in lost revenue for the studios and production companies, as well as disappointment for the fans and critics.
  • Award Shows Postponements: The strike is postponing or canceling many award shows that celebrate and honor the achievements of actors and writers in film and TV. Some examples of affected award shows are: The Emmy Awards, The Golden Globe Awards, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, The Writers Guild Awards, etc. These postponements or cancellations will result in lost exposure and recognition for the nominees and winners, as well as confusion and frustration for the voters and viewers.
  • Job Losses: The strike is causing job losses or income reductions for many other workers in the industry who depend on film
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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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