Life & Style

Hollywood shuts down as actors go on strike

Published July 14, 2023
The cast of ‘Oppenheimer’ as they promote the movie in London, UK. Photo: AFP
The cast of ‘Oppenheimer’ as they promote the movie in London, UK. Photo: AFP

LOS ANGELES: Tens of thousands of Hollywood actors will go on strike at midnight Thursday, effectively bringing the giant movie and television business to a halt as they join writers in the first industry-wide walkout for 63 years.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) issued a strike order after last-ditch talks with studios on their demands over dwindling pay and the threat posed by artificial intelligence ended without a deal.

“This is a moment of history, a moment of truth – if we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told a press conference, following the union board’s unanimous vote to strike.

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“We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business.”

After the strike formally goes into effect at 0700 GMT Friday, actors will join writers on picket lines in the first Hollywood double strike since 1960.

Writers have already spent 11 weeks protesting outside the headquarters of the likes of Disney and Netflix, after their similar demands were not met.

With the shutdown of nearly all productions and film sets, popular television series face lengthy delays.

Movie studios have already begun reshuffling their calendars, and if the strikes drag on, major film releases could be postponed too.

A strike immediately prevents actors from promoting some of the year’s biggest releases, at the peak of the movie industry’s summer blockbuster season.

The cast of hotly awaited new film ‘Oppenheimer’ walked out of the glitzy London premiere in solidarity with the strike.

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“We know it’s a critical time at this point in the industry and the issues that are involved need to be addressed – there are difficult conversations,” British actor Kenneth Branagh said on the red carpet just before the strike was announced.

“I know everybody’s trying to get a fair deal, that’s what’s required, so we’ll support that.”

‘Greedy entity’

SAG-AFTRA represents some 160,000 actors – everyone from A-list stars such as Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Glenn Close to day players who do small roles on television series.

The last time the actors’ union went on strike, in 1980, it lasted more than three months.

This time, some 98 percent of members voted to pre-approve industrial action if a deal was not reached.

“We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity,” said Drescher.

“I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us.”

The union said in a statement after talks collapsed that actors’ pay had been “severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” and warned that “artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions.”

Actors say their salaries have been slashed, and that payments they used to receive when successful shows or films they had starred in were rerun on television have disappeared, because streamers refused to disclose their audience figures.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it had offered “historic” pay rises and a “groundbreaking AI proposal” to actors, who had chosen “a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday told CNBC the actors’ and writers’ expectations were “not realistic,” calling the decision to strike “very disturbing.”

But Phil Lord – the writer, director and producer behind hits such as ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ and ‘The Lego Movie’ – was among those in Hollywood pouring scorn on the studios’ version of events.

“AMPTP has played hardball instead of helping to solve entirely solvable problems that endanger writers and actors on the lower ends of the pay scale,” he tweeted.

‘Painful’

While the writers’ strike has already dramatically reduced the number of movies and shows in production, an actors’ walkout shutters almost everything.

Some reality TV, animation and talk shows could continue.

“I feel sad and it is painful and it’s necessary,” said actress and SAG-AFTRA member Jennifer Van Dyck, on the picket line in New York on Thursday.

“They are making so much money, and they say that we are not approaching this issue fairly…. no one wants to go on strike, but there’s just no way we can proceed.”

As well as requesting higher pay to counteract inflation, actors and writers are united on demands for guarantees about the use of artificial intelligence.

SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland slammed the studios’ latest stance on AI.

He told journalists that studios had proposed to be allowed to scan the faces of background performers – or extras – for the payment of one day’s work, and be able to own and use their likeness “for the rest of eternity, in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation.”

“If you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again,” he said.

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