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Hollywood actors join screenwriters in historic industry-stopping strike as contract talks collapse

It is the first time since 1960 that actors and writers picket film and television productions

Christine Robert pickets in solidarity with striking WGA
SAG-AFTRA member Christine Robert pickets in solidarity with striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) workers outside Netflix offices on July 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.MARIO TAMA (Getty Images via AFP)

Leaders of a Hollywood’s actors union voted Thursday to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades, shutting down production across the entertainment industry after talks for a new contract with studios and streaming services broke down.

It’s 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 actors’ guild released a statement announcing that its deadline for negotiations had ended without a contract. The statement came hours after this year’s Emmy nominations, recognizing the best work on television, were announced.

“The companies have refused to meaningfully engage on some topics and on others completely stonewalled us. Until they do negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach a deal,” said Fran Drescher, the star of The Nanny who is now the actors guild president.

The group representing the studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said it was disappointed by the failure to reach a deal.

“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 AMPTP said in a statement.

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.”

If the actors strike, they will formally join screenwriters on the picket lines outside studios and filming locations in a bid to get better terms from studios and streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. The actors’ guild had previously authorized a strike by a nearly 98% margin.

Members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since early May, slowing the production of film and television series on both coasts and in production centers like Atlanta.

Issues in negotiations include the unregulated use of artificial intelligence and the effects on residual pay brought on by the streaming ecosystem that has emerged in recent years.

In a letter to SAG-AFTRA membership overnight, Drescher told actors to prepare to hit picket lines after the board’s vote Thursday.

“As you know, over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” Drescher wrote. “Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions, and all actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay.”

Appearing on CNBC, Disney chief Bob Iger warned Thursday morning that an actors strike would have a “very damaging effect on the whole industry.”

“This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption,” Iger said. “There’s a level of expectation that (SAG-AFTRA and the WGA) have that is just not realistic.”

Actors have joined writers on picket lines for weeks in solidarity. An actors’ strike would prevent performers from working on sets or promoting their projects.

With a stoppage looming, the premiere Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer in London was moved up an hour so that the cast could walk the red carpet before the SAG board’s announcement.

Attending a photo event on Wednesday, Oppenheimer co-star Matt Damon said that while everyone was hoping a strike could be averted, many actors need a fair contract to survive.

“We ought to protect the people who are kind of on the margins,” Damon told the AP. “And 26,000 bucks a year is what you have to make to get your health insurance. And there are a lot of people whose residual payments are what carry them across that threshold. And if those residual payments dry up, so does their health care. And that’s absolutely unacceptable. We can’t have that. So, we got to figure out something that is fair.”

The looming strike has cast a shadow over the upcoming 75th Emmys. Nominations were announced Wednesday, and the strike was on the minds of many nominees.

“People are standing up and saying, ‘This doesn’t really work, and people need to be paid fairly,’” Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, who was nominated for her first Emmy for playing Tammy Wynette in George & Tammy, told the AP. “It is very clear that there are certain streamers that have really kind of changed the way we work and the way that we have worked, and the contracts really haven’t caught up to the innovation that’s happened.”

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