Hollywood shuts down as Sag-Aftra union members go on strike

Actors join writers in first industrywide 'double strike' in more than six decades

SAG-AFTRA union supporters carry signs outside Netflix during a Writers Guild rally in Los Angeles. AP
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Hollywood actors on Thursday announced the start of a strike, joining writers in the first industrywide shutdown in 63 years after last-ditch talks failed, with nearly all film and television productions set to grind to a halt.

The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 performers including A-list stars, said negotiations had ended without a deal on their demands over dwindling pay and the threat posed by artificial intelligence.

“SAG-AFTRA's national board unanimously voted to issue a strike order against the studios and streamers,” said the union's chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

The strike will begin at midnight on Thursday, meaning actors will join writers on picket lines from Friday morning in the first Hollywood “double strike” since 1960.

Writers have already spent 11 weeks on the picket line, after their similar demands for better pay and protections against the future use of AI in television and films were not met.

Popular series set to return to television this year now face lengthy delays. And, if strikes continue, major films could be postponed too.

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

Director Christopher Nolan told the London premiere of his new film Oppenheimer that his cast had walked out of the glitzy event in solidarity with the strike, Variety reported.

SAG-AFTRA represents 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 vast majority of members had already voted to pre-approve a strike if a deal was not reached.

“Compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem. Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions,” a SAG-AFTRA statement said after the talks fell through.

Why did Hollywood's writers go on strike?

Why did Hollywood's writers go on strike?

Executives have “refused to acknowledge that enormous shifts in the industry and economy have had a detrimental impact on those who perform labour for the studios”, it continued.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, said it was “deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations”.

“This is the union's choice, not ours,” said a statement.

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

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

While the writers' strike has already drastically reduced the number of films and shows in production, an actors' walkout shutters almost everything. Some reality TV, animation and talk shows could continue.

Actors and writers are demanding higher pay to counteract inflation and guarantees for their future livelihoods.

In addition to salaries when they are actively working, actors earn payments called “residuals” every time a film or show they starred in is aired on network or cable – helpful when performers are between projects.

But streamers such as Netflix and Disney+ do not disclose viewing figures for their shows, and offer the same flat rate for everything on their platforms, regardless of its popularity.

Muddying the waters further is the issue of AI since both actors and writers want guarantees to regulate its use, but studios have refused to budge.

Updated: July 14, 2023, 10:12 AM