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Hollywood Strikes Halt Media Production: What’s at Stake and When to Expect a Return to Normalcy

Credit: ufcw770 | Wikimedia

Strikes between actors, writers, and studios have taken over Hollywood. The impact is immense as this series of events has been labeled the “largest interruption to TV and film production in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic.” For example, the Emmy Awards, popular movie releases, and some film festivals have already been postponed. Additionally, actors are unable to promote their new films or shows.

In May of this year, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) began striking against the studios. These strikes commenced mainly from concerns about financial compensations to writers from streaming networks, with the WGA claiming that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has “slashed writers’ average incomes, compared to a decade ago.” The minimum wage rule only applies to writers that work on “broadcast TV shows, but not for streaming services.” Accordingly, there is a disparity in the amount they are paid compared to broadcast TV writers. Thus, the WGA began the strike to create better terms for writers that work on streaming service platforms.

“Under union rules, the members are required to stop performing under all contracts for work that is within the jurisdiction of the striking organization. . . . The employer cannot sue the striking member for breach of contract, but the employer has many options.” These options are to: (1) treat the “[c]ontract as suspended” with the contract resuming “when the strike ends,”(2) “replace the striking member” either temporarily or permanently, or (3) “eliminate the job position of the striking individual entirely, with no replacement.”

These implications escalated when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) joined the writers’ strike against studios in July. This swung the pendulum because it’s the first time the two organizations have been on strike together since 1960. The actors and writers both share residual concerns. For example, the actors want to be paid properly for reruns of shows on streaming services. Andrew Dalton argues in Fortune that the metric for residual compensation should be viewership, however, platforms are unwilling to share this information. Another large issue of importance for the actors is determining “who owns the actor’s likeness if it is reproduced by AI.” With AI being used to create song covers, the software has become an existential threat in the eyes of many. Some studios are proposing that background actors be scanned one time for their likeness, paid once, and then could use the actors’ image whenever they want without any further compensation or consent.

Although there are many concerns regarding these strikes, the WGA recently reached a preliminary labor agreement with AMPTP. This agreement will guarantee: (1) “higher wages and residual payments,” (2) “minimum staffing levels for writers’ rooms,” and (3) “protections against AI.” The film and TV writers voted to approve a three year contract with the major entertainment studios, which ended the strike on September 27.

As for the actors, they hit a snag in their negotiations when their progress was stunted by an abrupt announcement by AMPTP on October 11, saying “the gap was ‘too great.’” However, the parties have returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday, October 24. Since then, the actors have been able to reach an agreement with the studios that was finalized in writing on Thursday, November 9. Ultimately, these labor agreements will improve compensation for both writers and actors in the modern streaming era.

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


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