Thursday, June 13, 2024

Recapping The SAG-AFTRA & WGA Strikes

On July 13th, SAG-AFTRA went on strike, marking the first time SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have been on strike since January 16th, 1960.

In the time since, there have been many questions from those who enjoy going to the movies and watching TV shows, as well as from creatives like me. With the recent announcement that the Emmy Awards have been moved from their original September 18th date, I decided to attempt to answer some of the questions that are top of mind from both perspectives.

Why did the SAG-AFTRA strike happen in the first place?

For those unaware, let me get you caught up on what’s happening. The reasons for the SAG-AFTRA strike are that the negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to reach an agreement before the expiration date of July 13th, 2023. Some of the critical issues SAG-AFTRA seeks to address are the following:

  • An 11% general wage increase to keep up with inflation
  • The use of informed consent and fair compensation when “digital replicas” are created and when the use of artificial intelligence technology changes an actors’ performance
  • Consultations with qualified hair and makeup professionals for all performers of color, a requirement to only use the proper tools and equipment for hair textures/styles
  • Streaming residuals
  • A rise in contribution caps to health and retirement funds that adjusts to inflation
  • Release television series regulars during production hiatuses and reimburse series regulars for relocation expenses when production takes place away from home.

How will the strike impact the release of upcoming movies and TV shows?

While we’re on the subject of production, it’s important to discuss how this affects upcoming releases.

First and foremost, let’s talk about what’s not allowed during the strike, and hopefully, we can find answers together. In brief, any SAG-AFTRA member cannot participate in the production of any film or television series, nor can they promote struck work in the form of press junkets, attending premieres, or any other kind of publicity.

Currently, what I take this to mean is that any upcoming release will likely still come out as scheduled in 2023. I don’t have any reason to believe significant releases like the rumored delays of “Dune: Part Two” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” will budge in any meaningful way. “Poor Things” moved from September 8th, 2023, to December 8th, 2023; “Problemista” no longer has a release date, despite having a previously announced release date of August 4th, 2023, “White Bird” has moved from August 18th, 2023 to a nebulous Q4 2023 according to Deadline, and “Challengers, which was originally slated to open the Venice Film Festival, has moved from September 8th, 2023 to April 26th, 2024.

From the publicity side, we’re already seeing the effects of SAG-AFTRA members being unable to participate in any form of publicity for their projects. The London premiere of “Oppenheimer” had the entire cast walk out because the strike was called mere minutes before the screening; the “Haunted Mansion” premiere two days later featured director Justin Simien and Disney characters walking the red carpet instead of the stars. All streaming and video-on-demand releases since the start of the strike have all featured pre-packed promos presumably recorded before the strike.

Which high-profile films and television series are affected by the strike?

Given the scope of productions, this is probably the most challenging question to answer, but I’ve compiled a list of all the productions affected by the strike below.

High-profile films such as the next two “Avatar” films, “Beetlejuice 2,” “Deadpool 3,” “Gladiator 2,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two,” and “Twisters” have suspended production. Likewise, television shows such as the latest seasons of “American Horror Story,” “Andor,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “The Sandman,” and “Silo” have also suspended production.

However, some films aren’t affected at all outside of the no-publicity rule, such as the upcoming FX series “Alien” (a Thailand-based production with a majority British cast working under an Equity contract.), Angel Studios’ “The Chosen” (an indie production with a SAG-AFTRA agreement), “House of the Dragon” (a UK-based production with a majority British cast working under an Equity contract), “Tehran” (a Greece-based production with own collective bargaining agreement with SAG–AFTRA.). I’m sure many more will pop up in the coming weeks.

Will the strike lead to delays in movie releases and productions?

As previously mentioned, there have been delays in movie releases and productions, and I fully expect more to come.

Can moviegoers still watch films and TV shows that involve SAG-AFTRA members during the strike?

Yes, you can! Many SAG-AFTRA and WGA members have stated that the best thing you can do is not to change your entertainment habits.

If you want to watch “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” on Prime Video, “Shrinking” on Apple TV+, “Secret Invasion” on Disney+, “Barbie” in theaters, “They Cloned Tyrone” on Netflix, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” on Paramount+ or watch “65” on Netflix, feel free to do so. Many members have stated that if entertainment watch habits change, especially on streaming services, the decline in viewership could send the wrong message to the AMPTP.

Additionally, it’s important to clarify that neither the WGA nor SAG-AFTRA has called for any boycotts of studios associated with the AMPTP, such as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, Netflix, NBC Universal, Paramount, or Sony, so it doesn’t make sense to avoid those studios’ content right now.

Will the strike affect ticket prices or the availability of films in theaters?

Currently, no one knows. My best guess is the studios, and movie theaters will not increase ticket prices. Raising ticket prices would not benefit a studio and would likely lead to lower turnout for independent and big-budget releases. 

As for the availability of films in theaters, I could see that changing drastically. During the pandemic lockdown, Hollywood shifted to premium rentals and shortened the streaming window for their releases. I could see studios repeating this by shifting upcoming movies’ release dates, such as “Drive-Away Dolls,” to a streaming premiere. This would mean the talent associated with the project would not see any residuals from the release whatsoever, but it’s not out of the question.

What can moviegoers do to support the actors and creatives during the strike?

Currently, SAG-AFTRA has many ways to support the strike. Posting on social media, donating to the Entertainment Community Fundusing this form to show your support or volunteer, reporting strikebreaking using this form, or finding a picket line near you using this schedule and location finder.

Are there any ongoing negotiations to resolve the strike?

Not currently, no. I also do not see negotiations to resolve the strike happening any time soon, given the comments from media executives such as Bob Iger, who criticized the demands in a Variety article by calling them “not realistic” and “adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing,” and the infamous AMPTP executive that stated their strike strategy was to “allow things to drag on until union members [started] losing their apartments and losing their houses” in a Deadline article.

It’s also worth noting the WGA strike has been going on for 87 days now, and there does not seem to be any sense of urgency from the AMPTP to resolve the strike. Furthermore, the historical data behind the most recent WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes before these current strikes suggest we have a long way to go before any kind of resolution can be found. The WGA strike of 2007-2008 lasted 100 days, from November 5th, 2007, to February 12th, 2008, and was caused by disagreements on compensation, residuals, and home video sales. Likewise, the previous SAG-AFTRA strike started on October 21st, 2016, and ended on September 23rd, 2017, lasting 340 days. That strike was against video game companies and was another fight for better residuals, transparency, and more safeguards to avoid vocal stress. However, there was a strike before SAG and AFTRA merged in 1980. That one started on July 21st, 1980, and ended on October 24th, 1980, and occurred for the same reasons the SAG-AFTRA strike is happening now.

How does the strike impact the availability of actors and performers for projects?

As I understand the current situation, actors, performers, and anyone else associated with SAG-AFTRA will only be available to work on commercials, soap operas, variety shows, talk shows, game shows, music videos, video games, interactive media, corporate programs, animation in the television and new media sector, record dubs, audiobooks, and anything covered by the Short Project Agreement, Micro-Budget Project Agreement, Student Film Agreement, Independent New Media Agreement, Independent Podcast Agreement & Micro-Monetized

Podcast Agreement, SAG-AFTRA-approved Interim agreements (independent productions typically covered by SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Contracts and would’ve qualified for a SAG-AFTRA agreement), and independently negotiated basic cable agreements.

How will the strike affect the casting process for upcoming projects?

As mentioned under the SAG-AFTRA members FAQ section, interviews and auditions (including self-taping) for roles are strictly prohibited during the strike for projects that don’t fall under any of the categories mentioned in the previous question.

For those wondering, SAG-AFTRA says that the consequences of violating the Strike Notice and Order may include “censure, reprimand, fine, suspension, and/or expulsion.”

What alternatives exist for hiring talent if SAG-AFTRA members cannot participate in productions?

Not very many. If studios wanted to cast non-members, SAG-AFTRA has made it bluntly clear under the non-member FAQs that any non-member who hopes to get into SAG-AFTRA in the future will be barred from membership if they perform covered work or services for an AMPTP-affiliated company.

But what about creatives such as myself and those at Next Best Picture? Well, that’s where things get slightly complicated. Depending on whether you see yourself as an influencer, podcaster, or news & broadcast professional, there are a ton of different rules. Let’s break some of them down….

Are there any restrictions on covering projects affected by the strike?

No, there are no restrictions regarding covering projects affected by the strike. However, any coverage of productions that fall under struck work might be worth including a disclaimer, such as this one from ForReel, which states, “This review of Barbie was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. The ForReel team would like to acknowledge that without the dedicated efforts of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, films such as this would not be possible.”

This is optional, but if you choose to include this disclosure, ensure this closure is included at the top of podcast show notes, articles such as reviews, and any other content you produce.

Will the strike impact opportunities to attend screenings, film festivals, and events?

Very little. That being said, if you are an influencer and asked to promote anything from a struck company, SAG-AFTR states under their influencer FAQs that you are not to accept any new work from struck companies or their content. This extends to sponsorships, premieres, conventions, and anything related to struck work.

Are there any expectations or guidelines for approaching reviews during the strike?

As the strike relates only to the TV/Theatrical contract, the strike rules indicate that you can still review projects, even if SAG-AFTRA represents you. Beyond that, though, there are no guidelines.

Are there any potential controversies or debates regarding the strike and its implications for the industry?

Plenty! That could be an article on its own. It is a very divisive strike to some. Most of my friends and colleagues understand the gravity of the strike and are in solidarity (with some even refusing to cover struck work), while others see the strike as complaining. I see the strike as valuable and hope a fair contract is brought about sooner rather than later.

Are there any restrictions on interviewing or featuring actors and performers who are SAG-AFTRA members during the strike?

Yes, there are many restrictions, but interviews with SAG-AFTRA members would be seen as promoting struck work.

Are there any ethical considerations for content creators regarding supporting or discussing the strike?

A numerous amount. First and foremost, anyone covering the strike in any capacity has to understand the five basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Once you understand the strike, you must be considerate of the SAG-AFTRA member who is looking at your discussion of the strike and how you support the strike.

Will the strike affect the promotion and sponsorship of content related to films and TV shows affected by the strike?

Yes. Promotion and sponsorship of struck work by those taking part in the strikes is a big no, from what I can gather from these past few weeks and SAG-AFTRA’s FAQs.

I hope that answered your questions about the SAG-AFTRA strike, and if it didn’t, I would love to hear from you on what questions you would like me to answer on my Twitter account.

You can follow Austin and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @AustinBMedia_

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