July 13, 2023, 11:17 am ET

Members of the actors’ union came out to support the television and film writers who went on strike in May.Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

Although Hollywood has been bracing for a writers’ strike since the beginning of the year — screenwriters have walked out eight times over the past seven decades, most recently in 2007 — the actors’ uncharacteristic resolve in recent weeks has caught senior executives and producers off guard.

The first warning sign for the studios came in early June when around 65,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, voted to authorize a strike. Almost 98 percent of voters supported the authorization, an amazing figure that only narrowly eclipsed the writers’ margin.

Still, studio negotiators went into the negotiations feeling optimistic. They were surprised when they saw the list of proposals from the union — it totaled 48 pages, nearly three times the size of the list during their last negotiations in 2020, according to two people familiar with the proposals, who spoke on condition of anonymity. to discuss confidential talks.

Then in late June, more than 1,000 actors, including luminaries like Meryl Streep, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lawrence, Constance Wu and Ben Stiller, signed a letter to union leadership, stating clearly that “we are ready to strike.”

“This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might have been considered a good deal in some other years is simply not good enough,” the letter said. “We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”

On Tuesday, the union agreed to a request by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to hire a federal mediator, but declined to extend the contract deadline last Wednesday. Two mediators were involved, according to people briefed on the talks.

The Hollywood studios will now have to navigate a two-front labor war without a modern playbook to consult. There are many open questions, including whether the actors and the writers can demand that future negotiations with the studios be done in tandem. One guild that won’t be included: The Directors Guild of America, which ratified a contract last month with the studios that their union leadership described as “historic.”

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