Hollywood’s first industry-wide shutdown in 63 years is nearing certainty, with the union representing 160,000 TV and film actors poised to call a strike as soon as Thursday and join screenwriters who walked off the job in May.
SAG-AFTRA, as the union is known, said at nearly 1 a.m. Pacific time Thursday that talks with Hollywood studios over a new contract had collapsed and that its bargaining board had voted unanimously to recommend a strike. The previous three-year contract expired at 11:59 pm, after an extension from June 30 to allow for continued talks.
The union’s national board was scheduled to meet at 9 am Pacific for a final strike vote. Pickets could begin later Thursday.
Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, called studio responses at the bargaining table “insulting and disrespectful.”
“The companies refused to engage meaningfully on some issues and blocked us completely on others,” Ms. Drescher said in a statement. “Until they negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach an agreement.”
It would be the first time that actors and screenwriters have gone on strike at the same time since 1960, when Marilyn Monroe was near her peak. Double strikes would effectively shut down the entertainment business, pitting more than 170,000 workers against legacy studios like Disney, Universal, Sony and Paramount, as well as tech juggernauts like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
“We are deeply disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to walk away from negotiations,” the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of Hollywood companies, said in a statement. “That’s the union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it rejected our offer of historic salary and residual increases, substantially higher limits on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a ground-breaking AI proposal that protects digital likenesses of actors, and more.
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.
Many of the actors’ demands mirror those of the writers, including higher wages, increased residual payments (a type of royalty) from streaming services and aggressive guardrails around the use of artificial intelligence to preserve jobs. Guild leadership also wants new regulations on self-taped auditions, a pandemic phenomenon that has resulted in significantly fewer live casting sessions.
The actors last staged a major exit in 1980, with the economic details of a still nascent home video rental and sales boom as a sticking point. Their latest action is part of a resurgent labor movement, particularly in California, where hotel workers, school bus drivers, teachers and cafeteria workers have all gone on strike for some time in recent months.
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.”
The actors’ walkout will provide immediate relief to the striking writers who have been walking picket lines for more than 70 days; their union, the Writers Guild of America, has yet to return to bargaining with the studios. Actors will soon join the writers at pickets in Los Angeles and New York in what are likely to be raucous and star-studded shows — struggling musicians still trying to set up next to A-listers with bodyguards who get paid $20 million or more. movie role
It’s sure to be hot: Meteorologists said a “severe” heat wave in the Los Angeles area will stretch into next week. Burbank highs could hit 108 degrees.
The last time the writers and actors went on strike at the same time was in 1960, when Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild, and leftovers for movies shown on television were the battle du jour.
Although many productions closed after the writers went on strike, some filming continued for movies and TV series that completed scripts. One prominent talent agent said that the writers’ strike effectively shut down 80 percent of the screenwriting industry – and that a second strike would bring it down completely.
The strikes are the latest monumental blow to an entertainment industry that has been rocked in recent years by the pandemic and sweeping technological changes.
The Hollywood studios have seen their stock prices plummet and their profit margins shrink as cable and network television viewership — as well as box office returns — have collapsed due to the explosive growth of streaming entertainment.
Many companies resorted to layoffs, as well as purging series from their streaming services, all in the name of trying to increase profit margins and satisfy stubborn investors. Studio executives already held back on ordering new TV series last year as their streaming services continued to burn through cash.
Barry Diller, the veteran media executive, said in an interview that the recent upheaval in the industry has caused distress for both sides.
“You have a complete change in the underlying economics of the entertainment business that it used to hold for certainly the last 50 years, if not the last 100 years,” he said. “Everything was basically in balance under the hegemony of five major studios, and then, oh my God, along came the tech companies in Netflix, Amazon and Apple and the fast, transformative things that came out of Covid. The result is that you have a business that is completely turned upside down.”