At midnight PT on July 12-13, the contract between the Actors Alliance USA (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expired. A little earlier, on May 2, the contract between AMPTP and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which unites screenwriters, also expired. These contracts set not only the minimum wage, but also describe all the legal issues associated with the work.
Within the allotted time, the Producers Alliance, which includes the likes of Amazon, Apple, CBS, Disney, NBC Universal, Netflix, Paramount Global, Sony, and Warner Bros. Discovery did not conclude new agreements and did not extend the existing ones, so thousands of screenwriters first went on a large-scale strike, and on July 13 they were joined by representatives of the Alliance of actors, numbering about 160 thousand representatives.
"Union members should suspend their work until a fair contract is reached," SAG-AFTRA chief executive Duncan Crabtree-Irland said.
What the Guilds of Actors and Screenwriters require from the Producers Alliance
Both the actors and writers have been discussing the terms of a new contract with the Producers Alliance for several months. Basically, the requirements come down to the same thing - fair wages. SAG-AFTRA and the WGA are demanding higher payouts for members of their alliances, reviewing minimum wages, as well as working conditions, including rest time, number of training days, and so on.
Due to the popularity of streaming and, in principle, the emergence of such platforms, the guilds of actors and screenwriters insist that the terms of the expired contract are very outdated - the income of the producers' alliance is growing, as is inflation, while the minimum fees of performers and screenwriters are in place. The fact is that in previous agreements between the guild and the studios there were no streaming platforms because they did not exist, but now the situation has changed.
In previous contracts, it was stated that in addition to the basic payment for work in the project, actors and writers receive income on the principle of "leftovers" - these are royalties that are paid after each re-screening of a film or program. However, streaming platforms like Netflix do not keep such statistics, and pay out these "leftovers" at a flat rate, even if the picture has become a hit or even a top hit.
"Leftovers" is a significant portion of performers' and screenwriters' income, and is especially important to them between projects. SAG-AFTRA and the WGA believe that the payment of "leftovers" should be tied to the success of the resulting film, series or television show. In addition, the WGA points out that the relative pay of writers has actually decreased by about 14% in recent years due to inflation.
“Fifteen years have passed since the previous strike in 2007, and during these fifteen years streaming platforms were born on the market, which have become the main players in the industry,” film producer Alexander Rodnyansky told The Insider. “They started showing massive amounts of films and series written by guild writers, which, unlike TV shows or re-releases, didn’t get paid for the endless screenings and use of these films and series by streaming platforms. For them, this is a big and serious loss of rights. The same applies to the minimum wage and rate, because for fifteen years inflation has occurred, prices have risen, but the work of the vast majority of guild members continues to be paid with minimal amounts. Of the eight thousand screenwriters, about seven thousand work at minimum rates. And it's very important to them."
In addition, actors and screenwriters are demanding restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence in the film and television industry. Representatives of the WGA believe that in the next few years, artificial intelligence will be able to create, if not outstanding breakthroughs, but quite professional scripts, compiling texts in their programs based on materials written by previous generations of screenwriters.
The actors, in turn, want to prescribe conditions under which artificial intelligence cannot replace them on the set. According to Duncan Crabtree Ireland, an actor's union spokesman, AMPTP had previously proposed an "innovative" solution - to scan the appearance of supporting actors, paying them a fee for one day of acting extras - $ 200 - and then use their digitized images without the permission of the "original".
Lilia Kim notes that without unique author's products, their derivative works of artificial intelligence are also impossible, so the work of screenwriters and other participants in the cinematic process is very important and cannot be replaced by a "machine". Otherwise, copying of the copied will begin, which will eventually affect the product and destroy the industry.
“No one makes copies of non-names, no one makes copies of non-viral and non-reputed authors. Make copies of something that resonates with people. And this is the main proof of the uniqueness of the resource. The desire to copy it and the demand for copies. No one orders Ai copies of Burulev's Simple Evenings, or Wes Anderson's Harry Potter, or Balenciaga's Star Wars, or Bollywood's Game of Thrones. So IP (intellectual property) creates value. And from this value, the creators of this long-term viral IP, which makes money as much as it is played, want to receive royalties.
What can the strike of actors and screenwriters affect
The screenwriters guild strike in 2007-2008 led to the fact that work on new projects was stopped, but the shooting of films and series with ready-made scripts still continued. It brought multimillion-dollar losses to studios, many projects were stopped, and the shooting of many films and series was frozen.
The current joint strike of actors and screenwriters will effectively stop the work of the film industry and television. World-class stars such as Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep have said they are ready to leave their jobs. So far, the strike has already resulted in endless reruns of late-night TV talk shows and disrupted much of the production of the fall TV season and filming of some big-budget films. Striking SAG-AFTRA participants will have to face restrictions because of this: they will be prohibited from participating in the filming of films or series, as well as promoting them on their social networks, at premieres and exhibitions. They are also not allowed to attend conventions such as Comic-Con to promote any past or present work done under the SAG-AFTRA contract.
“The start of a strike means stopping all projects in production and preparation for it, that is, post-production,” says Lilia Kim. “All actor reservation schedules are going into… limbo. In general, this gives a chance that two strikes will end faster than one. Because together it’s already absolutely hellish losses right here and now, and then another so that the car starts up again and drives off. This is not a dismantling of enemies or competitors - these are negotiations between business partners. Whose contribution to the common pie should be rewarded with what piece of the pie. Each guild's base agreements with the Producer Alliance are reviewed every three years. This is a routine process. When / if it is not possible to immediately agree, a strike begins. The last time it was in 2007-2008 and lasted 100 days, it cost the industry and Los Angeles $2.1 billion. ".
Why the strike was supported by highly paid actors
The SAG-AFTRA strike was supported by many famous performers, in addition to the already mentioned Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep.
“I am very supportive of the unions, I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild, so I will definitely participate in the strike,” the actress said. “I support my colleagues - that's all I can say,” her colleague Cillian Murphy shared with reporters.
“We need to protect people who are on the edge,” says actor Matt Damon. - To get health insurance, you need to earn $ 26,000 a year. And many of them get to this amount by accruing interest on works. If these deductions run out, you will be left without healthcare. And this is absolutely unacceptable."
On July 13, the star cast of the blockbuster "Oppenheimer" left the film's premiere in London after it became known that the strike had begun. The actors managed to appear before the public on the red carpet, but then left the event. "They went to paint posters for the pickets," the film's director Christopher Nolan told reporters. Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and other famous actors starred in the biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb Robert Oppenheimer.
According to Alexander Rodnyansky, in this way, actors with world fame and multimillion-dollar earnings show solidarity with their less successful colleagues - they remember how hard it was for them to start their careers.
“They themselves made their careers out of nothing for the most part, that is, many of them are people who came out of nowhere. They know how difficult it is, and they do not want the worst for their colleagues, they fight for their rights. Okay, the stars have a tool of struggle, but what about aspiring authors and actors? Now the studio will take one good-looking person, pay him for one day of shooting, and continue to use his image in subsequent films without paying him anything. And this is more than a realistic possibility. Actually, this is part of the proposal that the negotiating structure made on behalf of producers, studios and streamers the day before yesterday. Therefore, the actors decided to go on strike as principled as possible and stop the activities of the big studios and big streaming industry. This applies to a lesser extent to the independent segment of cinema, which makes small independent films. This strike proposal was supported by 98% of the Actors Guild."
Labor conflicts among Hollywood screenwriters are nothing new. The current WGA strike is the eighth since the 1950s and the first in 15 years. The Actors Guild, for its part, last went on strike over 40 years ago, in 1980. The protests lasted 95 days. However, this is the first time in 63 years and the second time in Hollywood history that writers and actors are on strike at the same time. The last joint strike took place 63 years ago, when Marilyn Monroe was still the leader of the industry. Then the studios gave members of the acting and screenwriting guilds more rights, freedoms and guarantees.
- In 1952, the Writers Guild - the forerunner of the Writers Guild of America - and the Writers' League of America went on strike against television and film producers for 14 weeks. The parties reached an agreement that defined pay scales and ownership of scripts, and allowed radio and theater writers to contribute material to television.
- In 1960, members of the Screenwriters Guild went on strike for 153 days and eventually won the right to receive the very "leftovers" from showing theatrical films on free television.
- In 1973, the screenwriters went on strike for 112 days, seeking pay raises as well as "residual" payments for films rewritten on videotapes and shown on pay television.
“Revisions of the terms of contracts happen every ten to fifteen years: during the period of the contract and when the landscape of the industry is changing dramatically, as it was now with streaming platforms,” explains Alexander Rodnyansky. - They dictated the emergence of new formats and principles of work, for example, six-episode series appeared, writers' rooms began to work, that is, groups of screenwriters, which did not exist before or was not so. The evolution of the industry itself requires different conditions for the participants in this very industry.”