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Hollywood Strike: SAG-AFTRA and WGA Demand Higher Pay, Streaming Media Share, and AI Protections

A plethora of film and television studios in the United States are tranquil, and the Hollywood strike has persisted for over several weeks.

On July 14, the Screen Actors Guild and United Radio and Television Artists (SAG-AFTRA), representing 160,000 actors, hosts, and other cohorts, commenced their first strike in 43 years to lend support to the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which had initiated their strike as early as May. WGA).

This also marks the second occasion in 63 years that the two unions have united in protest on the streets of Hollywood. Thousands of actors and screenwriters brandished protest signs and congregated outside Universal Studios to voice their dissent. The pivotal objectives of this strike include salary increments, shares in streaming media (online/real-time audio and video viewing), and the concern surrounding artificial intelligence.

Thus far, the management has made certain concessions and compromises, yet numerous crucial matters remain unresolved. The duration and potential impact of this strike on the “drama shortage” remain uncertain.

Hollywood film and television shutdown

This wave of strikes in Hollywood did not materialize abruptly; rather, it was an anticipated event within the industry.

“In truth, discussions regarding the possibility of a strike by the Screenwriters Guild have been ongoing since January, given that their contract was set to expire. The union’s proposed new contract entailed an excessive number of demands. At that time, speculation was rife that the AMPTP (American Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) would not acquiesce,” remarked Siyu, an executive director working in Hollywood, during an interview with reporters.

AMPTP is an industry association comprising streaming media platforms represented by Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, mainstream film production companies such as Disney, Sony, Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros. Discovery, as well as American television networks such as Fox and NBC.

Typically, numerous new film and television dramas commence shooting in Hollywood in March. However, as rumors of strikes gained momentum, some project developers became hesitant to initiate new ventures. “American dramas are written and shot simultaneously. Concerns arise that if the Writers Guild indeed proceeds with their strike, the projects will be adversely affected,” added Siyu.

Rumors eventually solidified into reality. On May 1, the WGA’s three-year contract expired without a new agreement reached with the AMPTP. The following day, the WGA launched their first strike in 16 years. The previous strike occurred in 2007, lasting 100 days and resulting in an estimated $2.1 billion in economic losses for California, according to the Associated Press. The strike garnered majority support from its members.

As the contracts of the screenwriters, directors, and actors’ unions successively expired, the situation escalated beyond the initial expectations of Siyu and his colleagues. They did not anticipate that the actors would also partake in the strike. However, the truth has revealed that the WGA strike is merely the prelude.

On the evening of June 5, nearly 98% of SAG-AFTRA’s 65,000 voting members agreed that if a new contract with major studios and streaming companies could not be reached before the contract’s expiration on June 30, they would authorize a strike.

After three weeks of negotiations, the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the terms of the new contract. At the eleventh hour before the impending strike, both SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP agreed to extend the current contract until July 12 and continue negotiations. However, the negotiations ultimately broke down.

On July 13, the SAG-AFTRA National Committee declared a strike scheduled to commence at 0:01 on the 14th. In the early morning of the 14th, a multitude of actors brandishing protest signs converged upon the premises of Netflix, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and other companies. This marks the first instance in 63 years that SAG-AFTRA and the WGA have taken to the streets of Hollywood to fight for their rights.

Previously, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass referred to the SAG-AFTRA strike as a “historic turning point” that would impact the overall economy. “A fair solution must be achieved,” proclaimed the mayor on the day the strike commenced.

The WGA strike has significantly impacted the production of most autumn film and television dramas. With the addition of SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood output has come to a virtual standstill, necessitating the postponement of numerous film and television projects. In compliance with SAG-AFTRA’s requirements, union members are prohibited from participating in film and television production and auditions, attending movie premieres, or conducting promotional interviews during the strike. These restrictions will greatly affect the upcoming 75th Emmy Awards. Additionally, the marketing impact of newly completed films will be substantially diminished due to these constraints.

The “anguish” of streaming media

As with previous labor disputes, improving wages and benefits remains an inevitable focal point of the union strikes. “The American film andtelevision industry has experienced significant growth, but the compensation for creative professionals has not kept pace with the industry’s success,” stated Gabrielle Carteris, the president of SAG-AFTRA, during a press conference.

One of the key issues raised by the unions is the demand for a fair share of profits from streaming media platforms. The rise of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ has transformed the entertainment landscape, but the compensation structure for actors, writers, and other creative professionals has not adequately adapted to this new era.

The unions argue that the current residual payment system, which was established in the era of traditional television and film distribution, does not adequately compensate artists for their work on streaming platforms. They believe that the growing profits of streaming companies should be reflected in better compensation for the creative talent involved.

Additionally, the unions are seeking improvements in working conditions, including reasonable rest periods, better healthcare coverage, and protections against harassment and discrimination. They argue that the industry has not done enough to address these issues, and the strikes are a way to bring attention to these concerns.

The impact of artificial intelligence (AI)

Another significant concern expressed by the unions is the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the entertainment industry. As AI technology continues to advance, there are fears that it could be used to replace human actors and writers, leading to job losses and a decline in the quality of storytelling.

The unions are calling for protections and safeguards to ensure that AI is not used to replace human actors and writers without their consent or fair compensation. They argue that creative professionals should have control over their work and should be properly compensated if their work is used in AI-generated content.

Negotiations and potential resolution

As of now, negotiations between the unions and the studios are ongoing, but no resolution has been reached. Both sides are engaged in discussions to find a compromise and address the concerns raised by the unions.

The impact of the strike on the industry and the economy as a whole is significant. The halt in production and delays in releasing new content have ramifications for the studios, production companies, and the thousands of workers employed in the entertainment industry. The longer the strike persists, the greater the economic impact is likely to be.

The outcome of the strike remains uncertain, but the unions have shown determination in their fight for better compensation and working conditions. As negotiations continue, it is hoped that a resolution can be reached that addresses the concerns of the unions while also considering the needs and sustainability of the industry as a whole.

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