Hollywood actors went on strike Friday, at midnight California time, after negotiations between their, a serious blow for the entertainment industry that could cripple film and TV productions across the U.S. About 65,000 actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists had planned to walk off sets from midnight, SAG-AFTRA leaders announced Thursday afternoon.
It is the first industrywide work stoppage by the labor group since 1980, and the performers join more than 11,000 TV and script writers represented by the Writers Guild of America who have been. It is the first time two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the actors’ guild president.
“Actors deserve a contract that reflects the changes that have taken place in the industry. Unfortunately the current model devalues our members and affects their ability to make ends meet,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s national executive director, said in a press conference in Los Angeles to declare the strike action.
“What’s happening to us is happening across all forms of work,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a fiery speech that drew applause from the room. Studios “plead poverty, that they are losing money left and right, while giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment,” she said.
“At some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being marginalized and disrespected and dishonored,” she said. “At some point, you have to say no.”
Some CBS News staff are SAG-AFTRA members. But they work under a different contract than the actors and are not affected by the strike.
Rise of the machines
At issue in the SAG-AFTRA negotiations is the use of artificial intelligence in movies and the impact of streaming services on actors’ residual pay.
“Actors now face an existential threat to their livelihoods from the use of AI and generative technology,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
“They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and the company should be able to own that scan, that likeness, for the rest of eternity, without consideration,” he added.
Residuals, or payments that networks make to re-air older movies or shows, are another major sticking point. Such recurring payments, which allow most working actors to support themselves, have tumbled at a time of high inflation and streaming dominance, actor Mehdi Barakchian told CBS News.
“It used to be such that you could make a living — I’m not talking about red carpets and champagne, I mean just a standard American living, by working on television as a middle-class actor — someone who shows up as a guest star or for a recurring role,” he said. “We can no longer make a living doing that.”
He noted that half of SAG-AFTRA’s members earn less than $26,000 a year from acting — the minimum required to qualify for health insurance through the guild.
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios and streaming services, including Paramount, said the strike was “the union’s choice, not ours.”
The union “has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more,” the group said in a statement, adding, “SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger, who, said a strike would have a “very damaging effect on the whole industry.”
“There’s a level of expectation that [SAG-AFTRA and the WGA] have that is just not realistic,” Iger told CNBC Thursday morning.
SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers. The walkout affects only the union’s 65,000 actors from television and film productions, whoto authorize their leaders to call a strike before talks began on June 7.
Broadway actors said in a statement that they stand “in solidarity” with SAG-AFTRA workers.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.