Hollywood to go dark with actors’ strike announcement

Striking writers walk a Writers Guild of America picket line outside of Netflix in Hollywood on July 13, 2023. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

Hollywood is shutting down. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents 160,000 actors, announced Thursday that its members will join writers on the picket line as soon as Friday at midnight. The last time both groups engaged in a work stoppage at the same time was in 1960.

Leadership from the actors’ guild made the announcement at SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles, following a vote by the National Board to formally authorize a strike. 

“This is a moment of history. That is a moment of truth,” said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher. “If we don't stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble.” 

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios and streaming services, said in a statement they are disappointed by SAG’s decision to engage in a strike. “The Union has

regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry,” the statement read.

The terms of the strike mean actors cannot report to set for filming, effectively ending all production in the United States, and on productions abroad that employ SAG-AFTRA members. Performers also can’t attend promotional events during the summer blockbuster season, including ComicCon in San Diego, which begins July 20. The London premiere of the film “Oppenheimer” was moved an hour earlier to allow the stars of that film to walk the red carpet on Thursday evening before the strike begins at midnight.

One of the major sticking points in negotiations for both writers and actors is around artificial intelligence. Writers are concerned AI will shorten the amount of time they are paid to work. Actors are concerned about AI being used to duplicate their likeness. 

Contention also revolves around residuals, payments that actors and writers get after work airs and is re-watched. In the heyday of broadcast television before streaming, some actors were able to make a living from these payments from reruns. Now in the streaming era, that’s not possible according to actors. 

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Chris Paseka attends WGA picket lines about twice a week in solidarity. He is a character actor and member of SAG-AFTRA. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

Chris Paseka’s last residual check for a co-star role on a cable show totaled $0.93, he says. Big stars might get all the attention outside of Hollywood, he says, but the industry couldn’t run without performers like him: “This fight is really about the working actor.”

Studios and streamers have pushed back on increasing residuals, saying they have poured billions into streaming platforms that are not yet profitable.

Paseka was one of several hundred people at a Writers Guild of America (WGA) picket line Thursday, outside of Netflix in Hollywood. Writers have been on strike for more than 70 days, and the AMPTP hasn’t met them at the bargaining table since early May.

Melody Cooper carries a sign with a nod to the movie “Nope.” She’s a horror writer and member of WGA and has been picketing since May with her union. Photo by Megan Jamerosn/KCRW.

The standoff with writers and actors on one side and studios and streamers on the other could last for months – until projects that are already in the can run out.

The news of the SAG-AFTRA strike felt like a moral boost for striking writers, says horror writer and WGA member Melody Cooper. She stayed up until midnight to see if the actor’s contract would expire. 

“It's a movement that's bigger than what the writers are asking for and what even the actors are asking for,” says Cooper. “I think it's a movement [across] the country.“

Many KCRW staff are members of SAG-AFTRA, though we are under a separate contract from the agreement at issue between actors and studios.