Directors and actors brace for fight with studios as writers still strike

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The SAG-AFTRA building is seen during sunset in Mid City, Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Amy Ta.

The dispute between the Writers Guild and the big studios shows no sign of stopping, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to labor unrest in Tinseltown. 

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is at the bargaining table right now with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). And the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) will be starting talks on June 7. Contracts between those two unions and the studios both expire at the end of June.

Entertainment lawyer and freelance journalist Jonathan Handel says negotiations with DGA have been rocky so far, causing bargaining to start much later than usual. If they fail to reach a deal, it could have a ripple effect throughout the industry. 

“There is a chance that the DGA will not get a deal done in the three-week window that they have remaining,” says Handel. “I expect they will get a deal done, they usually do. But there's a [small] chance that they don't, and that hangs over the SAG-AFTRA negotiations.”

On Wednesday, SAG-AFTRA announced that it would seek strike authorization before negotiations begin. 

Writer, filmmaker, and former actor Justine Bateman identifies artificial intelligence as a big issue for writers and actors. She says that the AMPTP has refused to negotiate with the WGA over the issue of AI. And if they take the same stance with actors, SAG-AFTRA might have no choice but to walk out. 

“I think that for WGA, [AI is] replacing them as screenwriters, and also they’re using our scripts as training for the AI programs,” says Bateman. “And then for actors, it's a much more dehumanizing use of AI in that field: the use of their image, their likeness, their voice. It's not only dehumanizing, but it removes their creative purpose to replace them with themselves.”

Handel says artificial intelligence technology is likely to remain a sticking point in these negotiations not just because of its potential impacts on economics, but because so many creative workers are passionate about maintaining the integrity of their work.

“If you squeeze the soul out of entertainment and turn it into something that is simply generated by the ghost in the machine, there is something lost … in addition to the economic oppression that can result,” says Handel. 




Matt Guilhem