July 21, 2023
Actors joined striking writers to save Hollywood as we know it
SAG-AFTRA Picket, taken July 17, 2023
Actors’ decision to join the writers’ protest against underpaying and AI replacement will heighten pressure on negotiations.
Since May 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents about 11,500 screenwriters, has protested against the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of the movie studios, including Amazon, Netflix, Disney, and CBS.
Writers argue that a new contract offered by the AMPTP will not only result in diminishing compensation and deteriorating working conditions for the writers but also permits the widespread usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in script development, which will lead to further industry underpayment and underemployment.
As the WGA rules state that writers are not allowed to work until an agreement is reached – risking expulsion from the Guild – many shows had to halt production, and their release has been postponed indefinitely. Yet, the writers’ protest has not caught too much attention from the public.
Much different is the case of actors, who negotiate with the AMPTP through the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), a union representing over 160,000 media professionals worldwide.
Negotiations will not be easy nor quiet since it was announced that more than 1,000 actors – including Charlize Theron, Joaqin Phoenix, Jaimee Lee Curtis, Pedro Pascal and many more who signed a letter to SAG-AFTRA leadership, demanding fair pay and better working conditions, with the additional point about forbidding the usage of AI for face and voice replacement.
With actors’ walk-outs – including at the notable premiere of Oppenheimer in London, where Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Florence Pugh all left the theatre – and arrested productions, the entertainment industry is suffering colossal stock price losses.
This is not surprising, as sequel films expected to be significant hits, including the next Avatar and Deadpool movies are all likely to be affected. The CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, described the strikes as “very disturbing” and claimed that they are particularly disruptive as the industry is still suffering from post-COVID-19 consequences.
The current strikes are said to be the biggest walk-outs in the movie industry since 1980, when Ronald Raegan, long before his presidency, was the head of the SAG. Yet, they are definitely not the last as a combination of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and AI undercuts the very human nature of the industry, allowing producers to imagine a world in which the studio scans the face of an actor and produces a movie without the actual person – thus paying a one-day fee.
While actors and writers protest, the 19,000-strong Directors Guild of America has already agreed to a three-year contract, which improved the directors’ wages and protected them against being pushed out by the employment of AI technology which mimics their work.