On May 2nd of this year, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) 11,000+ members voted to go on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). AMPTP companies include the likes of Apple, Amazon Studios, Netflix and all the major studios (e.g., Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros., etc.) You can find all the companies included using the WGA's database. Key issues in contention include residual payment for streamers, the size of writer’s rooms, minimum pay and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in production.
Despite the fact the Directors Guild of America (DGA) was able to come to an agreement with the AMPTP, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which is one of the largest guilds in the business, also voted to go on strike when their three-year contract expired July 14—that represents over 160,000 members around the country.
The last time both of these major unions were on strike concurrently, Ronald Reagan was president of SAG (that was over sixty years ago, back in 1960).
The immediate future looks bleak due to the industry strikes
Just when it seemed like the country was starting to get its “movie legs” back in full stride, these strikes will undoubtedly represent a significant setback. It’s bad enough that most production has ceased. But even completed productions will be affected since actors can no longer promote their respective projects during the strike. This has already caused a number of major productions originally planned for a fall or winter release to be pushed out. For example, the Zendaya-starrer Challengers has been pushed to April 2024, and the other highly-anticipated film starring Zendaya, Dune: Part 2, may also be delayed to May 2024.
Writers Guild of America (WGA) Strike
For the most part, union writers are not allowed to work on any production under an AMPTP “studio.” This includes pitch meetings, remote rooms and even talking to AMPTP producers on possible projects. Writers aren’t allowed to work on non-union projects, foreign or domestic. Even when there’s no strike, union members aren’t allowed to work on projects not covered by the guild’s contract.
The WGA laid out a full set of strike rules for its members. Here’s a brief breakdown of what’s allowed:
- Spec scripts: scripts not being shopped around or in conversations with a producer for it.
- Books and magazines: this may be the time to bang out that great American novel or take on some side work for magazines. (Although, guild members do not advise working on any non-covered mediums that cover the entertainment industry. I guess this blog won’t be getting a huge influx of new writers).
- Graphic novels: these long-form comics and illustrated books are still allowed.
- Poetry: roses are red, violets and blue, comics are okay and poems are too!
- Pre-strike work: writers can accept payment for any work started under contract prior to the May 2 strike date. (But said work cannot be finished if it wasn’t finished prior to the strike).
One form of entertainment that has grown in popularity is original podcasts. Union writers who want to work on a fictional podcast should consult with WGA staff (and any fiction podcast that is already covered by a WGA signatory cannot be worked on). The same goes for those interested in fully animated features and television. And any film festival or “For Your Consideration” Emmy promotions are completely out of the question.
As you can see, there is very little that union writers can work on during the strike. SAG-AFTRA, however, offers a little more flexibility.
Once the DGA signed a deal with the AMPTP, there was some hope that there would be pressure on SAG to sign. But the gap between the guild and the AMPTP remains too wide to cross. In addition to an increase in wage minimums, perhaps the most notable point of contention is, once again, AI. The actors want to ensure they 1) won’t be replaced by AI and 2) have control over the use of their image in perpetuity.
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, on July 27, the SAG-AFTRA allowed actors to “audition and/or engage in negotiations regarding casting for” certain productions. However, actors aren’t allowed yet to “travel, rehearse or otherwise begin rendering services for the production.”
Fortunately, there are still some productions allowed during the strike under SAGs rules:
- TV, radio and digital commercials: the contract governing the appearance of SAG-AFTRA members in commercials was ratified in April of last year and is still in effect through March of 2025.
- Some animation: SAG-AFTRA’s strike rules allow for episodic and long-form animation for television and new media programs. This exemption does not include animated films made for theatrical release.
- Network Code Productions: SAG has a separate agreement for television productions that fall under what is known formally as the National Code of Fair Practice for Network Television Broadcasting. That means late-night game shows and some reality TV productions are allowed through the contract's current expiration date of June 2024.
- Low-budget films: small independent films have always had special exemptions with the guild. If you want to make the next great sci-fi black and white indie for under $20K, have a short film with a sub-$50K budget, or a new media production under $50K, SAG actors can participate. Student films are exempt as well.
- Educational: are you looking to make a new HR training video with a SAG actor? Well, you’re in luck. Those types of programs are good to go.
- Audio: podcast hosting, dubbing, audiobooks, etc. are currently allowed.
- Sponsored content: many actors supplement their income with Cameo. SAG has a separate agreement with Cameo for Business that allows for sponsored content.
The SAG Interim Agreement
SAG created an interim agreement allowing non-AMPTP productions to use union actors so long as those productions adhere to the stipulations of the agreements. This naturally caused some consternation among guild members, so on July 30, they issued a letter to the members explaining why this agreement is actually good for their positions.
“The Interim Agreement gives many of our journeyman performers and crews the opportunity to pay their rent and feed their families. This approach maintains our strength, solidarity and upper hand with the AMPTP until they yield to the deal we deserve.”
Among other benefits, the letter outlines that the agreement will:
- Ensure that members can work for these non-struck companies.
- Prove that the wage increases and other terms, which the AMPTP has so far rejected, are, in fact, reasonable and appropriate.
- Demonstrate that our proposed residual formulas, including streaming revenue-sharing, are economically viable within our industry.
You can read the complete list of non-struck work outlined by SAG-AFTRA here.
It’s worth noting that due to UK labor laws, members of Equity, the UK union covering actors and performers, are not allowed to strike during SAG-AFTRA strikes. However, UK actors have marched in solidarity to show support for their American writing and actor counterparts.
Still in production
Based on the above conditions and agreements, here’s a small list of productions still in process:
- Industry and House of the Dragon: since the actors of these shows are part of Equity, the third season of Industry and the second season of House of the Dragon are still shooting. (HotD showrunner Ryan Condal is a WGA member, but the scripts were completed before the strike).
- The Rebel Wilson indie flick Bride Hard received a SAG-AFTRA waiver.
- The faith-based show Chosen.
- Sam Raimi’s indie horror flick Don’t Move received a waiver as well.
- Ishana Night Shyamalan (daughter of the acclaimed director M. Night. Shyamalan) can continue production on her directorial debut, The Watchers, an indie horror film by New Line.
The Hollywood Reporter has a full list of productions with waivers here.
A complicated conundrum
It goes without saying that no one likes a strike; not the brave union members who sacrifice their work and pay in order to make better lives for themselves in the long run; not the executives who rely on the talent of union members; and least of all, not the billions of fans around the world who will be disappointed when their favorite streaming shows are pushed out to subsequent years (or even canceled altogether).
The ramifications have even been felt down to the social media influencer level, as controversies have blown up in the TikTok world. For instance, popular movie influencers such as Straw Hat Goofy have come under fire for work he’s taken during the strike. Many other TikTokers or podcasters who review movies and TV shows are wrestling with whether the content they create compromises the unions' efforts. The situation represents one of those gray areas that ultimately comes down to personal ethics and interpretation.
In conclusion, it seems very likely the strike will last into the fall and could very well persist into winter. Everyone from CEOs to couch potatoes are being affected. We all remain hopeful that a decision will be made that gives the union members the security and value they deserve while still allowing AMPTP companies to create art that brings joy and entertainment to the world.
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