The name Hollywood is reminiscent of glamour and wealth – but this reality is only representative of a small percentage of film and television workers. Beyond big names and production company CEOs are hundreds of employees, writers and actors who keep Hollywood’s engine turning, and who have been receiving an increasingly shorter end of the stick.
Among the items that were unsuccessfully negotiated are “economic fairness, residuals, regulating the use of artificial intelligence and alleviating the burdens of the industry-wide shift to self-taping”. All of the above pertain to large financial losses for independent companies and smaller artists alike.
The issue at heart is that giant corporations, such as Netflix and Amazon, have been capitalising unfairly since the rise of streaming services – and that they refuse to cooperate with the people left behind.
Residuals are sums paid to actors and performers during the repeated showings of their films or TV shows. But, when shows and films started being watched by individuals all over the world, and at different times, residuals essentially ceased to exist. Streaming services are refusing to release information regarding their number of viewings. Simply put, instead of some of the money being paid to streaming services going back to the makers of a film or TV show, it all goes to the streaming service itself in the form of a subscription.
The inclusion of AI in certain areas of production is another issue that is being heavily debated. Allegedly, the AMPTP had offered a ‘groundbreaking’ proposal for the widespread introduction of AI in film. According to SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the AMPTP “proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation.”
Background performers, or extras, are the actors present in the background of TV shows and films, and they are often overlooked. But they make up a significant percentage of Hollywood’s performers, and among them are people who have built their entire careers on background work. The proposal comes at a time when the rise of AI has been threatening the livelihood of workers in several industries. The AMPTP’s suggestion would essentially reduce background actors to human templates, and this is not something SAG-AFTRA is willing to tolerate.
Read more about the implications of AI here.
Since the strike has been called into action, all Hollywood film and television productions have been temporarily halted. Additionally, all SAG-AFTRA members are being asked to not attend any premieres or promotional events; this includes interviews and panels, as well as not being able to share or promote content relating to film and television projects. SAG-AFTRA has also asked its members to call on their agents, lawyers and publicists to stop any ongoing negotiations pertaining to future projects.
One of the main legal issues that has come to light during the strike is whether streaming services are actually legally allowed to withhold viewership information from SAG-AFTRA. The union’s president, Fran Derscher, recently spoke on the issue: “We don’t really know how successful any show is, because they will not release that information, which I think is going to end up becoming against the law”.
However, streaming services made sure to mention their ability to withhold this kind of information in their small print. But with the rising support for the strikes and the accompanying mounting pressure, this aspect might soon change.
Very recently, SAG-AFTRA released a document outlining the AMPTP’s initial proposals. Although the AMPTP suggested that SAG-AFTRA turned away a deal that was “worth more than $1 billion in wage increases, pension, and health contributions and residual increases”, it is what the proposals did not include that set the union ablaze.
Diversity was one of the main issues being addressed by SAG-AFTRA. The AMPTP refused their proposal for universal pay for actors not working in New York City and Los Angeles. They also refused a proposal for productions to ensure that hair and make-up artists who are able to cater to actors of colour are hired, suggesting that only principal actors should be catered for. The AMPTP also refused to accept increased penalties if rest and food breaks are not offered to performers.
Additionally, the pattern which can be traced throughout the negotiations is the AMPTP’s refusal to rework old contracts – ones which were established long before the rise of AI and streaming services.
One of the aspects of the SAG-AFTRA strikes which stands out most is that the issues at the heart of these protests are the same across a number of industries. And the bad actors at the centre of these issues are also the same – corporate greed, and a general disregard for their workers’ well-being.
The millionaires at the front of the picket lines might not seem like legitimate contenders for a good cause at first. But, importantly, if the SAG-AFTRA strikes manage to shift the conversation in favour of its workers, other industries may follow. The strikes are currently costing Hollywood around $30 million a day. Sooner or later, a fair deal will need to be cut.
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