Not since 1980—when they shut down production over remnants of now-odd technology like videotapes and cable television—have Hollywood actors not gone on strike against the major movie and TV studios. But with SAG-AFTRA voting to approve a strike by a nearly 98 percent margin, another historic labor action is possible over a new generation of technology: streaming. And the work stoppage would put an end to already diminished production that has been hit by Hollywood’s ongoing writers’ strike.
“I voted yes to the strike authorization because actors get the short straw by streaming,” said Nadia Alexander, a member of both SAG and the WGA. “All creators are.” SAG-AFTRA will strike if they cannot reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new contract by June 30.
As the writers’ strike enters its sixth week, production and writers’ rooms have already been closed on all late night TV and major shows like ABC’s Abbot Elementary School and that of Netflix Stranger things. But other productions, such as Amazon Prime’s UK-based set The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, have continued to shoot on set with non-writing producers. If an actor’s strike becomes official, filming scripted movies and TV shows would become nearly impossible for American companies.
The mere threat of a SAG strike has had a chilling effect on some industries – insurance companies are refusing to commit indie film productions until at least June 30. Producers had to shut down the Joaquin Phoenix-Rooney Mara indie film The islandwho would start shooting in Spain at the end of May, after they couldn’t get a bond.
“If SAG doesn’t hit, people think they can set up productions for September or October,” said producer Ted Hope, who co-led Amazon’s film division until June 2020. Hope had a film with cast and financing that he had to pause due to the potential of the SAG attack. “If SAG strikes, those discussions will not take place until there is another signal. People are concerned. Many people think the strike will last until the end of the year.”
The actors’ authorization voting results came through less than 48 hours after the Directors Guild struck its own deal with the AMPTP, surprising many in the industry who thought the DGA would hold onto the actors’ voting results to have more leverage over his voice. negotiations.
“If we all strike, the AMPTP will have to fold,” says Alexander. “The directors show up and there will be no actors, no writers. What exactly are they going to direct?”
Some hope that a strike by the 160,000 performers in the actors’ union will bring the industry’s labor unrest to a quicker end. “I’d like to see SAG join[the strike],” says an Oscar-nominated screenwriter who is in the WGA and DGA. “That is for everyone’s benefit. That brings this to a faster conclusion. Actors have some legit beefs. If there was a consistent stream of celebrities talking about these companies in a way that made them uncomfortable, that would be helpful.
The actors agree with the writers on many key issues, including how their compensation has shrunk due to inflation and a shift to streaming, as well as concerns about the use of AI in entertainment industry jobs. There are also some negotiation issues unique to actors, such as a desire to place restrictions on studios’ use of self-recorded auditions, which became the norm during the pandemic. “We’re coming out of the pandemic, where many actors thought things would soon return to normal,” says SAG-AFTRA member Aleisha Force. “But our new normal is this pretty existential fight.”
Many say this labor movement in Hollywood feels different from the writers’ strike of 2007-2008, as it is focused not only on winning new contracts, but also on coping with a broader shift in the industry. “This has always been a precarious business, but I’ve never heard so many questions in the industry,” says Hope. “There is a new realization that we may have started ruining our own business with the way we run things. Everyone recognizes that it is the creative class against the global stock market that rewards this attitude of growth at all costs.”
Writers, directors, producers and actors are now asking bigger ideological questions. “Is technology changing the structure of the industry?” asks the Oscar-nominated screenwriter. “This is more than a purely economic fight, it’s a fight about values, about how we are treated.”
When writers hit 15 years ago, the economic impact of the 100-day work stoppage was about $2 billion, or $2.8 billion in 2023 dollars, which affected not only studios, but also hotels, restaurants, construction and the other industries serving Hollywood. The potential impact of a double strike is unknown, but many in the industry have already seen their job opportunities dry up and have started tightening their pants. “I haven’t had any on-camera auditions since the WGA went on strike,” added Force.
“I was in Erewhon two days ago,” says the screenwriter. “And I was like, fuck that. I just went back to Costco for the first time in two years.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.