On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), representing 11,500 screenwriters, initiated a strike due to an ongoing labour dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). It has been the largest interruption to American television and media since the COVID pandemic, and before that, the 2007 writers strike. Now, the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) have teamed up with the striking Writer’s Guild members, essentially ceasing the production of any film, television, radio and media in Hollywood, Los Angeles. This is the first time nearly the entire industry has been shutdown in 60 years, since the first development of unions in Hollywood in Around 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA have joined the 11,500 WGA members to strike against companies such as 20th Century Studios, AMC Networks, Amazon/Culver Studios, Broadway Stages, CBS Radford, CBS Television City, Disney, HBO, Lionsgate, MGM, MTV, Netflix, Paramount, Silvercup Studios, Sony, Starz, Steiner Studios, Universal, Warner Bros. and 30 Rock/NBCUniversal.
Actors like Jason Sudeikis, Olivia Wilde, Joey King, Mark Ruffalo, Charlize Theron, Jennifer and some of the highest paid actors in the world such as Matt Damon, Meryl Streep have joined together in solidarity with some of the lesser known character actors and roleplayers in the industry. It was reported that the casts of Barbie and Oppenheimer left their highly anticipated films’ respective premieres in London last week to join their colleagues; Margot Robbie, Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh, to name a few.
So, what exactly are these strikes about?
The biggest concern is wages and pay. Actors and writers are the forces behind making material come to life and with the rise of streaming networks, the nature of ‘residual payment’ models has changed. With services like Netflix and Amazon buying the rights to films and series to fill their archive of service offering, the ‘residual’ monthly checks that roleplayers once received every time a show or film aired, has ceased to exist – or, come in at meagre cents. In America, To be eligible for health insurance, a performer needs to earn a minimum of $26,470 in one year; residual checks serve as financial security measures in an industry that is uncertain, competitive and inconsistent. The studio executives do not have such a problem – for example, between 2018 and 2022, David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., received nearly $500million in compensation. This astonishing amount is approximately 384 times higher than the average pay of a Hollywood writer.
Another chief concern is the continued unregulated role of Artificial Intelligence, particularly for writers who see a future in which their teams continue to dwindle, and they are demanded to lean on AI for ‘efficiency’. This potential loss of job security is also underpinned by an ethical threat to originality, creativity and craftsmanship and a future in which sophisticated AI language models are the creators of the material that we consume.