Writer for FX’s successful series Bear, Alex O’Keefe, recently attended the 2023 WGA Awards honoring his performance as a nominee. O’Keefe, and the rest of his writing team, won the prestigious award for best comedy series, a testament to the quality of their art that entertains millions of viewers. However, while accepting that award, Alex O’Keefe had a balance in his bank account.
This is a sad reality for many screenwriters. As the television landscape shifted from cable to streaming as the primary medium for many viewers, studio executives seized the opportunity in the chaos to pay their writers less. The writing room continues to shrink with unrealistic timelines, the residual system doesn’t work to properly compensate those who work on projects, and writers are overlooking a barrel of artificial intelligence that threatens to take away the soul and purpose of art.
As of Friday, July 14, SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild, joined writers in the ranks after unresolved negotiations with studios for fair working conditions and compensation. The last writers’ strike was held in 2007, the last actors’ strike was held in 1980, and the last time the two guilds got together was in 1960. This is a great show of unity in the new technology era and a guide for actors. Dos and don’ts are clarified in the SAG newsletter.
Unauthorized activities under protest
Camera work: To be clear, SAG featured actors are not permitted to engage in on-camera acting, singing, dancing, stunt work, puppeteering, or motion capture work unless otherwise specified.
Off-camera work: ADR (sound replacement), voice acting, narration, and stunt coordination are all prohibited activities. Additionally, staged activities such as standing in, posing for photos, and doing body doubles are not allowed.
Promotion: Actors are not allowed to give interviews, participate in press junkets, podcasts, represent the film struck in premieres or screenings, or other promotions for projects related to AMPTP.
Future negotiations: Any agreement to engage in future services, program screenings (including self-tapes), or other studio-related work is not permitted.
Rehearsal: Actors are not allowed to participate in rehearsals or camera tests, assembly, make-up tests, or other work related to preparation for studio work.
Social media advertising: Actors can’t post anything on social media related to studio projects or promotions, which means actors can still freely post personal selfies, but won’t make announcements about upcoming movies or shows.
Speaking at Panels: Actors are prohibited from speaking at panels or meetings, in accordance with the record on the promotion of the project. This is the reason why the Comic-Con performances of many studios are significantly reduced this year as they are expected to force their actors to go on strike and try to reduce their presence.
Activities permitted by protest
Network code generation: Many television productions are defined under the Union Network Code; This includes shows such as the daytime soap opera, “Jeopardy!”, and a variety of other television shows.
Trade: The trade is covered by a separate contract from the one between SAG and AMPTP, so they are allowed to operate.
Production of the company: Film industry, training, or corporate use is permitted by SAG contract.
Voice work: Audio recording work, audio work for video games, and dubbing in any language, and appearing in individual podcasts are permitted.
Excluded production: Independent productions (indie films) not affiliated with AMPTP studios are allowed to apply for temporary agreements to use SAG actors. Additionally, some low-budget and ultra-low-budget films are allowed to run as well.
How do influencers play a role in this?
As mentioned above, this is the first strike by actors in 40 years, which puts the process in uncharted territory. While the marketing dries with actors who do not participate in press events, red carpet premieres, and more, the studio began to look for a group to fill the advertising gap: influence. However, if you are the one approached by the studio to participate in that campaign, doing so would be a bad idea.
First, following the studios is effectively crossing a picket line; The whole point of actors not promoting the film is to work and their importance to the creative process. Second, the SAG strike is effective for not only current SAG members, but those who want to join SAG in the future.
The bottom line
Under existing agreements, writers and actors were not fairly compensated for their work as mainstream entertainment outlets shifted from cable to streaming. In the confusion of the transition, studio executives raked in millions a year while not sharing that success with the creators who actually did it. In addition, they seek to cut the human voice out of the entire process, leaving the important purpose of art to artificial intelligence, excluding writers and scanning characters for eternal ownership while being paid in a single day.
You might think that if the dispute over fair wages has reached such a serious impasse, it must take a huge toll on the studio’s bottom line, right? Maybe a quarter of their gross income, even 50%?
It is less than one percent. The studios are putting up a wall against the idea of paying their workers, the actual creations that the artists are consuming, the living wage is more than one percent of their annual income. Even before the actors helped generate heat against AMPTP, it was estimated that the writers’ strike was worth $30 million per day to the studio. With the amount of money flying out the window, it seems like maybe, just maybe, it might be easier and cheaper to just pay your artists.