In May, we reported that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), pausing production on new movies and television shows. A few months later in July the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) began its own strike against AMPTP. Here’s what you need to know:
- Every three years, the WGA negotiates a new contract with the major Hollywood studios represented by the AMPTP. Ahead of the most recent negotiations, it was expected that both parties would end up in a standoff. On May 2, 2023, writers imposed a strike in search of more fair compensation in an industry that has been revolutionized by streaming and technology advances.
- On July 14, 2023, the SAG-AFTRA (which also negotiates a new contract with the studios every three years) went on their own strike against the AMPTP. The decision to go on strike was largely an expression of solidarity with the writers, but the actors have their own demands that haven’t been met by the AMPTP.
- On Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, the writers and studios reached a tentative deal that would end the WGA’s strike, getting the entertainment industry one step closer to restarting.
- The SAG-AFTRA congratulated the writers for coming to an agreement and lifting their strike. Attention has now been shifted to the actors. While it’s been reported that there aren’t currently any talks scheduled between the SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, there’s hope that the writers’ agreement will serve as some sort of blueprint for what any future negotiations would entail.
- On Monday, Sept. 25, Members of the SAG-AFTRA, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against 10 of the nation’s biggest video game companies. Voice actors have been pushing to renegotiate a contract with big gaming studios for more than a year.
We recently spoke with Aleyse Shannon, 27, an actor who has been in the industry since 2018. Some of her most notable roles were in the CW’s “Charmed,” Netflix’s “Beauty,” Amazon’s “Leverage” and Blumhouse’s “Black Christmas.” Shannon is one of many young actors (and writers) whose lives have been uprooted as a result of the strike. At one point she began working at Starbucks to make ends meet. “I’m not paid enough as an actor to make that [money] last,” says Shannon. “And I live very modestly – it’s just not enough.”
Many actors don’t even earn enough to qualify for health insurance. Shannon says there are a few programs that help those who didn’t earn more than $26,000 before the strike happened. But soon, she and many others will no longer qualify for health insurance for the next year. “Which job am I about to go get so I can have health insurance next year?” she says. It’s a question a lot of actors have to answer for themselves as they wait for the seemingly never ending strike to come to a stop. Shannon isn’t optimistic about the current state of negotiations. “There’s no end in sight,” she says. “SAG is very set on what they want, and the studios are very set on what they’re not going to give.”
Here are some of the key demands by the SAG-AFTRA, per its website:
- An 11% general wage increase
- Protection from artificial intelligence technology
- Compensation to reflect what streaming platforms earn from their labor
- Help from their employers to keep their health and retirement funds sustainable
- Reimbursement for relocation expenses due to work
Shannon shared some of the biggest misconceptions about the actors’ strike from her perspective:
“If you think an A-lister like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has his arms crossed and is throwing a hissy fit over not being paid enough, you’re wrong,” she says. “A lot of A-listers are pouring into the funds to help actors who are below the poverty line. We’re fighting for the people who make less than $26,000 in the career they spend all their time investing in.”
“I think another misconception about the strike is that actors and writers are somehow dispensable, that there’s a way to replace us,” says Shannon. “To be very clear, there isn’t.”
The SAG-AFTRA feels good about the WGA reaching an agreement. “If they’re awarded their demands, that feels great. We want that for them,” says Shannon. “Hopefully it will give hope that talks on our strike will come to a similarly good conclusion soon after, but if not it will feel like a continuation of our picket lines and the frustration that comes with that.” In an ideal world, the WGA’s agreement with the studios will hasten the resolution of the actors’ strike.
In the meantime, writers are gearing up to get back to starting new projects and executing old ideas. Alesia Etinoff, 31, is a writer who’s been in the WGA since 2021. She’s written on two seasons of the Paramount+ reboot of “The Game” — as a staff writer in season 1 and a story editor in season 2. With the writers reaching an agreement, Etinoff hopes to begin “manifesting creative dreams birthed during the strike.” Hopefully, for writers like Etinoff, the stress caused by the strike is behind them. “Emotionally, the strike brought much distress,” says Etinoff.
There were a lot of unanswered questions over the past four months. But the silver lining is the camaraderie on display by the entire entertainment industry.“There was a positively overwhelming sense of community, friendship and support,” says Etinoff. As the SAG-AFTRA stood in solidarity with the WGA, it’s now the WGA’s turn to show the same unwavering support for the SAG-AFTRA. Writers like Etinoff need actors like Shannon and vice versa. Hopefully, Hollywood is back to functioning at full capacity sooner rather than later.