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Hollywood's actors could join its writers on strike


Hollywood actors may be days from joining screenwriters in what would be the first two-union strike in the industry in more than six decades, with huge consequences for film and television production. 

The contract between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists and the studios, streaming services and production companies that employ them had been set to expire June 30 at midnight Pacific time. But hours before that the two sides said they had agreed to extend the current contract, and talks on the next one, through July 12. Unionized actors have voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike if no deal is reached. Talks also went past the deadline in 2014 and 2017, and agreements resulted both times.

Reports have said the talks have been productive. But some actors have expressed worry that their leaders may not be pushing hard enough. More than 1,000 of them, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, have added their names to a letter to negotiators saying they are willing to strike, and are concerned they are "ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not." The letter says "this is not a moment to meet in the middle."

The guild, led by president and former "Nanny" star Fran Drescher, represents over 160,000 screen actors, stunt performers, broadcast journalists, announcers, and hosts, but a strike would involve only actors working on television shows and films.

Last actors’ strike was in 1980

Many of the same issues that drove writers to strike are on the table for actors, including what the guilds say is shrinking compensation brought on by a streaming ecosystem in which royalty payments are no longer tethered to the popularity of a film or TV show. A role or a writing credit on a show that became a hit with a long life in reruns is no longer the cash cow that it once was. And the unions say inflation is outpacing the scheduled pay bumps within their contracts.

For both scribes and performers, the move to streaming and its ripple effects have also meant shorter seasons of shows with longer gaps between them, and therefore less work.

And like the writers, actors fear the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA said in a memo to members that the burgeoning ability of AI to recreate the performances of its members is "a real and immediate threat" that it wants to head off.

Issues particular to actors include the new and increasing burden of self-taped auditions — the cost of which used to be the responsibility of casting and productions.

Movie and TV actors last went on strike for three months in 1980, though actors in broadcast commercials have gone on strike twice since then. Overall they have had far more labor peace than screenwriters, whose walkouts have been far more frequent. That includes the current standoff, in which 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike for nearly two months, with no end in sight.

In 1960 the actors' union, led by then-SAG president and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, went on strike for six weeks that fell in the middle of a five-month writers' strike, the only time two major Hollywood unions walked off the job at the same time.

Actors have shown broad support for striking writers, and many have joined them on picket lines in an act of what has so far been symbolic solidarity.

The writers' strike had an almost instant effect on late-night network talk shows, including NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," ABC's " Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and CBS's "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," which all went on hiatus immediately. "Saturday Night Live" axed its last three episodes of the season.

In the two months since, many scripted television series have also shut down, including Netflix's "Stranger Things," Max's "Hacks," Showtime's "Yellow Jackets," and Apple TV+'s "Severance." Some movies have reportedly also been paused.

Actors joining writers would force nearly every other show or film that hasn't already been shot into a similar shutdown. Forthcoming seasons of television shows would be delayed indefinitely, and movie releases will be pushed back.

Streaming menus on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video will show no immediate differences, though lovers of those outlets' original series would eventually have to wait longer for their favorites to return.

Exceptions would be productions taking place outside the United States. And reality shows, game shows and most daytime talk shows will likely be unaffected.

The writers' strike has seen persistent picketing and some major rallies for two months, but so far no movement.


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