The WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strike Explained | Savoir Flair
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The WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strike Explained
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by Lydia Medeiros 5-minute read July 26, 2023

While some celebrities earn millions, most are striking for better conditions for their colleagues, not themselves. 

For the first time in over six decades, the writers (WGA) and actors (SAG-AFTRA) of Hollywood are striking together, and yes, this will have a trickle-down effect if you are someone who enjoys watching (good) television and movies. Does it mean you'll be watching a staticky TV set? No, but you will see an increase in mind-numbing reality television, game shows, and unfortunately, lower-quality films and series. Several of your favorite shows and movies have already been put on hold, delayed, and/or canceled indefinitely, and the longer the strike, the more bleak the entertainment landscape of our near future looks.

What are the writers and actors striking for? Don't they make millions of dollars in Hollywood? Unless they're an A-List celebrity like Brad Pitt or Florence Pugh, the answer is a resounding NO. It's important to note that celebrities who are union members are not striking for themselves. They are striking for their fellow actors and writers whose names you don't know, and are lending their celebrity status and voice to augment their colleague's message and increase the urgency of the entertainment corporations to accede to their demands. After all, without Zendaya, can they even continue with Euphoria or Dune 2?

If everything seems a bit confusing, that's because it is, so we've broken down the who/what/where/when/why/how of the strike to help you better understand why it will be 2025 (or later) before you might see anything good on the silver screen again.

The Who

Or more precisely, who is striking whom?

Who:

  1. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is an American labor union that represents roughly 11,000 writers in film, television, radio, and online media.
  2. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is an American labor union that represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other media professionals.
  3. Anyone who wants to belong to WGA or SAG-AFTRA (i.e. work in Hollywood) at any point in their life.


Whom:

WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association that represents entertainment corporations such as DisneyNetflixAmazonParamountAppleWarner Bros.HBO20th Century Fox, and other behemoth media conglomerates.

article @SAGAFTRA

The Why

Or more specifically, why are they striking?

Why are WGA and SAG-AFTRA striking against the AMPTP?

  1. Both WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking for base pay increases. This is the minimum payment actors receive on a project – a number that fluctuates according to the budget of the film. Again, A-list actors and writers are paid well for their work, but the average creative is not receiving top billing. To give you an idea, the average annual salary for a SAG-AFTRA member is USD40,000 – 30 percent less than the national income average – and actors must earn at least USD26,000 a year in acting work to qualify for health insurance (and many of them do not).
  2. Both WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking for residual payments from streaming. Residuals are long-term payments for reruns and other airings after the initial release and the way in which creatives can afford to live in-between gigs. Think of actors and writers as freelance workers. They are only paid project to project, which is why residuals were established after the first joint strike of actors and writers in 1960. With the birth and rise of streaming, creatives are no longer receiving residuals for their work on projects, despite the fact that the shows or movies they create continue to generate billions of dollars in revenue. To be clear, the percentage they would receive is less than 1 percent of the total revenue. They're not asking for the whole pie, just their share when their work continues to be sold, similar to how artists have started generating earnings with NFTs every time their work is re-sold after the initial sale.
  3. Both WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking over regulations for the use of AI.
    • WGA has asked that AI not be used to write or rewrite literary works, nor use their material to train AI.
    • SAG-AFTRA wants regulations on how/when/where AI can be used to replicate an actor's likeness. (Ex: The AMPTP offered to pay an actor one day's wages to generate their likeness with AI to be used for eternity on any project in any way.)
  4. Both WGA and SAG-AFTRA are striking for better health and retirement benefits as well as working conditions.
article @WGAEAST

The What

Or, to put it plainly, what actors and writers can and cannot do while on strike.


What SAG-AFTRA Members Cannot Do:

All 'TV/Theatrical' contracts are forbidden. This means:

  1. No on-camera work for a struck company (including acting, singing, dancing, stunts, piloting an on-camera aircraft, puppeteering, or motion-capture work).
  2. No off-camera work for a struck company (including ADR, Trailers, Voice-overs, Singing, Narration, Stunt-coordination, and more.
  3. No background work, stand-in work, or body double work.
  4. No makeup tests, camera tests, rehearsals, wardrobe or other fittings, etc.
  5. No auditions.
  6. No non-union work (obviously).
  7. No independent films.
  8. No promotion of work already filmed from struck companies, including but not limited to:
    • Interviews
    • Premieres (why the Oppenheimer cast walked out of their premiere in London)
    • Marketing
    • Press junkets
    • Festivals
    • Fan meet-n-greets
    • Expos
    • Comic cons
    • Award shows (this is why the Emmys have been postponed until further notice)
    • Award campaigning
    • Podcasts
    • Posting on social media about struck work


What SAG-AFTRA Members Can Do:

A number of contracts fall under different categories, which is why actors can still do the following:

  1. Daytime dramas (soap operas).
  2. Game shows.
  3. Variety shows.
  4. Reality shows and other unscripted series.
  5. Commercials.
  6. Episodic and long-form animated programs for television and new media (not including animated films). So the kids will still get new episodes of Paw Patrol.
  7. Corporate or training videos (that will not be broadcast).
  8. Recording audiobooks, dubbing work into English or Spanish from other languages, working on video games, sound recordings, and music videos.
  9. Hosting or performing on independent podcasts.
  10. Can work ok independent productions not affiliated with AMPTP who have applied for waivers through SAG-AFTRA (so far, 39 productions have acquired a waiver).
  11. Short films with micro-budgets under $50,000.
  12. Live-action films with micro-budgets under $20,000.
  13. Independent new media with budgets under $50,000.
  14. Student films.
  15. Sponsored content like brand ambassadorship, Cameo for Business, and Influencer Agreements for sponsored posts (as long as not about struck material).


What WGA Members Cannot Do:

  1. Cannot perform any writing services to a struck company.
  2. Cannot continue to write or complete writing started before the strike, including making changes or revisions.
  3. Cannot attend – nor allow agents and other representatives to attend – meetings or engage in conversations as a writer with any struck company concerning new, pending, or future projects/writing assignments. (Basically, no job-related conversations, even in a social setting.) This includes receiving notes for work that will continue after the strike, pitches, and even working remotely.
  4. Cannot write for any non-union writing projects or non-signatory foreign producers. (But this is standard even when not striking).


What WGA Members Can Do:

  1. Work on spec scripts that are not being shopped around.
  2. Work on anything that is not covered under the WGA, including working on books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, other articles, graphic novels, and poetry.

 

article @SAFAFTRA

The Where

Where:


WGA and SAG-AFTRA are picketing in front of AMPTP studios' headquarters in Los Angeles and New York City. You'll see them organized outside of Fox, Paramount, Netflix, and so on. There are also gatherings in other film cities or where members reside across the United States (like Atlanta, Austin, Nashville, etc) as a show of support.


A person who crosses the picket line physically or metaphorically (i.e. someone who does not adhere to the strike rules and does work that has been forbidden) will be reported as a 'scab' by other members and can have their union card suspended, terminated, or be blacklisted from entering the union forever.

article @WGAEAST

The When

Or, to be exact, when did this all start?


When:

The strikes began at the expiration of the guilds’ current contracts with the AMPTP. WGA began their strike on May 2, 2023. SAG-AFTRA began their strike on July 14, 2023, after a two-week extension at the end of June failed to see both parties come to an agreement.

The How

Or rather how long will the strikes last?

How Long:


To be honest, nobody knows, as a strike will last as long as it takes until one side gives in to the demands of the other side. In 1980 (when actors struck for wages from the new tech at the time – videocassettes and videodiscs) the strike lasted three months, and in 2000 (when actors struck TV advertisers asking to be paid every time their commercial aired on cable television instead of receiving a flat rate), the strike lasted six months. In 2007, the last time the writers were on strike, it lasted 100 days.


In 1960, the last time the writers and the actors were on the picket lines together, the writers had been striking for almost two months before the actors joined them. However, the joint strike helped to create an even greater urgency for the AMPTP to come to an agreement as Hollywood came to a screeching halt and millions of dollars in losses were incurred (as is happening now). The actors were able to reach a deal after about six weeks of striking, but the writers didn't get their new contracts until about six months later. The pressure is certainly on to stop the strikes as soon as possible.


It is interesting to note, however, that during the landmark tandem strike of 1960, the actors were led by then-SAG President Ronald Reagan, who later went on to become the 40th president of the United States. The Nanny's Fran Drescher is the current SAG President leading the charge, and with election year for the Americans just around the corner, perhaps they'll get a female President after all.

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