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Film and TV actors set up strike at end of June, potentially crippling entertainment industry

Actors voting on strike authorization
Hollywood actors voting on strike authorization 04:17

Hollywood and TV writers have been on strike for the past month — and now, actors have signaled they're willing to join picket lines for their own battle.

On Monday, members of SAG-AFTRA, which represents film and TV actors, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if they don't reach a deal with major entertainment company studios by June 30. Nearly 98% of voting members were in favor of the strike, SAG-AFTRA said. The union and studios begin negotiations on Wednesday.

"As we enter what may be one of the most consequential negotiations in the union's history, inflation, dwindling residuals due to streaming, and generative AI all threaten actors' ability to earn a livelihood if our contracts are not adapted to reflect the new realities," Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA's national executive director, said in a statemetn. "This strike authorization means we enter our negotiations from a position of strength, so that we can deliver the deal our members want and deserve."

The writers' strike, which has seen many actors joining WGA picket lines and otherwise expressing support for the writers, has likely emboldened performers, said Steve Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California who has written several books on labor in Hollywood.  

"This is really unique," Ross told CBS MoneyWatch, adding that "If SAG-AFTRA authorizes a strike and walks out in sympathy, they could change the whole complexion of the negotiations."

Strikes in Hollywood are rare — the WGA last walked out in 2007, while the Screen Actors Guild last struck in 2000, before the union merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to become SAG-AFTRA.  (The current WGA strike targets studios including Paramount Global, which owns CBS News and Paramount+.)

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and a number of high-profile actors have come out in support of a strike vote. Kim Cattrall, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kumail Nanjiani, Kerry Washington and many others have appeared in videos urging fellow actors to authorize a strike. 

SAG-AFTRA says actors are seeking higher pay in light of lower residual payments for streaming content, as well as more generous studio contributions to the union's benefit plans. The union is also seeking limits on self-taped auditions for actors, which the union says have become "a massive, daily, uncompensated burden on the lives of performers."

Like the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA is also seeking limits on so-called generative AI used to replace acting work.

"You need actors"

With TV and film writers now on strike for a month, the prospects of Hollywood actors walking out could lead to an industrywide shutdown that would end most productions.

"The studios right now can make movies without writers. They're saying, 'We already have a supply of material, we can easily go through the fall, we don't need anyone,'" Ross said. "Well, you need actors. Even if you have scripts and you have directors, who's going to be acting?" 

SAG-AFTRA has about 160,000 members, compared with 11,000 in the WGA.

WGA says potential DGA deal wouldn't end writers strike 03:23

In the event of a strike, smaller and independent production using non-union talent could continue, but most work would shut down, he added. A strike wouldn't affect filming for commercials, broadcast news or unscripted content such as talk shows, according to SAG-AFTRA. (Many late-night talk shows are already paused due to the writers' strike.)

Creators vs. studios 

Writers and performers share many of the same concerns, Ross said, including smaller residual payments for work done for on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu. The streaming services' much shorter seasons — six to 10 episodes instead of 22 to 24 — can leave performers and writers scrambling to cobble together enough paychecks to earn a living.

"For them, I would argue, it's opened up more opportunities," said Ross, in addition to raising the profile of TV acting, which was long seen as less prestigious than film. However, those increased opportunities come with shorter seasons and lower pay. 

That's setting up a struggle between performers and writers on one side and studios and streaming services on the other. Networks and studios, which poured money into streaming for years, are now pointing to investor pressure as reasons to cut jobs and other expenses.  

"That's what's at the core of strike — what is there in terms of sharing revenue of streaming, what is there in terms of sharing the burden of reduced costs," Ross said. 

He added, "If streaming services are not making money, how do we share that burden? When you're showing me that your head is making $50 million, $100 million a year, it's hard for me to take you seriously when you plead poverty."

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