‘Pissed off’ actors slam Hollywood A-listers as shutdown drags on

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It’s been three weeks since the American actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, decided to strike, joining the Writers Guild of America for the first time in 60 years. Picketers are continuing to demand better remuneration, residual payments on streaming platforms, and stronger guidelines around the use of artificial intelligence.

Nearly a month in, the strike doesn’t look like it will end any time soon.

What has happened since Hollywood’s actors and writers joined the picket line nearly three weeks ago? Credit: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg

No official negotiations have taken place between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the body representing studios and streamers, since the strike began.

The strike has completely upended the entertainment industry. But recently, the effects have become even more dramatic, with more and more movies being delayed because celebrities can’t promote them, calls for unionisation across the unorganised reality-TV sector, and striking actors beginning to fracture on some key issues.

Lights, camera, inaction

The shutdown of a swath of films and TV shows in production has been the main talking point so far. But now several completed projects are also bearing the brunt of the walkout.

Since actors and writers are prohibited from participating in promotional campaigns while striking, the marketing strategies normally used to generate hype for new films won’t work. As a result, studios are pulling films that were due to be released this year.

The November release date for Dune: Part Two has been pushed because of the strike.Credit: Warner Bros

Notable victims of this include Marvel’s Kraven the Hunter, which was originally due to hit Australian screens on October 5, and Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls, which has been pushed from September to February next year.

The release of Challengers, starring Zendaya, has been put on hold until April next year and Dune: Part Two will no longer hit screens in November. Lionsgate’s White Bird starring Helen Mirren also had its August release date nixed and the highly anticipated Dirty Dancing sequel’s initial February 2024 premiere has been bumped to mid-2025 in the US.

Curtains up for certain productions

Several independent projects have been deemed exempt from the strike, meaning they can continue production without breaching terms.

In a message sent to members on Sunday, the union’s TV/theatrical negotiating committee explained that any work with no direct links to members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers which includes the likes of Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount may continue filming as long as they obtain an interim agreement from the union. A condition of the agreement requires productions to follow the union’s updated contract set forth during negotiations.

“Make no mistake, we are striking the AMPTP companies only, not independent productions that abide by the terms of our Interim Agreement,” the negotiating committee wrote on Sunday. “The Interim Agreement gives many of our journeyman performers and crews the opportunity to pay their rent and feed their families.”

More than 110 productions – most of which are either independently financed or run by smaller studios like A24 and Lionsgate – have been approved to resume filming as of this week.

Though the third season of spy thriller Tehran is distributed by a major streamer (Apple TV), the upcoming season received an exemption partly on the grounds that it is being created by an Israeli-based company and shot in Greece, according to Deadline.

Several A-list actors like Paul Rudd will continue working on projects that have received interim agreements from the union, which exempts them from strike terms.Credit: Getty

Other exempt projects include A24’s Death of a Unicorn, starring Jenna Ortega and Paul Rudd, and Mother Mary, which will feature Anne Hathaway and Michaela Coel.

Black Bear Picture’s The Rivals of Amziah King will go ahead, as well as the independently funded Rebel Wilson comedy, Bride Hard, Hammerstone Studios’ Flight Risk with Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Costner’s The Gray House and Ishana Night Shyamalan’s The Watchers.

Tensions brewing on the picket line

The exemptions have caused some tension among union members. Actor Sarah Silverman (School of Rock) initially decried the agreements on Instagram in July, saying she feels “f—ing pissed off”.

“Movie stars are making movies because they’re independent movies, and SAG is allowing it because if they do sell it to streaming, it has to be because streaming is abiding by all the things we’re asking for. That’s just working … That’s called the end of the strike.”

Sarah Silverman in a picket line outside Netflix studios on July 26 in Los Angeles.Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Though her attitude towards the exemptions softened following talks with union leaders, she said it still had a “real stink of loophole” because some A-list celebrities and major studios were being granted the ability to continue unimpeded.

“The [union] cause is that every single one of us is striking, this cause is a work stoppage. That’s our power,” Silverman said.

Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk also objects to the exemptions. “It’s a strike. Be on strike … You lose. We lose. Everybody loses. That’s tough s—,” he told The Wrap while picketing outside Paramount Studios in July.

His comments were echoed by The Mindy Project actor Ike Barinholtz, who said everyone must remain on the same page for the strike to maintain its bargaining power. “If some of us are starting new projects and promoting others, that’s going to cause dissension. We need the opposite. We need solidarity.“

Meanwhile, Viola Davis (The Woman King) announced she was stepping away from MRC’s G20, which is set to be distributed by Amazon (a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) but has been deemed exempt.

“I do not feel that it would be appropriate for this production to move forward during the strike,” Davis wrote in a statement following her decision.

The Woman King’s Viola Davis announced she will step away from G20 despite the production receiving an exemption from the union.Credit: Sony

On the other hand, while speaking at a Q&A with fans at Galaxycon, Arrow star Stephen Amell appeared to be anti-strike. “I do not support striking … I think that it is a reductive negotiating tactic.”

His stance sparked controversy, resulting in a clarification of his comments on Instagram.

“From an intellectual perspective, I understand why we are striking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t emotionally frustrating on many levels for all involved,” Amell wrote. “I’m simply sad that we don’t have a chance to celebrate a show that all of us figuratively, and I literally, broke my back for.”

Reality stars deliver a reality check

Since reality TV has been able to continue without a waiver (they operate under a different contract), you could assume that a writers’ and actors’ strike would prove a boon for unscripted productions. It has instead triggered something of an existential crisis, moving some of its stars to call for their own protections.

According to Variety, former Real Housewives of New York fan-favourite Bethenny Frankel said reality-TV stars should unionise to ensure they received residual-like payments when their shows were replayed by networks and streamers across platforms.

Currently, reality-TV contracts don’t include residuals and also often allow studios and streamers to earn a portion of a star’s profits from deals signed after their appearance.

Frankel is now working with two high-profile Hollywood attorneys – Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos – to investigate the treatment of reality-TV stars and the value of a potential union.

”Just because you can exploit young, doe-eyed talent desperate for the platform TV gives them, it doesn’t mean you should,” Frankel told Variety. “They don’t know what they don’t know. I was playing chess, but how do I help the people who may not know the game?”

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