And thanks for reading! I know I’ve written a bit about this in the recent past, but as the deadline for negotiations looms at midnight May 1, it bears talking about again. What follows are my conclusions drawn from a myriad of news sources. They do NOT necessarily reflect the positions of the labor unions. This week let’s talk about how a writer’s strike may affect everyone.
I know I’ve been absent for a couple weeks…sorry. I have been on location in Western Tennessee filming the Western “Unnatural” and unable to post both because of the remote location AND exhaustion. Look for Unnatural in the spring of 2024.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
It’s not looking good…
While negotiation results are being held pretty close to the vest, all indications in the news these days tend to point to the eventuality that the writers will go “pencils down” at midnight May 1st. Talks were held Saturday Apr 29th and again Sunday Apr 30, but it seems the two sides (WGA and AMPTP) are still petty far apart. Unless something miraculous happens today (Monday May1st) a strike is all but inevitable.
So, bad for writers.
Yes and no. From the position of the WGA, things are ALREADY bad for writers, which is what prompted the strike vote. Union writers apparently agree since they voted 98% in favor of striking if an agreement cannot be reached. While writers will stop working (AND getting paid for writing) if there is a strike, the long-term result should be better wages and working conditions when the strike ends (and they always end). And it may not just be the writers.
It’s not just the Writer’s Guild whose contracts expire this year. The Directors (DGA) and actors (SAG-AFTRA) contracts also expire this year, albeit later (June 30th). Historically, the first union to begin negotiations set the tone for the others, so it is possible the Directors and Actors negotiations could be contentious as well…after all they have some of the same concerns as the writers do.
The issues preventing the WGA and AMPTP from coming to an agreement are, or at least are to some degree, the same issues facing both the DGA and SAG-AFTRA. The big issues concern the rate of pay for streaming platforms, residuals, and the introduction of AI writers like ChatGPT. Pay for projects headed to streaming platforms is lower (traditionally) than for network/studio projects and streaming has blown up over the course of the pandemic. And AI presents a HOST of issues, not the least of which is copyright infringement. While the DGA and SAG contracts don’t expire till June 30th, WGA negotiations will influence their negotiations as well.
Other unions, most notably the Teamsters, DGA and SAG-AFTRA have issued statements indicating solidarity with the WGA on negotiations. Essentially, while not mandating their members honor writer picket lines, each of these labor unions have stated that they “don’t cross picket lines”. Even if the respective unions do not strike, not crossing picket lines means their members (in large part) will also cease working which is effectively a strike as well.
Non-Union writers are OK, though?
Well, maybe. The WGA has posted their strike rules and one that sticks out is that any writer who is not part of the union who works for a struck company will not be permitted to join the union at a future date. That might be OK if that writer never intends to become a union member, but bad if they ever intend to join. Nonunion writers can continue to work on nonunion and independent projects…just not for companies that are being struck.
Union vs Non-Union talent
Clearly the impact to us talent will be different depending on if you are union or non-union. If you are a member of SAG-AFTRA, thanks to global rule 1, when union work goes away so does any opportunity for work. And should SAG-AFTRA decide to strike as well, then there is ZERO chance of work. And if you are non-union hoping to become eligible, it’s going to take longer to get there.
For Non-Union talent?
The largest immediate impact is that there will be fewer projects to cast so not only will there be fewer opportunities for work, but competition for those roles will also be fiercer. Fewer roles with the same number of actors means there will be FAR more people submitting to each role which means more competition. So not only is there less work, but a lower chance (as if it wasn’t low enough already) of actually landing a given role.
Already a slow-down
You may have already noticed a slowdown in new roles. I know I surely have. Why is that? Well, producers are reluctant to start a new project if there is a chance that they will lose their writers on May 2nd (tomorrow! YIKES!). While the networks and studios have spent the early part of the year gobbling up scripts, without a writer on staff to make changes/polish them during production completing those projects will be difficult. This is particularly egregious for series as many times scripts are changed or even written in near real time during production.
The biggest impact to consumers of the industry – the audience – will be that release dates for projects already underway (whose productions may pause) will be pushed back (fewer new movies in the theaters AND on streaming) and series seasons will be truncated. Late night television and scripted variety shows will go first, then series TV then movies. Look for a LOT of re-runs and shorter seasons. On top of that it takes a while to get moving again after a strike, so next season’s release dates will be moved out as well.
Polish off your side gigs, you’re likely gonna need them! I mean it’s not like you can just stop eating and paying your mortgage! For some, this is a reality even when there is NOT a strike. For the A-list actors who are uber wealthy (all >1% of them) it’ll just be like a vacation. For everyone between them it is going to hit pretty hard. If you have been able to support yourself and your family solely on acting and VO work, that may cease being a possibility. Those folks “in the middle” are the ones I feel for.
For some people this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and causes them to quit acting altogether. It’s tough to keep moving forward when you are forced to take a 9-5 job that prevents you from being available for whatever jobs may be available in order to keep a roof over your head or feed your family. It’s sad that some people will give up on their dreams because of this nearly inevitable strike and slow down.
If that’s you…
I’m sorry. My heart goes out to you. I can only hope that when this ends you are able to find your way back to pursuing your passion. As a very good friend would often say to me: “This too, shall pass” – which I recognize is of little help immediately but gives you something to look forward to.
At the end of the day
Everyone hates to see it come to a strike, but it’s understandable when workers are not being fairly compensated for their work. While the workforce will feel the pinch during a strike, the studios and networks are the real losers during times like this. Many of these companies are publicly traded and their bottom line will suffer dramatically – which of course is the point of a strike.
Don’t give up!
Keep your head up, keep moving forward and look forward to all the new work waiting in the wings when it’s over. And hey – they COULD reach an agreement by midnight today and this entire post can have been for naught!