WITH 160,000 performers – from A-listers to extras – voting to take strike action if a deal is not struck in time, the first all-Hollywood actors and writers simultaneous strike since 1960 is set to take place this summer.
Along with screenwriters, who have already spent nine weeks on the picket lines, actors are demanding higher pay to counteract inflation, and guarantees for their future livelihoods.
Rebecca Metz, who has starred in FX’s ‘Better Things’ and Showtime’s ‘Shameless,’ said it is ‘massively harder’ for actors – even established ones – to earn a living in Hollywood these days.
‘People who aren’t in this industry, and even some who are, vastly overestimate how much money actors make – you just assume that if you see someone on TV, they must be rich,’ Metz said. ‘But it has been extremely not the case in the last few years.
‘I know lots of people at my same level who are taking second jobs, trying to come up with ways to keep themselves afloat until hopefully things come back,’ she added.
In addition to salaries when they are actively working, featured actors earn payments called ‘residuals’ every time a film or show they are in is aired on network or cable — particularly helpful when performers are between projects.
But today, streamers like Netflix and Disney+ do not disclose viewing figures for their shows, and offer the same paltry flat rate for everything on their platforms, regardless of its popularity.
‘I have watched my residuals decline over the last 10 to 15 years’ to a ‘tiny fraction’ of what they once were, said Metz.
‘When we’re not working for a good stretch, all of a sudden we’re worried about qualifying for our health insurance.’
Last Friday, SAG-Aftra President and ‘The Nanny’ star Fran Drescher released a video message telling members of ‘extremely productive negotiations’, but union chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland warned there was a ‘very narrow window’ to achieve a deal.
While the writers’ strike has already dramatically reduced the number of movies and shows in production, an actors’ walkout would shutdown almost everything.
Some reality TV, animation and talk shows could continue, but even high-profile events like the Emmy Awards, set for September 18, would be at risk.
Popular series set to return to television as soon as this autumn would be delayed and further down the line, blockbuster films could be postponed too.
Muddying the waters further is the issue of artificial intelligence (AI). Actors want guarantees to regulate its future use.
‘There’s currently no protections around a producer taking our voice, our likeness, asking us do things that we wouldn’t consent to do,’ Metz sad.
‘Inputting our previous performances and building a performance off of it that we don’t have to get paid for – these things sound wild and fantastical, but they’re very real,’ she added.
Another grievance for actors is the rise of ‘self-taped auditions’, which SAG-Aftra (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) is attempting to regulate.
Used before the coronavirus pandemic on occasions when in-person auditions were not possible, the practice has now become ubiquitous in Hollywood.
It places logistical and technological burdens on actors, and robs them of feedback from casting directors.
Perhaps, most importantly, performers do not even know if their audition has been watched.
‘Acting is a collaborative craft at the end of the day,’ said Metz. ‘Talking into a camera in your house, and knowing you’re never going to get any response, is several steps further removed from what acting really is.’
The current contract between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists expired last Friday at midnight, and the actors have authorised their leaders to strike if no deal can be reached.
The Writers Guild of America, representing over 11,000 screenwriters, has already been on strike for two months.
Amidst the worker turmoil in her industry, Academy Award-winning actress, Sally Field, has highlighted the importance of unions and ‘sticking together’ when it comes to these negotiations.
Field said unions are ‘incredibly important’ for workers throughout the country, and she has witnessed how indispensable they are in her 59 years in the entertainment industry.
She explained in the current negotiations: ‘Our unions are doing what they do. They are negotiating and scrambling, and they will find our way out of this. The writers will.
‘We don’t know if the actors are going to go out even though they’ve been given the authority to do that. The directors have settled. And our industry will continue to thrive. And the unions are incredibly important in that.’
Field won an academy award in 1979 for her role as Norma Rae, a factory worker in the American South who fights to unionise her textile factory.
The film is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton. In one iconic scene from the movie, Norma Rae takes a piece of cardboard, writes the word ‘UNION’ on it, stands on her work table, and slowly turns to show the sign to her co-workers around the room.
Field distinguished herself from the famous character, stating: ‘I feel very protective of Norma and this character, and I know she represents someone who stood on a table with a union sign over her head.
‘That’s Norma; that’s not me. I hope I would have the guts to do that, but I haven’t as of yet. And I may someday, but not if all of us stand together.’
The Writers Guild has been on strike since the beginning of May.
In early June, the Screen Actors Guild voted to authorise a strike if an agreement could not be negotiated.
A whopping 97.9% of those who voted favoured striking.
After the vote, over 300 actors, including A-listers like Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler and Jennifer Lawrence, support the fight.
‘We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories,’ the actors wrote.
- Thousands of hotel workers in Southern California walked off the job on Sunday demanding higher pay and better benefits, just as hordes of tourists descended on the region for the Fourth of July holiday.
‘Our members were devastated first by the pandemic and now by the greed of their bosses,’ Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, the union representing the workers, said in a statement. ‘The industry got bailouts while we got cuts.’
‘The hotels want to continue to provide strong wages, affordable quality family health care and a pension,’ Keith Grossman, a spokesman for the coordinated bargaining group consisting of more than 40 Los Angeles and Orange County hotels, said in a statement.
The strike is part of a wave of recent labour actions in the nation’s second-largest metropolis, where high costs of living have made it difficult for many workers – from housekeepers to Hollywood writers – to stay afloat.
Workers across Southern California in a range of industries have threatened to strike or walked off the job in recent months, displaying unusual levels of solidarity with other unions as they push for higher pay and better working conditions.
Dockworkers disrupted operations for weeks at the colossal ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach until they reached a tentative deal in June.
Hugo Soto-Martinez, a Los Angeles City Council member who works as an organiser for Unite Here Local 11, said that the breadth of industries locked in labour fights demonstrates the frustration, especially among younger workers who have seen inequality widen and opportunities evaporate.
‘It’s homelessness, it’s the cost of housing,’ he said. ‘I think people are understanding those issues in a much more palpable way.’
The hotel workers’ strike comes just as the summer tourism season ramps up.
For many, like Diana Rios-Sanchez a housekeeping supervisor at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, the pay has not helped to keep up with inflation.
‘All we do in hotels is work and work and get by with very little,’ she said. ‘We take care of the tourists, but no one takes care of us.’
The group is demanding hourly wages, now $20 and $25 for housekeepers, to be immediately increased by $5, followed by $3 bumps in each subsequent year of a three-year contract.