Home Opinion and Features The Hollywood strike: Everything we know (and are working to find out)

The Hollywood strike: Everything we know (and are working to find out)

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Almost every Hollywood performer and writer is on strike for the first time in 63 years, with A-list actors joining picket lines in Los Angeles and New York to demand restrictions on AI technology and transformative changes to the way they work and earn money in the era of streaming – demands that major studios have showed no signs of granting.

SAG-AFTRA union president Fran Drescher (centre), as SAG-AFTRA actors join the Writers Guild of America in a strike against the Hollywood studios, on the picket like outside of the Netflix offices in Los Angeles, California, US, July 14, 2023. Picture: Reuters, Mike Blake

IT’S AN almost ominously quiet weekend in Hollywood after a week that brought the TV and film industry to its knees.

Almost every performer and writer is on strike for the first time in 63 years, with A-list actors joining picket lines in Los Angeles and New York on Friday to demand restrictions on artificial intelligence technology and transformative changes to the way they work and earn money in the era of streaming – demands that major studios have showed no signs of granting.

The Washington Post has journalists around the world covering the story. Below is key information on the strike and a preview of what we’re working to uncover.

1. What caused the double strike?

What we know:

– 11,000 workers with the Writers Guild of America walked off set in early May over complaints that studios are using new streaming business models to pay them less for more work, slash residual payments they rely on for steady income, and gut employment protections.

– 160,000 performers in the SAG-AFTRA union joined the walkout on Friday over many of the same issues, marking the first writer-actor strike since 1960.

– The unions also want guarantees against rapidly advancing AI technology. Some writers fear that the first AI-written TV season is not that far off, while actors are worried that studios will scan their bodies, replicate their voices, simulate their mannerisms and essentially own their talent. The studios insist that Hollywood will stay human, but have not accepted the unions’ proposals to regulate AI.

What we are trying to find out:

– The strike seems sudden, but it was driven by tectonic shifts that have been building for years behind the scenes. Our reporters are talking to Hollywood workers and experts to tell a fuller story of how we came to this impasse.

– We are also working to understand how unions and studio leaders failed to reach a compromise despite weeks of formal negotiations, and how they hope to find one now that talks have broken down.

2. How will the strike change what’s on the screen?

What we know:

– Union members may not act, sing, dance, write, puppeteer or essentially do any work for major studios such as Paramount, Warner, Netflix and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post and our interim CEO, Patty Stonesifer, sits on Amazon’s board.)

– Our list of delayed projects is growing every day, and we expect that almost every major Hollywood project will be forced to halt.

– But only Hollywood is directly affected. The “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon” can keep filming in Britain. And Broadway will stay open too, because theater actors are covered by a different union.

What we are trying to find out:

– The last major Hollywood strike – by writers in 2007 – helped fuel the rise of reality TV as studios found ways to keep producing content without scripts. We don’t know what ideas the executives will come up with to circumvent this strike, but we expect they’ll have some.

– The strike bars actors from not only performing but promoting, which is throwing marketing plans for upcoming movies into chaos. Our reporters are looking at what the Plan B is to roll out summer blockbusters like “Oppenheimer” with no A-listers on the red carpet.

– The film festival and awards cycle will be increasingly disrupted the longer the strike goes on. We’ll be digging into that too, with an eye on the Emmy Awards in September and the Oscars next spring – assuming those dates even hold.

3. How will the strike affect the world?

– The shutdown is both a crisis and an opportunity for Hollywood’s counterparts overseas, as well as the broader labour movement in the United States.

– Actor unions around the world are expressing solidarity with SAG-AFTRA, portraying its fight as their own. But the strike will probably cause studios to invest even more than they already do in international filming, creating conflicting interest in some of those countries.

– A newly energised Teamsters union just happens to be preparing for major actions against UPS and Amazon as Hollywood strikes, suggesting that America could be in for a long, hot summer of picketing on a scale not seen in decades.

What we are trying to find out:

– Will the Hollywood strike spread to other countries, or catalyse a broader labour movement among non-entertainment industries in the United States?

– Conversely, will it create a vacuum that South Korea and India’s already powerful entertainment industries will seek to fill?

– We know the entertainment world won’t look the same by the time the crisis ends. Our reporters are working to understand how big the transformation could be.

4. When (and how) will the strike end?

What we know:

– The strike could last through the end of the year or even longer. Or it could end in a matter of days if the unions and studios agree on new contracts. But studios will have to reach agreements with both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, separately led unions whose memberships overwhelmingly backed the walkouts.

– Whether those two historically fractious unions manage to stay united as their members go without pay could determine how long the strikes last, as well as how much the studios are forced to compromise.

What we are trying to find out:

– Union leaders say negotiations with the studios broke down well before the strikes were called. Our reporters are working to find out when talks might resume and what shape they might take.

5. Who are the key players in the strike?

– Fran Drescher, star of the hit 1990s sitcom “The Nanny,” is the fiery president of the union representing nearly every TV and film actor in the country, SAG-AFTRA. She gave a particularly memorable performance at Thursday’s news conference announcing the strike, inspiring viral memes with her tirade against the studios.

– Adam Conover (“Adam Ruins Everything”) is one of the better-known members of the WGA negotiating committee, with a flair for putting writers’ concerns in dramatic terms in his comments to reporters and Instagram videos.

– The major studios are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates and speaks on their behalf. Occasionally, however, a studio chief will sound off unilaterally, as when Disney chief executive Bob Iger slammed SAG-AFTRA for calling a strike on the heels of an industry downturn – the “worst time in the world,” as he put it.

What we are trying to find out:

– Where are the stars? Our reporters were all over LA and New York on the first day of picketing, but didn’t see many of the A-list celebrities that unions will need to maintain public interest in the strike.

6. How historic is the strike?

Very. While individual Hollywood unions have gone on strike before, writers and actors have not joined forces like this since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was a union-leading Democrat.

– THE WASHINGTON POST

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