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SAG-AFTRA Contract Expires, Mega-Strike Looms as Writers and Actors Unite

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is facing an imminent contract expiration at midnight local time on 12 July, following a deadline extension that postponed the possibility of a mega-strike by nearly two weeks.

SAG-AFTRA

In a coordinated effort, the Writers Guild of America initiated a strike on 2 May after failing to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing prominent studios like Disney, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple.

Both SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP have refrained from commenting while negotiations for the contract are ongoing. If a strike were to occur, it would mark the first time since 1960, during Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president of the actors’ union, that unions representing both writers and actors would strike simultaneously.

The Directors Guild of America, however, has already concluded negotiations for a contract and will not be joining the strike.

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Since the SAG-AFTRA strike began, numerous productions have already come to a halt, including popular shows like Stranger Things, Billions, and Marvel’s Blade.

If actors were to strike as well, further delays would be expected, and some shows may even face cancellation. This unfortunate outcome would result in delayed release dates for beloved TV series and the potential disappearance of certain shows altogether.

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While some international productions may continue despite the strike, the scope would be limited, as SAG-AFTRA represents over 160,000 performers worldwide. Prominent writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who addressed the strike at the London premiere of the latest Indiana Jones movie, expressed her hopes for a resolution: “I really hope we can get this sorted. Writers are the most important people in this industry, I really believe that.”

Actors, like their striking writer counterparts, argue that streaming services have not fairly shared the industry’s wealth, despite the surge in entertainment content. They deem the never-ending pursuit of new subscribers as an unsustainable business model. Furthermore, they highlight the vast salaries earned by studio executives while many actors and writers struggle to make a decent living.

In the past, actors and writers received income from reruns on network TV, receiving compensation each time their work was rebroadcasted. This provided them with financial stability during lulls between projects—a common aspect of the feast-or-famine nature of the industry. However, the rise of streaming services disrupted this system. Actors and writers now receive minimal or no compensation when their work is streamed, which typically pays less than network TV.

As contract negotiations proceed in secrecy with SAG-AFTRA , the specific sticking points and the possibility of a deal remain uncertain. Overwhelmingly, union members have voted in favor of a strike if an agreement cannot be reached.

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Writer and actor Adam Conover, picketing outside Netflix, emphasized the irreplaceability of their contributions: “If they could replace us, they would have done it many years ago. Are they going to replace you with reality TV? Or with YouTube stars? Well, they can try.” He added that people worldwide tune in to watch shows like Stranger Things and sports, underscoring their value.

In a surprising move, numerous A-list actors in Hollywood signed a letter to their union, expressing support for a strike if they cannot secure a “transformative” new contract from the studios. The letter, widely circulated in Los Angeles, boasts signatures from prominent figures such as Meryl Streep, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Lawrence, and Quinta Brunson. According to industry publication Deadline, the letter now holds over 1,000 signatures.

Both writers and actors are striking not only for improved pay but also for restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in productions, citing it as an “existential” threat. Actors raise concerns about a doomsday scenario where deep fakes and computer-generated faces and voices replace live actors and writers, eroding creativity and human involvement in moviemaking.

Kim Gordon, a renowned musician and artist and a member of the Screen Actors Guild, emphasized the need to worry about the impact of AI. While picketing outside Netflix, she stated, “But I feel like AI will never replace creativity.”