You don’t tend to hear drivers honking their horns in LA. It’s just another example of the stereotypical laid–back nature of Southern California that my East Coast upbringing hasn’t prepared me for while working here this summer. But I was easily guided to the picket lines by the sounds of supportive beeps flooding downtown Culver City on Friday, July 14, as I headed to the Sony and Culver Studios lots to march with the strikers.
SAG–AFTRA president Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree–Ireland announced on July 13 that actors would be going on strike effective midnight that same night. This comes after the WGA went on strike earlier this summer, marking the first time in 63 years that the two sister unions have been on strike simultaneously. With the exception of a few productions that have been granted waivers, Hollywood has ground to a halt. In her speech to the press, Drescher pointed to a refusal to restructure how actors get paid in the streaming era and the encroaching threat of AI as some of the main reasons that went unresolved during negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Even before the strike was formally announced, there were rumbles that SAG–AFTRA was about to strike. Heading into negotiations, roughly 98% of union members had voted to authorize a strike. The cast of Oppenheimer even walked out of their own debut screening in support of the strike.
Now that the strike has been issued and its guidelines have been laid out, SAG members are barred from working on any projects that fall under their “unfriendly” list, with the exception of independent projects that receive a waiver from SAG allowing them to continue. Advertising for movies that have come out or are coming out is banned under the terms of the strike, which could include the Emmys, if the strike stretches on. And if you happen to be an influencer, you might want to check out SAG's guidelines surrounding influencer content relating to and/or promoting struck works.
Those who are not yet union–affiliated but hope to one day be part of the WGA or SAG–AFTRA should make sure that they’re not crossing the picket line. Both the WGA and SAG do not allow scabs, or people who undermine the strike, to become part of the guild (see the WGA’s strike rules for non–union members and SAG’s as well), and considering that the vast majority of writing and acting jobs in Hollywood are union jobs, crossing the picket line now could mean blacklisting and unemployment in the future.
Be wary of job listings that may be trying to incentivize you with large sums of money to do so without truly understanding the gravity of such an act. If you’re unsure about whether the work you might do would cross the line or not, both the WGA and SAG recommend you email them and ask before taking action.
As such, all production in film and television is essentially shut down. New scripted entertainment development has ground to a quick halt. As was the case with the 2008 and current WGA strike, unscripted and reality programming is sure to increase. Creatives can still work on projects that have obtained waivers from the WGA/SAG, truly independent projects, student projects, and a few other exceptions outlined for actors and writers (see the “Strike Rules” section). In the meantime, consumers can catch up on their backlog of shows and movies they’ve been meaning to get around to, as neither union has called for a boycott.
The reasons behind the strike echo those behind the WGA strike. Two of the main points in negotiations are, as was the case with the WGA, residuals and AI. Both issues fall under the general umbrella of securing fair labor practices and fair payment for labor within the context of the advent of new media platforms and systems (such as the streaming model) as well as the growth of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. Crabtree–Ireland said at the press conference that the AMPTP wished to use AI to scan actors’ likenesses and use those likenesses in perpetuity without the actors’ consent for specific projects, and without receiving any pay above one day’s worth of pay for coming in and getting scanned. The AMPTP denies some aspects of this claim, but not the overall idea of wishing to scan background actors and using those scans instead of hiring real background actors.
Another incentive behind the strike is the current way that self–tape auditions are handled. During the pandemic, these at–home, self–taped auditions became the norm due to lockdowns. However, actors are now upset about being forced to make professional–grade audition tapes on their own time and on their own dollar. Additionally, being unable to connect with the casting director in the room feels frustrating. The actor's guild wants to regulate self–tape expectations, granting the actors more time and making them do less material.
Jeane Phan Wong, a WGA strike captain at the Culver Studios lot, says that with regard to the WGA, the motivation behind the strike boils down to wanting to get paid fairly for the work that they do. Or, to quote Fran Drescher speaking for SAG–AFTRA, “We demand respect and to be honored for our contribution.”
“Sounds reasonable, right?” Wong asks, dryly undercutting Disney CEO Bob Iger’s claim that the unions’ demands are not realistic.
This is the second time in history that the WGA and SAG–AFTRA have been on strike together. The last time a joint strike occurred was in 1960. At the time, Ronald Reagan, who hadn’t yet shifted his politics into hardline conservatism, was the president of a SAG that voted overwhelmingly—though not as overwhelmingly as today—for a strike, with 83% of SAG members being pro–strike.
A lot of the reasoning behind and rhetoric around the strike is similar to the labor struggle of today. A point of contention during the 1960 negotiations was residuals, which continues to be a part of the WGA and SAG advocacy today. There had been no prior system in place to ensure that individuals involved in the production of a film would receive payments for reruns or rerelease of productions after their initial release. With the boom in popularity of television since 1948, the guild wanted a system in place that would allow them to get paid for televised screenings of movies from 1948 until forever. The guild ended up securing a deal for residuals for all projects from 1960 onwards, which was a massive win for fair labor practices evolving alongside advancements in new media. The 1960 strike also led to the creation of a pension and welfare system for the guild, with the Actors’ Equity Association following suit and securing the same benefits in their strike a few months later.
This history is a shining example of the power of union solidarity, something that’s proudly at the forefront of the current joint WGA–SAG strike. Both in 1960 and today, there’s a lot of power in two of the prongs of the entertainment industry going on strike at the same time. Even if a backlog of writing exists, without actors to perform, no production can go forward. The joint strike showed back then and shows today the inextricable ties between all areas of production. It doesn’t hurt that actors, who are inherently much more front–facing than writers, are good poster children for the movement.
Union solidarity was one of the things I spent time discussing with a handful of people while marching outside the Sony and Culver Studios lots. I spent a while talking to a non–SAG woman who had done acting under Actors’ Equity and contributed to the production of a handful of film and TV projects. She had knit sweaters for Shameless. As an enthusiast of The Bear with zero crafting skills to speak of, I was an appropriate level of jealous.
“Are you a SAG member?” she asks me. And then, looking at the WGA–branded picket sign I was carrying, she amended (quite flatteringly, considering my age): “Or a WGA member?”
“I hope to be a WGA member one day,” I tell her. “What about you?”
“I’m neither. But I’m going to be SAG soon.” Yet another loud honk of support blares through the air, and she covers her ears as best as she can while holding a picket sign in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
“It’s good to see this kind of support,” she says, “but I kind of wish it wasn’t so loud.”
Support is a key factor in keeping the strike going. It was in 1960, and it is today. I asked Wong about the importance of non–union support, and she quickly responded with ways for how anyone can show their support, if they so wish. Boosting the unions’ online activity is a good way to support the strike for free. Additionally, there are a handful of funds to provide assistance to those on the picket lines, such as Entertainment Community Fund, individual union solidarity funds, the Democratic Socialists of America–LA snack fund, and more.
Even though A–list actors might be easy faces to attribute to the movement, the SAG strike affects the Waiter Number Threes and Library Patrons of the industry much more than it affects the Barbies and Destroyers of Worlds. And there are a lot more Library Patrons out there than stars.
Even outside of the NYC and LA picket lines, people are showing their support for the strike. Back in Philly, people are rallying in solidarity at LOVE park, including Abbott Elementary stars Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter. Support is strong and present throughout the country. In particular, I saw lots of young people on the ground and in pictures of picket lines across the country—unsurprising, considering how many young people are involved in or supportive of unionization efforts across all fields of work.
And support is strong and present within the community of those on the picket lines, even amidst illegal strikebreaking efforts and comments from higher–ups about wanting guild members to lose their houses. I showed up alone at nine in the morning on a Monday with no union connections and no sign adorned with pithy protest slogans. And yet I was instantly taken in by the crowd, all of whom wanted to talk to me about the strike, about their hopes for the industry, or even just about Los Angeles weather.
“It’s evil,” I hear a twenty–something–year–old say, carrying a sign that read, quite simply, “Eat a dick, AMPTP.” Just as succinctly, he summarizes: “We should just fucking get paid for the work we do.”