Accessibility links

Breaking News

Why Have Hollywood Actors Joined Screenwriters on Strike?

U.S. actor Jason Sudeikis joins members of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild as they walk a picket line outside NBC Universal in New York City, July 14, 2023.

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood actors are joining screenwriters in the first dual strike from the two unions in more than six decades, with huge consequences for the film and television industry. Here is a look at how it happened, why and what could come next.

What led to the actors strike?

More than a month of talks on a new three-year contract between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the studios, streaming services and production companies that employ them led to little progress.

The tone became openly hostile in the days before union leaders voted to begin a strike on Friday. A last minute intervention from a federal mediator didn't bridge the gap.

Union leaders say the streaming model that has taken over the industry in recent years has cheated actors of their share of income and funneled money to executives, and proposals of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, streamers and production companies in negotiations, did not even begin to meet their needs.

A 12-day extension of the contract and the talks shortly before an initial deadline in late June brought some hope a deal would be reached, but the hostility only grew.

Before the talks began, the 65,000 actors who cast ballots voted overwhelmingly for union leaders to send them into a strike, as the Writers Guild of America did when their deal expired more than two months ago.

What do the actors want?

For decades, an actor who appeared on a popular TV show like “Seinfeld” or “The Office” even once could count on getting royalty checks when the show appeared in reruns, bringing pay even at times they were unable to find work.

The streaming model has largely dried up that income, with residual payments untethered from a show or movie's popularity. Actors want a long-term share of that revenue.

The issue is one of many the actors have in common with writers. For both scribes and performers, the move to streaming and its ripple effects have also meant shorter seasons of shows with longer gaps between them, and therefore less work. They say inflation is outpacing the scheduled pay bumps in their contracts.

And both writers and actors fear the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence. The actors say studios want to be able to use their likenesses without having to hire them, or pay them.

The AMPTP said it presented actors a generous deal that included the biggest bump in minimum pay in 35 years and “a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses.” They say the union has "regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

What will striking mean for actors?

Union rules say actors are not to do any part of their jobs, which go far beyond actually shooting films and TV shows.

They are not allowed to make personal appearances or promote their work on podcasts or at premieres. They are barred from doing any production work including auditions, readings, rehearsals, voiceovers or wardrobe fittings.

Newly minted Emmy nominees can't publicly make their case for votes, nor appear at the ceremony, which is planned for September but is likely to be seriously scaled back or delayed.

They are instead expected to spend their days on picket lines, outside the corporate headquarters and production hubs of studios.

What effect will both strikes have for viewers?

Actors joining writers on strike will force nearly every U.S.-based show or film that hasn’t already been shut down into hiatus. Forthcoming seasons of television shows are likely to be delayed indefinitely, and some movie releases will pushed back.

The writers' strike had an almost instant effect on late-night network talk shows, many of which went on hiatus immediately.

In the two months since, many scripted television series have also shut down, including Netflix's “Stranger Things,” Max's “Hacks,” Showtime's “Yellow Jackets,” and Apple TV+'s “Severance.”

It may take longer to notice the actors' strike on the streaming menus on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, though lovers of those outlets' original series will eventually have to wait longer than usual for their favorites to return.

Shoots outside the U.S., where different unions and contracts operate, can continue, as the British-based “House of the Dragon” will for HBO, though the strike is likely to have a secondary drag on those too.

Reality shows, game shows and most daytime talk shows will likely be unaffected.

How long will the strikes last?

It's anyone's guess. After two months, there are no talks planned or imminent for the Writers Guild.

The longest previous writers' strike, in 1988, lasted five months. The most recent one, in 2007 and 2008, went on for about three months, as did the most recent actors' strike in 1980.

With both sides on strike together for the first time since 1960, and both facing so many of the same issues, they might find themselves jointly out of work for a long time.