L'ÉPOQUE USA - Two months after the strike began, the actors' union has yet to hear from the studios, and there is no agreement in sight for the writers' union either. The summer movie rush is over, the fall television season is underway — and the violent labor disputes that have rocked Hollywood drag on with no end in sight. Here’s where things stand.
09.12.2023 © L'ÉPOQUE USA
By Tracy Evans
The unions representing Hollywood’s striking screenwriters and actors are still miles away from the major studios on key issues, meaning most entertainment productions are still on hold and most members are out of work. The fight pits the two unions — the Writers Guild of America and the actors guild, SAG-AFTRA — against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a trade group that negotiates for the major studios and streaming services.
Sources said the two sides do not meet regularly. SAG-AFTRA has not heard from the AMPTP since union members announced their strike on July 13, nearly two months ago, according to a source familiar with the situation. (The AMPTP was asked for confirmation and had no comment.) The union last week re-elected its president, Fran Drescher, who has publicly railed against corporate greed in the streaming era.
In an interview with the “TODAY” show in August, Drescher said she had no idea when the dispute would be settled, but added that her leadership team and members were ready to dig in. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “We have financially prepared ourselves for the next six months, and we’re really in it to win it.”
The WGA and AMPTP have not made much progress either. According to a source close to the studios, the two sides remain deeply divided over key issues in the strike. These include the writers’ demands for stronger protections against artificial intelligence and higher royalties for their work, known in the industry as residuals. Authors are also demanding higher base pay and better working conditions.
In a memo to members Friday, the WGA’s negotiating committee claimed the AMPTP “has only offered one proposal" to the WGA” in the time since the writers went on strike. “Since then,” the union added, “the companies have not moved off that proposal even though the WGA, in turn presented our own counterproposal to the AMPTP on August 15th.”
In the same statement, the WGA suggested that a “studio or two or three” might broker a deal with the unions independently of the other media companies, as a means to “either assert their own self-interest inside the AMPTP, or to break away from the broken AMPTP model.”
The AMPTP defended itself against this claim, saying, among other things: “AMPTP member companies are aligned and are negotiating together to reach a resolution. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.” The trade group has also sought to address WGA concerns about the use of AI, saying, in part that it has proposed “clear guarantees that the use of AI will not affect writers’ pay, credit or separated rights.”
The WGA and SAG-AFTRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The strikes have put many rank-and-file members in precarious financial situations. In interviews, WGA and SAG-AFTRA members have described their anxiety about cash savings running out and career prospects running dry, with some saying they have been scrambling to pick up temporary gigs for the duration of the work stoppages.
“There has been serious damage to individual guild members,” said one source who has worked with both AMPTP and guild members over the years. “If this keeps going too much longer, it’s going to be significantly problematic to produce content by the middle of next year”
The work stoppages have brought the entertainment industry to a virtual standstill. Production of high-profile films such as “Gladiator 2” and “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two” has been suspended indefinitely. New seasons of popular TV series such as “Stranger Things” and “Yellowstone” are also delayed. Viewers can already feel the effects of the shutdowns: late-night talk shows have been off the air for months, and TV stations are increasingly relying on reality shows, which generally don’t rely on WGA writers or SAG-AFTRA actors.
However, some independent films have received waivers from the guilds to continue filming — and on Sunday, Drew Barrymore announced that her eponymous talk show will continue with its fourth season despite the strikes. “I own this choice,” Barrymore said in a statement she released on social media. “We are in compliance with not discussing or promoting film and television that is struck of any kind.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA said Barrymore's show is "produced under the Network Television Code, which is a separate contract and is not struck. It is permissible work and Drew’s role as host does not violate the current strike rules."
Meanwhile, the economic impact is clear. Warner Bros. Discovery, for example, said in a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week that it expects to be “negatively impacted” by the two strikes by as much as $500 million.