SAG-AFTRA Joins WGA in First Double Strike Since 1960

SAG-AFTRA on Strike. Courtesy of SAG-AFTRA.

It became official last week as SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA in the first double strike dating back to the Eisenhower administration.

The strike is going to have a devastating impact on the fall festival and awards season. There is already chatter that studios could pull their major premieres from TIFF, etc. because sending directors and producers does not have the same star power as actors. However, this is not the fault of the writers or actors. It is the fault of media conglomerates under the AMPTP that are refusing to fairly compensate the people responsible for bringing an increase of money into the C-suite. Why is it that CEOs should make millions upon millions when the very writers and performers earn next to nothing in streaming residuals?

I’m thinking about the stakes even while I am watching/rewatching all the Christopher Nolan movies–on physical media–leading into the release of his new film. The films would be nothing without everyone who worked on them. Take the following line, for instance: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” The line in the 2008 film would not exist without the following people:

  • Christopher Nolan
  • Jonathan Nolan
  • David Goyer
  • Aaron Eckhart
  • Comic book creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Robert A. Iger (Bob Iger), Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, The Walt Disney Company
Robert A. Iger, Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, at The Walt Disney Company’s Investor Day 2020. Courtesy of Disney.

The line became iconic upon its 2008 release. Currently, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger is seeing his very self becoming a villain. That’s because Iger is saying that writer and actor demands are not realistic. Iger could not be more wrong in his comments on CNBC. Look at how much the Hollywood CEOs are making and tell me how the writers and actors are not being realistic. The AMPTP offers are not accounting for inflation. They are not accounting for how streaming is gutting the current residuals. What used to be a lifeblood for someone in retirement is no longer the case. The previous WGA strike in 2007-08 is what led to the rise of unscripted programming. This meant that comedy and drama writers, let alone performers, lost hours of work on the broadcast networks.

A funny thing happened after the 2007-08 strike as Netflix turned to original programming. Other studios would form their own streaming services. Before you knew it, they were no longer licensing films and TV series to other networks. Almost every studio decided to take things in-house. As a result, they are distributing and exhibiting their own “content” and cutting out the middle man. There is currently a dearth of content with so much to keep up with. It is impossible to watch everything because new things keep coming out. Oh yeah, what used to be a 22-episode season is now anywhere in the 8-13 episode area. This means lesser money being earned in residuals. Under David Zaslav, HBO Max/Max began permanently moving originals so as to cut off any revenue stream. Batgirl was also killed for a tax write-off.

David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, speaks onstage during a Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming Press Event at Warner Bros. Studios on April 12, 2023 in Burbank, California.
David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, speaks onstage during a Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming Press Event at Warner Bros. Studios on April 12, 2023 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for HBO)

Without directors, writers, actors, and a ton of crew members, a movie or TV series would just be another line in a media conglomerate’s budget rather than a piece of art that many fans appreciate. Unfortunately, the people working on these projects are barely seeing any residuals from anything on streaming. I cannot stress this enough. More often than not, people keep turning to watching the same TV series on a streaming platform. Unfortunately, the very people responsible for this work are seeing barely any compensation for their work on the series. People make more money from physical media than they do when fans watch something on a streaming service. There’s a reason why I stress seeing things in theaters or buying them on physical media.

One of the things that actors cannot do at the moment is promote their work at conventions or on social media. I usually cover Fan Expo Chicago by way of interviews with talent or questions asked during panels. However, I do not know what my coverage–if anything–will look like. A number of reunions have been announced but if actors cannot promote struck work, how can they discuss working on those films or series during the strike? What does this mean for the autograph signing portion of the conventions? Can they sign images from those films/TV series or only headshots? I’m still trying to get answers about this.

Speaking of promoting work on social media, it puts critics between a rock and a hard place. I want to be respectful of the strike but I also still have a job to do when it comes to introducing readers to new films or perhaps a new perspective on an older film. These productions, to my understanding, are “struck work.” Is it fair to discuss these films and TV series at length when the very performers behind them are unable to do so? Probably not. I’ll keep all my social media chatter to an absolute minimum by posting links to my reviews and otherwise not engaging in any other discussion on social media.

Furthermore, the streamers are fighting back against sharing any data about how many people are watching, let alone sharing any revenue with the people who put in the work to make those films and movies a success. Netflix might send out what titles are in their top ten. However, it only lists the number of views. What we do not know is how many households completed from start to finish. One fear is that the numbers are worse than what they are telling us. Why would they not want to share the numbers? That’s why the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are on strike, not to mention the AI threat and everything else.

One can only hope that studios come to their senses and offer a fair contract to both guilds. It is in the best interest of everyone that they do so. Studios spend so much money in sending out awards swag and they don’t even want to fairly pay the very people behind those films and shows being pushed during awards season. AMPTP studios, please do the right thing by offering a fair contract!

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.