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Hollywood actors join screenwriters in historic industry-stopping strike as contract talks collapse

Matt Damon, from left, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh pose for photographers upon arrival at the London premiere of the film 'Oppenheimer'.
Matt Damon, from left, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh pose for photographers upon arrival at the London premiere of the film 'Oppenheimer'. Copyright Scott Garfitt/2023 Invision
Copyright Scott Garfitt/2023 Invision
By Euronews with AP
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Leaders of Hollywood's actors' union voted Thursday to join screenwriters in the first joint strike in more than six decades, shutting down production across the entertainment industry after talks for a new contract with studios and streaming services broke down.

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It’s the first time two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the actors’ guild president.

In an impassioned speech as the strike, which begins at midnight, was announced, actors’ union president and former “The Nanny” star Fran Drescher chastised industry executives.

“Employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run,” Drescher said. “It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Hours earlier, a three-year contract had expired and talks broke off between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers representing employers including Disney, Netflix, Amazon and others.

Mark J. Terrill/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Picketers carry signs outside Netflix during a Writers Guild rally on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.Mark J. Terrill/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Outside Netflix's Hollywood offices, picketing screenwriters chanted “Pay Your Actors!” immediately after the strike was declared. Actors will begin picketing alongside writers outside studio headquarters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

“It looks like it’s time to take down the MASKS. And pick up the SIGNS,” Oscar-winner Jamie Lee Curtis said in an Instagram post with a photo of the tragic and comic masks that represent acting.

The premiere of Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer” in London was moved up an hour so that the cast could walk the red carpet before the SAG board’s announcement. Stars including Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon left the event once the strike was announced.

Scott Garfitt/2023 Invision
Matt Damon, from left, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'Oppenheimer' on Thursday, July 13, 2023.Scott Garfitt/2023 Invision

The strike - the first for film and television actors since 1980 - casts a shadow over the upcoming 75th Emmy Awards, whose nominations were announced a day earlier. Union rules prevent actors from doing any interviews or promotions around the awards, and they may not appear at the ceremony.

The strike rules also prevent actors from making personal appearances or promoting their work on podcasts or at premieres. And they are barred from do any production work including auditions, readings, rehearsals or voiceovers along with actual shooting.

While international shoots technically can continue, the stoppage among U.S.-based writers and performers is likely to have a drag on those too.

Disney chief Bob Iger warned the strike would have a “very damaging effect on the whole industry.”

Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, left, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland speak during a press conference.Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

“This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption,” Iger said on CNBC. “There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic.”

A nearly two-week extension of the actors union contract, and negotiations, only heightened the hostility between the two groups. Drescher said the extension made us “feel like we’d been duped, like maybe it was just to let studios promote their summer movies for another 12 days.”

Before the talks began on 7 June, the 65,000 actors who cast ballots voted overwhelmingly for union leaders to send them into strike, as the Writers Guild of America did when their deal expired more than two months ago.

When the initial deadline approached in late June, more than 1,000 members of the union, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, added their names to a letter signalling to leaders their willingness to strike.

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While famous names predominate, the strike also includes tens of thousands of little-known actors who scramble for small parts at sometimes meager pay. The union says modest-but-essential income streams including long-term residuals for shows they appear in have dried up.

Stakes in the negotiations included that kind of pay, which actors say has been undercut by inflation and the streaming ecosystem, benefits, the growing tendency to make performers create video auditions at their own expense, and the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence.

“At a moment when streaming and AI and digital was so prevalent, it has disembowelled the industry that we once knew,” Drescher said, drawing applause from her fellow union leaders. “When I did ‘The Nanny' everybody was part of the gravy train. Now it’s a vacuum.”

The AMPTP said it presented a generous deal that included the biggest bump in minimum pay in 35 years, higher caps on pension and health contributions, and “a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses.”

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“A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life,” the group said in a statement. “The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

SAG-AFTRA represents more than 160,000 screen actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, hosts and stunt performers. The walkout affects only the union’s actors from television and film productions, who voted overwhelmingly to authorize their leaders to call a strike before talks began on 7 June. Broadway actors said in a statement that they stand “in solidarity” with SAG-AFTRA workers.

The 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since their own talks collapsed and their contract expired on May 2. The stoppage has shown no signs of a solution, with no negotiations even planned.

That strike brought the immediate shutdown of late-night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live,” and several scripted shows, including “Stranger Things” on Netflix,” “Hacks” on Max, and “Family Guy” on Fox, which have either had their writers’ rooms or their production paused. Many more are sure to follow them now that performers have been pulled too.

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