As the ongoing strike between Holywood actors and writers approaches its third week, there appears to be no end in sight to the industry shutdown.
Actors under SAG-AFTRA voted to strike on July 14 and writers with the Writers Guild of America went on strike on May 2.
The concurrent strike from both unions marks the first in over six decades, shutting down the entertainment industry with huge consequences for the foreseeable future.
Since the actor’s strike began, many big-name celebrities have joined the picket lines alongside strikers outside studios and corporate offices.
“Show up and help and support because we are all one,” said “The Office” actor Kate Flannery.
But without steady work or a paycheck, many are struggling to pay rent or afford groceries while also unable to receive unemployment insurance benefits.
“80 percent of SAG card holders are making below $26,000 a year,” explained Michelle Manos, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Community Solidarity Project.
Manos’ nonprofit aims to support entertainment workers on the picket lines.
“We need to sustain viable and robust picket lines in order for people to see the public pressure and for the support to exist,” Manos said. “Every community effort that’s being made right now to support the picketers and their families is to ensure that they don’t have to negotiate from a desperate situation.”
Manos and her team are trying to keep the strike going strong by coordinating and delivering food, water and other resources while working with local grocery stores and food trucks.
Their goal is to raise enough money to support striking workers for at least three months.
“You may see a couple of shiny people out there, but below that iceberg, below the surface, is a lot of hardworking people who are really struggling through the strike,” Manos said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios and streaming companies, claims the unions representing actors and writers rejected offers for better pay and residual increases for streaming content.
The unions, however, insist the offers were simply not a fair contract.
“Everybody that’s out here today wants a solution and we are in solidarity together for a fair wage,” said Academy-Award-nominated actor, Annette Benning. “Data transparency, fair residuals. We have a lot of issues that mean a lot to us. So I really feel for people who are in financial hardship.”
Both actors and writers say the biggest threat to their industry is the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence.
“Right now, if you ask it to write you a script, it will spit out something really ridiculous and absurd,” said Jack Black, an actor and comedian. “And it can be funny because it’s kind of like a 10-year-old wrote it.”
Among the items union members are seeking, including higher residual pay, are better protections around the use of AI in production to ensure their work is not replicated without their consent and compensation.
Perhaps adding insult to injury, Netflix recently posted a job opening for a Machine Learning Product Manager role, essentially an AI expert with a salary between $300,000 to $900,000 per year.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m on the side of the humans,” Black said. “I’m on Team Human, on Team Humanity.”
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