Hollywood’s On Strike: Here’s What it Means for Your Favourite Films and Shows

It’s been more than 100 days since WGA, SAG and AFTRA went on strike. With no agreement being reached, there’s a question mark over all upcoming major releases
Hollywood’s On Strike: Here’s What it Means for Your Favourite Films and Shows
Hollywood’s On Strike: Here’s What it Means for Your Favourite Films and Shows

Hollywood is in the throes of a substantial upheaval as both writers and actors are on strike, and have been for over a hundred days, effectively bringing production in the entertainment industry to an abrupt standstill. Leading the charge in this labour movement are two influential unions: the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). What makes this strike particularly noteworthy is the unprecedented convergence of these unions on the picket lines, last seen in 1960.

The ripples of this strike are already being felt. The last film to get stars at its promotional events was Oppenheimer (SAG joined the strike on the day of the film’s release) and during this year’s Venice Film Festival, the few actors who did add to the glam quotient were those promoting indie films and those produced by smaller studios. Director Bradley Cooper was even in Venice (to do a tech check of his film Maestro, produced by Netflix), but he didn’t attend the festival or do any press for the film. Adam Driver, whose Ferrari received a six-minute standing ovation, used his media interaction as an opportunity to criticise Netflix and Amazon for not coming to an agreement with those on strike. 

SAG-AFTRA on strike
SAG-AFTRA on strike

Delays and Cancellations

The premieres for all three of James Cameron’s Avatar films have been pushed, along with the premiers for major Marvel films like Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. Sony’s much anticipated Spider Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse premiere is also delayed indefinitely. The developmental writing for Spider-Man: No Way Home sequel has been put on the back burner.

The production for Disney’s Deadpool 3 and Paramount’s Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 2 have also been delayed. Writing rooms for hit shows like Abbott Elementary (S03), Big Mouth (S08), Outlander (S08) and Yellowjackets (S03) have been shuttered.

Season premieres are also delayed for fan favourite shows like The White Lotus (S03), Wednesday (S02), The Last of Us (S02), Grey’s Anatomy (S20), Euphoria (S03), The Boys (S04) among others. For shows like Emily in Paris (S04), Severance (S02), Shrinking (S02), and Stranger Things (S05) the production is delayed indefinitely. 

Long running shows like General Hospital and Days of Our Lives are still continuing with production without their head writers and other union writers – they’re being written by non-union scribes, often derisively called “scabs.” 

Delays in production of Deadpool 3 due to the strike
Delays in production of Deadpool 3 due to the strike

Stalemate Between AMPTP and WGA-SAG-AFTRA

The ramifications of this strike extend well beyond the sphere of writers and actors. Visual effects (VFX) professionals are seeking improvements in their working conditions. Over 80% of Walt Disney Pictures' in-house VFX crew members have expressed their unequivocal support for unionisation, following in the footsteps of the ongoing strikes by actors and writers.

The financial implications of these Hollywood strikes are substantial, affecting industry giants like Warner Bros. Discovery. The conglomerate anticipates the strikes will dent its earnings by a staggering $300 to $500 million, setting the stage for diminished profits in 2023. The timeline of these strikes remains uncertain, but Warner Bros. Discovery expects the financial repercussions to persist through the conclusion of 2023.

At the heart of this confrontation are a set of pressing issues that these unions are passionately championing. Their demands revolve around securing contracts that safeguard against the impending threat of artificial intelligence (AI) encroaching on their professional domains, as well as securing fair compensation for their creative contributions when it comes to content streamed on platforms like Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon’s Prime Video, among others.

The WGA views AI-generated content as a looming menace, especially since producers are reportedly advocating for the use of AI in writing and even acting. Among the producers’ demands are the use of AI-generated replicas of actors (called likeness) without actors’ consent, and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) refused to offer adequate compensation for repeated use of likenesses. 

AMPTP recently shared the modified proposal that they’ve put before the WGA as part of strike negotiations, pointing out that it includes an increase in residual pay as well as the highest wage increase for the WGA in 35 years.  Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief operating officer and general counsel of SAG-AFTRA, said, “It is a very craftily put together proposal that a layperson looking at it might not see all the holes in it. There are huge gaps you can drive a Mack truck through.”

WGA on strike
WGA on strike

The Shrinking Numbers

With the deadlock continuing, the media and entertainment industry is faced with the unpleasant reality of its golden goose — the streaming business — turning out to be a damp squib (excuse the mixed metaphors). If the larger streaming platforms were hoping to lean on their non-American, international content to tide them through the strike, that gamble is not likely to pay off. For instance, Los Angeles Times reported recently that South Korean actors are also angry about the lack of residuals for all but the biggest stars. The British actors’ union, Equity, has expressed its solidarity with American counterparts on strike and Equity leader has issued a statement saying the union will do all it can to prevent actors from the United Kingdom being used to undermine the SAG.  

Meanwhile, the numbers for streaming platforms are far from encouraging. In India, there’s been a marked stagnation and internationally, most streaming platforms are grappling with shrinking numbers of subscriptions. This has led to the focus shifting towards making streaming content profitable. During the last quarter, Disney faced a setback as it lost 4 million Disney+ subscribers, primarily from India (this is perceived as the fallout of Disney+ Hotstar losing the streaming rights for popular cricket tournaments). Additionally, 600,000 customers cancelled their subscriptions in the U.S. and Canada. As part of cost-cutting measures, there have been reductions in content production. Disney, Warner Bros., and Discovery have all announced job and spending cuts. Netflix and Warner Bros. have scaled back their content spending as well. Although Netflix has reported an increase in subscriptions in 2023, much of this is attributed to the measures it took to prevent password sharing. 

In a pre-recorded interview about Netflix’s earnings in the second quarter, the platform’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos said, “This strike is not the outcome we wanted.” He also said that the producers had hoped to have reached an agreement by now while adding he was sympathetic to the “enormous toll” that being on strike takes on individuals and families. As tonalities go, it sounds like a climbdown from Disney CEO Bob Iger’s infamous interview from July, when Iger described the unions’ demands as “unrealistic”. For all concerned, let’s hope the drama of this strike has only one season to its name. 


UPDATE: The WGA and AMPTP came to a preliminary agreement on September 24, which the WGA characterised as "remarkable" due to its substantial benefits and safeguards for writers. The specific terms of the agreement have not been made public at this time. While the SAG-AFTRA has voiced its endorsement of the WGA's actions, the actors' union continues its strike.

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