Explainer: The SAG – AFTRA actors’ strike

By Nathan Molloy

After 110 days, the longest strike by an actors’ union in history was resolved this week. The SAG – AFTRA strike made TV and film sets across the world stop filming for months.

This article will explain who the main players in the strike were, how it started and ultimately how it got resolved.

Who are SAG – AFTRA?

SAG – AFTRA, or the Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is an American labour union.

The union was formed in 2012, after the merger of SAG and AFTRA. It has 160,000 media professionals worldwide. On its official website it states that:

“SAG – AFTRA Members are the faces and voices that entertain and inform America and the world.

“With national offices in Los Angeles and New York, and local offices nationwide, SAG – AFTRA members work together to secure the strongest protection for media artists into the 21st century and beyond.”

The president of the union is Fran Drescher.

Some of the most famous members of the union are Bryan Cranston, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Matt Damon.

How did the strike start?

The strike was called on the morning of 14 July after a breakdown over negotiations with the AMPTP or Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

AMPTP represents massive studios such as Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, and streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon.

SAG AFTRA wanted better pay and working conditions for its members. Due to streaming changing the media landscape, actors could no longer depend on royalty payments from show reruns on TV.

Actors also argued that there is less work available to them, due to shows having shorter seasons over longer periods.

A day after the strike was announced, the president of the union, Fran Drescher, posted a video of her speaking about it. In the video, she said that the “gravity of this move is not lost on me, or our negotiating committee or our board members.”

The union was also concerned over the potential use of AI. They argued that content generated using AI could violate their actors’ rights to control their image and performance.

Another concern was AI could replace actors which would result in job losses in the industry.

Therefore, SAG – AFTRA pushed for safeguards against the implementation of AI and wanted guarantees that their permission would be needed if a digital representation of themselves was used in AI-generated content.

What notable films were affected by the strike?

Hundreds of movie sets worldwide had to stop production during the strike.

Producers of the highly awaited sequel to the film Dune, reacted to the news by pushing back the release date by five months, from 3 November to 15 March 2024.

The latest film in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series may be struck by delays affecting its planned summer 2024 release date.

According to the Guardian, the director and writer, Christopher McQuarrie, stated in July that he doesn’t know what the ending of the film is yet.

Irish actor Paul Mescal has been affected by the strike. The Kildare native is set to star in the sequel to the 2000’s hit film Gladiator as Russell Crowe’s character’s nephew.

According to Variety, production grinded to a halt in Morocco in July.

How did it get resolved?

The four-month-long strike officially ended at 8:01 am Irish time on Thursday 9 November. On their social channels, SAG AFTRA stated:

“Dear SAG AFTRA members, we are thrilled and proud to tell you today your TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee voted unanimously to approve a tentative agreement with the AMPTP.

“As of 12:01a.m PT on November 9, our strike is officially suspended and all picket locations are closed. “

According to Variety, SAG – AFTRA and AMPTP reached an agreement that protects actors against AI and a provides a historic pay rise. The deal sees a 7% increase in most minimums.

A modern version of TV reruns royalty checks is also provided, called a streaming participation bonus. There were also increases in pensions and health contributions.

According to SAG – AFTRA, the contract is worth more than 1 billion U.S dollars.

The agreement means that many actors and production crews can get back to work after a lengthy time away from the cameras.

The after-effects of the historic strike will still be felt in the coming months, with many films and TV series’ release dates delayed.

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