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The 2023 Film Strikes

For the first time since 1960, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are on strike at the same time. The WGA has been on strike since May 2, 2023, after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) rejected WGA proposals in contract negotiation. SAG-AFTRA officially went on strike on July 14, 2023, after agreeing to a two-week extension on negotiation with the AMPTP. For both unions, the primary focuses include an increase in minimum wages to account for inflation, residuals for streaming productions, and regulation of Artificial Intelligence in the industry.


Residuals refer to the royalties a writer or actor is paid for additional broadcasts and home video purchases. This means that the more commercially successful a show or movie is, the more money artists make in residuals. In a traditional film or television model, actors and writers tend to live off of their residuals, but with the domination of the streaming model, residuals are becoming obsolete.


Writers only receive two residual checks for direct-to-streaming content: a set amount for domestic streams and a set amount for international streams. Actors’ residuals for streaming are a little different: initial residual percentage rates are calculated based on each actor’s rate and the number of users on the streaming service. That residual percentage rate decreases every year until year thirteen, which is then applied in perpetuity. Actors and writers argue that their residuals should reflect the success of their projects.


Artificial Intelligence also poses a deep concern for both unions. For the WGA, writers do not want AI used to generate ideas or screenplays, do not want AI involved in re-writing screenplays, and do not want their work used to train AI. The AMPTP rejected those terms at negotiation. For SAG-AFTRA, actors want a guarantee that their images will not be used without compensation. One proposal from the AMPTP is to pay background actors for one day of work and scan them for future AI-generated scenes. Currently, the SAG day rate for background actors is $187 in Los Angeles, allowing production companies to buy background actors’ images for future use at less than $200 per person. The goal of this proposal is to reduce production costs, as it would not only eliminate paychecks for background actors but also costs of food, parking, costuming and paychecks for some crew members.


The strike order for the WGA is fairly straightforward: members are not allowed to write for struck production companies, negotiate with struck companies, or deliver literary materials to struck companies. The order for SAG-AFTRA includes ceasing principal on-camera and off-camera work, background acting, costume fittings, rehearsals, auditions and all promotion of work for struck companies. The SAG-AFTRA strike will have an immediate effect on the industry, and the WGA strike will affect the industry even after they reach an agreement with the AMPTP.


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