Last night the contract between SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood studios came to an end at 11:59PM PT and a new deal failed to be struck. Following, SAG-AFTRA and it’s members are now officially on strike and hitting the picket line tomorrow. So what does it mean for Star Wars?
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SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) which represent 160,000 actors has voted unanimously strike amid failed talks with the Hollywood studios being represented by the AMPTP. Members of SAG-AFTRA will join the striking Writers Guild of America members, who are on day 73 of their strike with no end date in sight, on the picket line and will result in Hollywood itself almost shutting down. The impact of the strike will be felt across the globe as the strike will shut down films and scripted television series that employ SAG-AFTRA members around the world and not just in the United States, however soap operas will not be impacted as they fall under a different contract.
SAG-AFTRA’s contract expired on June 30th, but the union and Hollywood studios came to an agreement to extended the contract to July 12th at 11:59pm PT as negotiations were taking place. Yesterday, as the extension grew closer to expiring, the AMPTP brought in a federal mediator in a last ditch effort to avoid a strike. An agreement could not be reached after four weeks of negotiations with a SAG-AFTRA representative adding that they were not confident that the employers have any intention of bargaining towards an agreement. The AMPTP, who negotiate on behalf of various Hollywood studios including Disney said they were “deeply disappointed” that SAG-AFTRA decided to walk away from negotiations and that the group offered “historic pay and residual increases, a ground-breaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses” and other gains to actors.” The AMTP proposals included a 76% increase in high budget SVOD foreign residuals, performer’s consent for the creation and use of digital replicas or for digital alterations of a performance, 58% increase in salaries for major role (guest star) performers wages on High Budget SVOD Programs, 11% pay increase in year 1 for background actors, stand-ins and photo doubles, an additional 17% increase for background actors required to do extensive
self-styling, and an additional 62% increase for stand-ins required to deliver lines during a run-through and photo doubles required to memorize and deliver lines on camera, first-time-ever fixed residuals for Stunt Coordinators on television and High Budget SVOD programs, shortened option periods for series regulars earning less than $65,000 per episode on a half-hour series or less than $70,000 per episode on a one-hour series. According to SAG-AFTRA representatives, the studio’s A.I. proposal included scanning a background actor’s likeness for one day’s worth of pay and using their likeness forever in any form without any residuals or consent.
Some of the biggest sticking points for the SAG-AFTRA members is the use of artificial intelligence, base pay safeguards, streaming service residuals, and pay for self-taped auditions. The rapid growth in streaming services and their output has provided an increased amount of performing opportunities, but over time series have become shorter, breaks inbetween seasons have become longer, and though budgets for television series are increasing, it is not reflected in money being earned by the performers, with the residual payments they are receiving from streamers and studios being considered inadequate. Performers must make $26,000 a year to qualify for health insurance in the United States, but failing residual payments from streaming services are preventing struggling actors from hitting this threshold.
Base pay and residual payments are two of the biggest concerns for SAG-AFTRA, along with the use of artificial intelligence technology. SAG-AFTRA has called for new regulations in performers contracts as for when AI can be used and at what cost among concerns that AI could put actors out of work and to digitally simulate an actors performance.
Disney CEO, Bob Iger, who is looking to potentially earn $27M this year, says that both the actors and writers guilds are being unrealistic in regards to their demands, “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.” Iger’s recently extended contract at Disney could see him earn annual bonuses of up to five times more than before.
So this brings us to the question, what does this strike mean for the Star Wars franchise which has various projects in development and are gearing up to release two series this year?
Members of SAG-AFTRA must immediately stop work on a film or TV set and cannot continue until an agreement is reached between the union and the Hollywood studios. This means that if a TV series or a film is currently in the midst of shooting, those actors represented by the union must halt work. Currently there’s only one Star Wars project filming, Andor season two, which has been shooting since November and is aiming to wrap sometime in August. Any actors part of SAG-AFTRA must immediately stop work and this will likely lead into delays in production and/or production being stopped until an agreement between the union and studios is reached.
However one production unrelated to Star Wars that is filming in the United Kingdom just like Andor season two is the second season of House of the Dragon which will continue to film despite the SAG-AFTRA strike. According to Variety, as the HBO series is composed of mostly British actors that are working under contracts governed by the U.K. union, Equity and because of this, filming is technically allowed to continue as Equity members are not legally allowed to strike in solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA. Variety added that strict union laws in the United Kingdom are preventing “an extensive show” of solidarity from Equity who can’t legally call a strike due to restrictive U.K. legislation. It’s unknown if this will play any part in Andor’s production as many British actors are involved in the series.
Members of SAG-AFTRA are forbidden from promoting their projects which includes press junkets, fan events, TV appearances, social media, and much more. This means that SAG-AFTRA members who star in the next Star Wars release, the live-action Disney+ series Ahsoka, due to be released on August 23rd, will not be allowed to promote the project in any way. Any press scheduled for after the strike must immediately be cancelled.
In short, the SAG-AFTRA strike, in addition to the WGA strike, will significantly impact each and every live-action Star Wars project currently in development and those that have already wrapped an gearing up for a release. Currently future Star Wars projects such as The Mandalorian season four and the untitled Daisy Ridley led Star Wars flick are in various forms of development, but development and production can not progress due to the WGA strike. The impact of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA going on strike will be immediately felt in the present and likely in the years to come. Hopefully the Hollywood studios and the respective unions eventually come to an agreement which all parties believe are fair. You can support the actors on strike in various ways including donating to the DSA-LA who have been providing those on the picket lines with food and water along with the Entertainment Community Fund which supports those in the industry that are in need of emergency financial assistance.
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