July 14 (BBC) – Hollywood actors have announced they will join an ongoing strike by screenwriters in the industry’s biggest shutdown for more than 60 years.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) wants streaming giants to agree to a fairer split of profits and better working conditions.
Some 160,000 performers will stop work at midnight.
The stoppage means the vast majority of US film and TV productions will grind to a halt.
Stars Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt left the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer in London on Thursday night as the strike was declared.
The SAG walkout starts at midnight Los Angeles time (08:00 BST). Picketing will begin on Friday morning outside the California headquarters of Netflix, before moving on to Paramount, Warner Bros and Disney.
The union – officially known as the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA – also wants a guarantee that artificial intelligence (AI) and computer-generated faces and voices will not be used to replace actors.
The group representing the studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, slammed the decision.
It said “a strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life”.
“The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry,” its statement added.
To address concerns about the use of AI, the AMPTP said it had agreed to a “groundbreaking proposal” that would protect the digital likeness of actors, and require their consent when digital replicas are used in performances, or alterations are made.
But the SAG’s national executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said the offer was unacceptable.
“They propose that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan of their image, their likeness, and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity,” he said. “If you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”
Another SAG demand of the streaming services is that actors receive greater base pay and residuals – meaning payments made to actors from repeats of films and programmes they’ve starred in.
The strike includes tens of thousands of actors who receive significantly less pay for bit parts than their A-list colleagues.
“In the old model, they get residuals based on success,” Kim Masters, the editor-in-chief of the Hollywood Reporter, told the BBC. “In the new model, they don’t get to find out what’s going on behind the scenes, because the streamers don’t share.”
Fran Drescher, SAG’s president, said the strike comes at a “very seminal moment” for actors in the industry.
“What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labour,” she said, “when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run.”
A separate strike by the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America demanding better pay and working conditions has been going since 2 May.
Some writers have turned to projects that are not covered by the contract between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The “double strike” by both unions is the first since 1960, when the SAG was led by actor Ronald Reagan, long before he entered politics and became US president. The last strike by actors took place in 1980.
Speaking during a gathering of industry leaders at an Idaho resort ahead of the SAG’s announcement on Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the demands of both actors and writers were impractical and damaging to an industry still recovering from the pandemic.
“It’s very disturbing to me,” Mr Iger said. “This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.”
A third union, the Directors Guild of America, successfully negotiated a contract in June and will not participate.
The walkout will add to a list of projects that have already shut down or stalled because of the writers’ strike.
For films in production, it means a large portion of work will become impossible. Even in cases in which filming has already been completed, actors will be unavailable for re-shoots and other essential elements of the filmmaking process.
TV shows that are still being filmed will also largely have to stop as actors become unavailable, although in some cases side deals could be struck between performers and producers to allow work to continue.
Top Hollywood stars will not be able to attend events to promote new and upcoming releases. Events including the Emmys and Comic-Con may be rescheduled or scaled back.
International events, such as the Toronto and Venice film festivals, will still go on, although SAG actors will be unable to attend as they do each year.
In the hours following the announcement, several SAG-affiliated actors took to Instagram to voice their support for the strike, including Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk, Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon and Hollywood veteran Jamie Lee Curtis.