The Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA voted to strike today, halting most TV and film production worldwide (and even ending the Oppenheimer red carpet). The Times explains:
About 160,000 television and movie actors are going on strike at midnight, joining screenwriters who walked off the job in May and setting off Hollywood’s first industrywide shutdown in 63 years.
The leaders of the union, SAG-AFTRA, approved a strike on Thursday, hours after contract talks with a group of studios broke down. Actors will be on the picket line starting on Friday.
“What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor,” said Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA’s president. “When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors who make the machine run, we have a problem.”
While some actors do get $15 million for a single movie, most just do their jobs and hope they get a fair wage. They also hope that the studios will pay them when their work gets re-run, which still happens on network television but not, it turns out, on streaming services:
In December, 2020, in the depths of pandemic winter, the actress Kimiko Glenn got a foreign-royalty statement in the mail from the screen actors’ union, sag-aftra. Glenn is best known for playing the motormouthed, idealistic inmate Brook Soso on the women’s-prison series “Orange Is the New Black,” which ran from 2013 to 2019, on Netflix. The orchid-pink paper listed episodes of the show that she’d appeared on (“A Whole Other Hole,” “Trust No Bitch”) alongside tiny amounts of income (four cents, two cents) culled from overseas levies—a thin slice of pie from the show that had thrust her to prominence. “I was, like, Oh, my God, it’s just so sad,” Glenn recalled. With many television and movie sets shuttered, she was supporting herself with voice-over jobs, and she’d been messing around with TikTok. She posted a video in which she scans the statement—“I’m about to be so riiich!”—then reaches the grand total of twenty-seven dollars and thirty cents and shrieks, “WHAT?”
When “Orange” premièred, ten years ago this week, it broke ground in multiple ways. ... A decade on, however, some of the cast feel disillusioned about how they were compensated, both during the original run and in the years since. Television actors have traditionally had a base of income from residuals, which come from reruns and other forms of reuse of the shows in which they’ve appeared. At the highest end, residuals can yield a fortune; reportedly, the cast of “Friends” has each made tens of millions of dollars from syndication. But streaming has scrambled that model, endangering the ability of working actors to make a living.
Netflix didn’t share its viewership numbers (and still mostly doesn’t), making it harder for the actors to negotiate higher salaries. But the “Orange” cast could tell that the show was a megahit from their overnight fame.
Despite the Beatlemania-like fame, many cast members had to keep their day jobs for multiple seasons. They were waiting tables, bartending. DeLaria continued doing live gigs to keep up with her rent.
We saw this with video recordings and cable. We'll see it with the next technology that comes along. Because as in all fields, the owners of the businesses want to make money, and if they can get labor (or anything else considered "supply") cheaper, they do.
Pity the Emmys won't have a script this year. Or actors. Or, possibly, a telecast.