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A Stop-Motion Catalyst: How the 2023 SAG-AFTRA and WGA Strikes Came About

Protesters holding signs representing the unified stance of SAG-AFTRA and WGA members against AMPTP policies.

The last time SAG-AFTRA and the WGA collectively went on strike was in 1960, and Bob Hope was the only celeb to speak openly about the snarling animal in the room. After dubbing the Oscars ceremony “the most glamorous strike meeting ever,” he wryly asked the crowd: “Who else but actors would give up working for Lent?” 

In contrast, talk surrounding this year’s doubly-detrimental willful suspension of labor is anything but an amusing attempt to save face. This time around, the issues being addressed by the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes—including an outdated payment model and AI concerns—have bitten into careers across film, television, advertising, and theater with the upheaval of production schedules, press junkets, writers’ rooms, and more. 

Without solidarity between the artists who are affected and those who consume their work, the beasts unleashed by AMPTP—a.k.a. unfair vocational frameworks—are bound to keep chomping away with little to no resolution in sight. Not only that, but the outcome of our inevitable upcoming entertainment deficit will likely set a multi-industry standard as our tech continues to advance. 

So, how did we get here? If you’re not already up to speed, let’s spell out what the lead characters in this precedent-setting real-life drama series are all about:

  • AMPTP: The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is the trade association tasked with negotiating all industry-wide guild and union contracts tied to TV and film production companies, including major motion picture studios, streaming services and broadcast TV networks. 
  • WGA: The Writers Guild of America is the primary union that represents, administers contracts for, and advances the interests of screen-based writers to protect their creative and fiscal rights. 
  • SAG-AFTRA: The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists merged in 2012, gracing the world of entertainment with SAG-AFTRA—a union that supports over 160,000 artists in radio, television, dance, broadcast media, and beyond through contract and wage negotiation, health and pension, working conditions, and so much more.  

You’ve read about the cast… So, swing the camera to the pilot episode! 

On May 2nd, the WGA went on strike after attempting to negotiate with the AMPTP about providing their writers with steadier wages with higher minimums, provisions to protect their work from being taken over by AI, and more. Put simply, their concerns were shrugged off, and—on behalf of all artists under an AMPTP member company’s thumb—they put down their pens and crossed their arms to poor working conditions.

When SAG-AFTRA approached the AMPTP with their own demands for equity, including increased streaming residuals in the face of inflation and the death of reruns, compensation for work that is used to train AI, and rules surrounding the role AI could play in their careers, they were purportedly ‘stonewalled’ for six weeks. Their shared contract was set to expire July 12th and the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee saw no sign of a fruitful conclusion, so they decided to stand up in solidarity with the WGA against Hollywood’s most powerful trade association.

Protesters from SAG-AFTRA and WGA holding signs against AMPTP's policies, representing the collective fight for better working conditions in the entertainment industry.

(Photo cred: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

SAG-AFTRA aired its biggest strike in decades on July 14th and may very well continue to run it through the end of the year if the needs of union leaders and the artists they represent are not met. According to Forbes, we can also anticipate over $3 billion in economic damages. The Directors Guild, Producers Guild, and even UPS—who just called off their own plans to go on strike—recently released statements of support.

The prognosis of this solidarity clause between unions—recently pinned as a ‘mutual suicide pact’—looks promising. Just how many SAG-AFTRA members have popped up on your social media feed protesting AMPTP? Jack Black, Matt Damon, Margot Robbie, and more of our nation’s highest-profile stars are lining up to shout, picket, and show just how ‘not okay’ WGA and SAG-AFTRA negotiations 2023 have gone so far. 

In the words of SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, “The jig is up!” So, what’s this jig, why’s it problematic, what’s it all got to do with streaming? Stay tuned for our Curmudgeon-ly insight as this riveting story unfolds.

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