Why are actors striking? The Hollywood SAG walkout explained

What does this pop-culture crisis mean for the industry and us viewers?

The stars of Chris Nolan's Oppenheimer went on strike shortly after the film's London premiere began. (Getty Images)
The stars of Chris Nolan's Oppenheimer went on strike shortly after the film's London premiere began. (Getty Images)

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been striking since early May and now Hollywood’s biggest stars have joined them in their efforts to secure better pay and working conditions.

Starting on Tuesday, 2 May, over 11,500 screenwriters who write some of your favourite movies and TV shows put down their pens and went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Cut to more than two months later and their dispute is unfortunately still lingering on and now, the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) has joined writers in their attempts to leverage more control over their industry.

Read more: Writers' strike: The biggest movies and TV shows currently on hold

It’s a drastic step marking the first time that both the WGA and SAG have been on strike at the same time in over 60 years. What exactly do these organisations want, how have streamers and studios reacted and what does this mean for us pop-culture-hungry viewers?

Read on to find out.

Why has Hollywood gone on strike?

SAG-AFTRA are striking for better pay and career protections. (AP Photo)
SAG-AFTRA are striking for better pay and career protections. (AP Photo)

Members of SAG went on strike at midnight on Thursday, 13 July, 2023 which was around 8am here in the UK, joining their colleagues in the WGA.

They're striking for a number of reasons including better pay, better working conditions and better protections against the threat of AI in film and television production.

This means that over 160,000 actors and performers have stopped working and will continue to do so until a resolution to their dispute has been achieved. As part of strike regulations, actors will be unable to promote their latest projects, which is why the cast of Oppenheimer left the movie’s UK premiere as soon as talk of the strike was announced on Wednesday, 13 July.

Actors and performers are requesting better pay for the work they do and also for a slice of the action when it comes to residuals. These refer to the extra money projects make when they are repeated via reruns.

Obviously, in an age where streaming is king, this is a particularly pertinent issue and stars what to be paid accordingly and have this reflected in their upfront salaries.

Read more: Cast of Oppenheimer walk out of UK premiere ahead of actors’ strike announcement

AI is also a big issue. Actors and performers want better assurances that this type of deep-fake technology — the same used to de-age Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — won’t one day be used to replace actors or use them for future performances without paying additional fees for their likeness rights.

It’s an issue that has been further heightened after it was suggested that studios might try to scan the facial likenesses of extras or stand-in actors and use them for future projects despite only paying them for one day’s work without future payments.

Meanwhile, the WGA went on strike in early May to try and secure a number of similar assurances including better residuals from streaming and protections against artificial intelligence technologies that may impact their jobs thanks to AI writing programs like Chat GPT.

How will the actors’ strike impact viewers?

The WGA have been picketing since early May. (AP Photo)
The WGA have been picketing since early May. (AP Photo)

As long as the strike is ongoing, actors won’t be able to film any new film or TV projects, engage in any post-production duties like voiceovers or reshoots or promote any work that they’ve already completed.

As a result, big-budget films like Avatar 3 and 4, Disney sequel Mufasa: The Lion King and the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife sequel could all be impacted, while some TV shows are able to take advantage of various contract loopholes to continue filming. This appears to be the case for Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon — but many others may not be so lucky.

Actors are also unable to take part in interviews or promotional activity that helps to get their projects on the radar of viewers. This means that the upcoming Emmy Awards ceremony and San Diego Comic-Con may be scaled back or moved entirely until stars can attend.

Read More: Film and TV shut down as Hollywood actors join writers on the picket line

Elsewhere, viewers will be deprived of reading interviews with their favourite stars or listening to them appear on their favourite podcasts to promote their projects.

Viewers have already likely noticed that all of the popular American late-night shows that stars typically use to promote their films and TV shows (as well as Saturday Night Live) have also been off the air ever since the WGA strike began in May.

With scripted programming and starry names both out of the window, it may mean we see an uptick in unscripted and reality-based programming.

How have studios and streamers reacted to the strike?

Reacting to the news of the actor’s strike, the AMPTP has said that it 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,"

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger recently called the move “very disturbing” and arriving at the “worst time” while the movie industry is already struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Disney CEO Bob Iger called the strike “very disturbing”. (FilmMagic)
Disney CEO Bob Iger has called the strike “very disturbing”. (FilmMagic)

To combat AI issues, studios and the AMPTP reportedly offered a solution that they called “a ground-breaking proposal” which would protect actors’ digital likeness.

However, this was quickly rejected by SAG’s chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who explained: "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.

“If you think that's a ground-breaking proposal, I suggest you think again."

When will the actors’ strike end?

It’s currently unclear how long this combined SAG and WGA strike will last and when it might end.

With any luck, the added pressure of striking stars will hopefully lead to the arrival of a positive outcome faster than if the WGA was striking solo. After all, without writers and actors, Hollywood will truly struggle to produce any meaningful content - or to promote the media they already have in the can.

As for us viewers, the longer the strike continues, the bigger the impact will be on our pop-culture calendars when the Hollywood machine finally kicks back into gear - so here’s hoping it resolves itself sooner rather than later.

Watch: The SAG-AFTRA leaders explain strike