A newcomer to Hollywood might not realize that the SAG-AFTRA strike has stretched on for 89 days, especially if they visited the Disney lot in Burbank Tuesday.
The spirited, cheerful energy of picketers, captains and crossing leaders with bullhorns could be felt in honks and dad jokes. SAG Captain Kirsten Nelson, who starred as Karen Vick in “Psych,” described the collective motivation as driven by the desire to come together rather than be alone worrying or stressing about the progress of negotiations.
Nelson, whose husband is in the WGA, reflected on what the double strike meant for her household and to actors in general.
“I think actors are used to being broke. So we kind of always know that there’s going to be a rainy day,” she said. “We just didn’t expect the storm to continue this. So I feel like there’s a light ‘Yeah, I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s easier to come out and be with friends and people with like hearts than to stay in your apartment or your house or be worried or concerned or anxious, especially since we do have negotiations going on,” she said. “Some of us have been here for those six months. We’re tired. We’re exhausted, but we come back here where we can find energy and renew and [practice] stewardship, if you will, to be with people who are in the same boat.”
As Nelson spoke, a complete stranger dropped off a donation of snacks to the main tents outside of the gate to Walt Disney Studios. Nelson mentioned that this was far from the only gift received in the almost three-month actors’ strike. If the SAG-AFTRA strike lasts through October 17, it will become the longest strike in SAG history.
“I will feel very sad if it does. We’re here at day 89. And the day is, what, October 10? So that’s not too far down the road. This is my personal opinion. I have no idea with SAG-AFTRA negotiations or with our committees — I think they might have that benchmark in mind,” Nelson said. “I know that they are negotiating their hearts out. They’re truly breaking apart the foundation that SAG-AFTRA has had for these bajillion years and rebuilding our union, our guild from the ground floor. So it’s so very important that this gets right.”
Actress Sarayu Blue echoed this sentiment as she walked the picket lines.
“It feels unprecedented. It feels monumental. I’m weirdly — I don’t know the words — it’s disappointing to have to fight this hard for things that I think our union membership really deserves,” she said. “I’m really inspired that we continue to show up and have the solidarity we have.”
Nelson remains optimistic because the negotiations have been fluid for the past ten days instead of halting or stopping completely.
“I am hopeful and this is why: they’ve met face to face now, four times. Tomorrow will be our fifth time that they’ve met face to face. That incorporates about 10 days of actual work. Just because they met face to face and they go back to their own corners to discuss,” she said. “I feel good that they’re still talking and I also feel good that there is a media blackout even though that might make us all the more anxious, all the more tired and frustrated because we don’t know what’s going on. I think that that’s part of the point. We shouldn’t know what’s going on and the fact that both sides are adhering to that media blackout and letting nothing leak is a great sign for sure, I feel, instead of conjecture and unknown rumors.”
Nelson and DGA member Stephanie remarked on the difference between the WGA negotiations, which were more stop and go, and those that SAG is conducting. In the end, the WGA did get the deal hammered out in five consecutive days, but previous attempts to negotiate resulted in “rage-quitting” the table from time to time when the WGA and the AMPTP couldn’t see eye to eye.
“Neither side has walked away. That’s what I take as a good sign. No side has gotten so frustrated that they need to walk away. So that tells me that there might be good faith actions going on. Or that’s what I feel. That’s what I hope, that’s what I like to see,” Nelson said. “[The WGA] had been approached, and then they walked away and then they had to come back. We [SAG] were never approached until day 81. So we had 81 days on the strike line where we were never approached to start negotiations. The fact that they did start negotiations and they haven’t left yet, I’ll take that as a positive sign.”
Blue, Stephanie, Nelson and actor Nelson Franklin also thought ahead to the short three years that will lapse with the forthcoming deal, predicting the state of the industry when it becomes time to negotiate once more.
“I was born in 1985. I’ve lived through several strikes, myself, and my father is a writer, and this is his third strike. The take away from all these strikes, historically, is that they will always try to take advantage of us when the opportunity shows up,” Franklin said. “So if, in three years, I mean, that’s sort of been the historical way, it’s been going with VHS tapes, and the DVDs and things, these are all sort of unknown technologies that are coming out. So they’re able to play dumb and ‘Well, we don’t know if these things will even make any money.’ And so they will never not try and take advantage of emerging technologies.”