Two Strikes and You’re Out – Writers Await Actors’ Arrival on the Picket Lines

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SAG-AFTRA staffers have met with WGA strike captains to share information as Hollywood braces for a double strike

SAG-AFTRA members joined WGA members on the writers' picket lines outside Netflix headquarters in May, and are now set to join in an actors strike of their own
SAG-AFTRA members joined WGA members on the writers' picket lines outside Netflix's Los Angeles headquarters Tuesday. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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At the Sony Pictures backlot in Culver City, the 70th day of the WGA strike for picketing writers passed much like those that came before it: tents with snacks, upbeat music, snarky signs and visits from members of other unions who have come to join the lines in solidarity.

But among the visitors Tuesday was a group that came not just to show support. A team of five SAG-AFTRA staffers discussed picket-line logistics with the WGA lot coordinators and strike captains on duty. With the final hours before the deadline on talks between SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood studios ticking away, the actors’ guild is taking concrete preparations for what would be its first film and TV strike since 1980 and Hollywood’s first double strike since 1960.

Any optimism within the industry that SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were close to a deal after they agreed to a deadline extension through Wednesday have rapidly faded over the past week. The two sides remain far apart on key issues such as whether streaming residuals should be tied to viewership data and how to create guidelines for consent and compensation for AI recreations of performers, two individuals with knowledge of the talks who weren’t authorized to comment publicly told TheWrap.

Meanwhile, the strike preparations have been heating up.

SAG-AFTRA representatives have “been coming over the past couple of days just getting a sense of what our process has been like over the last two months with parking, coordinating lines and setup,” WGA strike captain Eli Edelson told TheWrap. “We have a lot of captains who had experience with picket lines from 2007 but for a lot of SAG members this is their first time, so why not get advice from a fellow union that is already doing exactly what they’re preparing to do?”

The film and TV industry has already seen the vast majority of productions get shut down by the WGA strike, whether it is through halted preproduction on fall TV shows suddenly left without writers’ rooms or active productions getting halted by grassroots picket lines staged by WGA members which Teamsters drivers carrying production materials refuse to cross.

But a double strike would force even those surviving shoots, like FX/Hulu’s “American Horror Story,” to be halted, giving the WGA and SAG-AFTRA even more leverage: Studios would see their entire content production pipeline disrupted.

The possibility of thousands of actors joining writers in striking has been discussed a lot on the picket lines over the past few days, Edelson said. While few in the WGA would go as far as to hope for an actors’ strike given the financial and emotional struggles that come with it, there’s also no denying that two striking unions would have more clout to get the sort of paradigm-shifting contract gains that the guilds say are needed to counter an increasingly unstable status quo.

“Both WGA and SAG have been fighting to get streamers to divulge their viewership data, and if both go on strike, that would probably be the best shot we have to get that,” Edelson said. “I can’t speak for SAG-AFTRA, but I’d imagine that our presence here on the picket lines along with their own strike authorization has given them extra leverage to get what they need in their contracts and not back down.”

SAG-AFTRA representatives have been meeting with their WGA counterparts to set strike preparations. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SAG-AFTRA representatives have been meeting with their WGA counterparts to set strike preparations. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The deadline extension has allowed studios more time to hold press events and premieres for some of its upcoming films with actors in attendance, including Warner Bros.’ “Barbie,” which had a celebrity-filled premiere in Los Angeles with the movie’s entire cast this past weekend, and Universal’s “Oppenheimer,” which had its premiere in Paris on Tuesday with stars like Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt alongside director Christopher Nolan.

While an actors’ strike won’t preclude studios from holding such events, SAG-AFTRA members would step away from attending premieres or any other promotional event as part of the strike. It would also almost certainly lead to a postponement of the Primetime Emmy Awards, as striking actors would also skip out on any awards ceremonies.

As for film shoots, studio insiders said production on some major upcoming features like Disney/Marvel Studios’ “Deadpool 3” and Warner Bros.’ sequel to “Beetlejuice” have wrapped production. Others would have to wait until cameras can roll again. Once such project would be Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part Two,” which is currently on a scheduled production pause to allow director Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise and the rest of the film’s cast to promote “Dead Reckoning, Part One,” which is being released in theaters this week.

Members of SAG-AFTRA have been joining WGA picket lines in solidarity. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Members of SAG-AFTRA have been joining WGA picket lines in solidarity. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In the increasingly likely event of a double strike, it’s unclear how long both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA would both be on the picket lines before one agrees to resume talks with the AMPTP. Back during the last double strike in 1960, the Ronald Reagan-led Screen Actors Guild joined the WGA in striking over residuals for feature films being broadcast on television.

While SAG’s strike only lasted six weeks before a deal was reached, the WGA would wait another two months after SAG left the lines before reaching a deal. In all, the 1960 WGA strike lasted 148 days, a record that would stand until the guild’s 1988 strike at 153 days.

The AMPTP requested a federal mediator this week to help reach a compromise with SAG-AFTRA, and the guild announced it had agreed to mediation Tuesday evening — but it pointedly added that it would not extend the Wednesday deadline for the expiration of its contract. At a time when labor talks in Hollywood have often included phrases like “unsustainable” and “existential threat” and SAG-AFTRA has been sent an open letter signed by thousands of members urging its leaders not to settle for unsatisfactory compromises, that leaves little time for a mediator to bring the sides together.