After a nearly four month strike, Hollywood actors could be headed back to work soon.
The board of SAG-AFTRA, a labor union that represents about 160,000 people in the entertainment industry, including actors, recording artists, radio personalities and other media professionals, voted to approve a deal with the industry's top studios Nov. 10.
SAG-AFTRA's executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, announced at a news conference Friday that the tentative agreement was approved with 86% of the vote.
The contract agreement next goes to a vote before the union’s members, beginning Nov. 14.
The actors guild released a statement on Nov. 8, announcing that a tentative agreement with the studios was reached and confirming that the official end date of the strike would be Nov. 9 at 12:01 a.m. PT.
“In an unanimous vote this afternoon, the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Committee approved a tentative agreement with the AMPTP bringing an end to the 118-day strike,” the statement read.
The deal comes after weeks of failed negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major motion picture studios including Paramount, Sony, Netflix, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. (NBCUniversal, the parent company of TODAY.com, is also part of the alliance.)
In an impassioned speech given at a press conference on July 13, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher laid out the stakes in what she called a "serious moment" and "very big deal" for the industry and beyond.
"We stand in solidarity in unprecedented unity. Our union and our sister unions and the unions around the world are standing by us, as well as other labor unions. Because at some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized, disrespected and dishonored. The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don't stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family," she said.
Here’s what to know about the actors’ strike, and how it affected the movie and TV industry.
Why did actors strike?
Actors and other SAG-AFTRA members were fighting for better pay and working conditions, as well as contracts that include provisions on artificial intelligence.
Dwindling compensation is one major concern for the union, especially around payments called residuals. Actors receive residuals when their work is re-used beyond its initial performance, such as when a movie or show is re-aired or re-released on DVD or basic cable.
Actors receive residuals when their projects are shown on streaming services, too — but according to SAG-AFTRA, they are compensated at a much lower rate for streaming projects, and their pay is calculated differently.
“As you know, over the past decade, your compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” Drescher said in an open letter to union members on Thursday before the strike.
Alarm over the use of artificial intelligence are also driving the strike. In an earlier open letter to SAG-AFTRA, union members expressed concerns about how artificial intelligence could exploit performers by using their likenesses without fair compensation.
“We think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI,” the letter read, in part.
Drescher also said she believes artificial intelligence poses “an existential threat” to the “creative professions.”
“All actors and performers deserve contract language that protects them from having their identity and talent exploited without consent and pay,” she wrote in her letter to SAG-AFTRA members.
What was the studios' response?
In a statement, AMPTP said its members were disappointed by the breakdown in negotiations, calling the strike "the Union's choice, not ours."
"In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more," the statement read.
AMPTP said the strike will "deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
Wait — wasn’t there already a strike happening in Hollywood?
Yes, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) was on strike for nearly five months. The WGA, an alliance of two labor unions representing film, TV, news, radio and online writers, began their strike May 2.
The WGA’s demands echoed the demands of the SAG-AFTRA strike, calling for better pay and working conditions, as well as fairer contracts that include stipulations about the use of artificial intelligence.
The writers’ strike shut down production on several TV shows, including “Abbot Elementary,” “Severance,” “Stranger Things” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as late-night shows including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Production on some sets were able to continue during the writers’ strike, with actors still able to perform.
What did the actors' strike mean for movies and TV shows?
The SAG-AFTRA strike disrupted the film and television industry, shutting down the production of countless movies and TV shows in the U.S. and some abroad.
Actors on strike would also be barred from promoting their latest projects via interviews and red carpet appearances.
In anticipation of this promotional blackout, the July 13 London premiere of “Oppenheimer” was moved up by one hour so that the cast could still attend before the strike was confirmed.
Shortly before 3 p.m. ET, director Christopher Nolan said before the beginning of the “Oppenheimer” screening that the cast left the event due to the strike, per Variety.
Which members of SAG-AFTRA openly supported the strike?
Hundreds of Hollywood stars supported the strike. Over the summer, more than 400 prominent performers — including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Glenn Close, Eva Longoria, Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney — signed an open letter to SAG-AFTRA in support of industrial action.
“We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories,” the letter read, in part.
The letter cited concerns over compensation and the rise of artificial intelligence and warned that SAG-AFTRA should not “settle for a less than transformational deal.”
Have actors gone on strike before?
SAG-AFTRA last went on strike in 1980, as the union fought for residual payments for actors amid the rise of home entertainment media such as videocassettes and pay cable, according to Backstage.
SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America have each gone on strike multiple times. However, actors and writers have only been on a “double strike” once before — in 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the president of SAG.
How long did the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike go on for?
The SAG-AFTRA strike started on July 14 and ended November 9, lasting 118 days.
The last SAG-AFTRA strike lasted for three months.
What couldn't the actors do during the strike?
The Strike Notice and Order, which was sent in an open memo to all members of SAG-AFTRA, is a list of actions union members are barred from taking at this time. The list included all performing in works and publicizing projects. That means no red carpets, no premieres and no interviews about movies or TV show projects.