From show business to no business
Screenwriters and actors have taken on the Hollywood corporations in a fight that has ramifications beyond tinsel town.
The 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood’s largest union, authorised a strike in July.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been on strike since early May. It is the first time unions representing both US writers and actors have been on strike at the same time since 1960.
The writers and actors are calling for higher wages and improved compensation in the streaming TV era, and safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
Performers see their jobs as especially vulnerable to new technology, with generative AI able to replicate facial expressions, body movement and voice with alarming accuracy.
Although series budgets are increasing, that increase is not being reflected in the share of the money coming to performers. Residuals (payments for the re-use of their work) are also much smaller on streamers compared to broadcast TV rates.
While writers and actors have been reduced to gig workers on low wages and in insecure work, Hollywood executives have been earning a fortune.
Eight Hollywood CEOs made nearly $800 million, while pay for TV writers has fallen by 23 per cent over the last decade, according to Bernie Sanders.
“Organised labour has been under attack for quite some time, and our negotiations set a tone for what a worker will tolerate from a corporation,” said Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz, a TV writer for HBO Max.