Writers and Actors on Strike and what it could mean for Boston, Hollywood, and Humanity.
“Oh, you’re an actor? What restaurant do you work at?”
BOSTON is no stranger to film production crews, as our city has been the backdrop of many iconic films over the years. Thanks to movie magic, we have even provided location to stories that were not even set in the Bay State. Plus, between the Film Credit becoming part of the Commonwealth’s legislature as well as the addition of state-of-the-art soundstages, we had recently seen an increase in filming here in Massachusetts. Up until Tuesday May 2nd that is…
Hopefully, by now, you have heard that the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) are on strike. SAG-AFTRA officially joined the WGA on July 14, not only in solidarity, but in pursuit of new terms as well. This dual strike makes history, as the first time in 60 years the two organizations have simultaneously demanded new agreements.
As an outsider looking in, it may be hard to understand why 171,500 people, many of whom are recognizable talent (aka celebrities), would refuse to work. But, as an aspiring writer, actor, – or anyone who has ever felt overworked and underpaid – it is pretty clear that the cause[s] were not sudden, nor do they lack validity.
So, what are all of these writers and actors asking for? If so many of them are famous, they must be rich! What more could they want?
Well, for starters, they want the rest of society to understand that being famous does not equal being rich. Not to mention, that more often than not neither rich nor famous is the goal. Most creatives just want to make a living doing what they love.
Now, let’s come to an understanding of Hollywood as an industry. “Hollywood” is just a term for a business that has been glamorized by the media, because, well, they own it… plus, the reality isn’t so sparkly.
To put it briefly, less than 14% of union actors qualify for SAG-AFTRA health insurance annually. The qualifying salary for health benefits is $26,470. This means 86% of professional actors make less than $26,470 a year from union work! Likewise, the WGA offers benefits for writers with an earnings minimum of $41,773. About half of union writers qualify annually. In what other field do statistics like this exist?
Negotiation requests from SAG-AFTRA members include nine detailed pages of matters regarding salary transparency, salary minimums that coincide with rate of inflation, residual earnings, new media revenue sharing, breaks, relocation allowances, wardrobe/hair/makeup inclusion, audition perimeters, pension, insurance, retirement and Artificial Intelligence.
Similarly, WGA members have made requests on salary minimums, pay-out structure, staffing minimums, streaming platform minimums, employment duration, pension and health benefits, and Artificial Intelligence.
With the billions of dollars annually earned by the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) off of the creative labor of these artists, these requests should be in line with budgeting
Many predict this dual strike to last much longer than the previous strikes by each of the unions, singularly. However, the AMPTP have been very public about their plans to “wait it out until they’re hungry.” Nice.
In a wave of support, many restaurants in Los Angeles and New York have attempted to help lighten the financial burden now haunting writers and actors by offering to feed them. And many fundraising efforts can be found online and over social media. While the support from our communities is eternally gracious and extremely helpful, ultimately, only fair negotiations can help to bring lasting change to this industry.
You may have already noticed the average quality of content being produced has gone down as the quantity has increased. This is no coincidence. If this trend continues while the prices of streaming and cable services rise, how long until viewers find a new way to entertain themselves?
And what about the local communities? The revenue generated from local filming has been so valuable to us here in Boston. And I know the same is true for Atlanta, Nex Mexico, and other smaller film communities.
By replacing writers with ChatGPT and actors with Artificially Invented performers, we innately lose the irreplaceable quality that makes any story worth retelling: our humanity.
At the end of the day, what the entertainment industry really has been born from is the ancient art of story-telling. Something so vital to our evolution that it can be traced back to the beginning of civilization. It’s what cave drawings and Greek Theatre and modern filmmaking have in common. The urge to advance mankind by reiterating the happenings of those that came before us. To make us laugh, to make us cry, to teach us something, to make us feel alive, seen, connected – here. Together.
It’s why we cling to song lyrics and why rewatching our favorite movies over and over again brings us such comfort. Because we are all here. Stuck on this giant rock together experiencing the human condition. To feel it, to experience it, to learn from it, and grow from it. If we are robbed of this due to the exploitation of artists, who is going to tell our stories?
Dominique Grant is a classically trained stage actress and burgeoning film talent born and raised in Boston. She has also been known to serve a drink or two. You can follow her on Instagram @dominiquewho.