The Hollywood actors’ union began to strike at midnight Thursday, after negotiations to reach a new contract with production studios ended without an agreement.
Actors will join writers in the first industry-wide walkout for 63 years, effectively bringing the giant movie and television business to a halt.
At 0701 GMT, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), representing around 160,000 movie and television actors, tweeted a black picture alongside the message: “12:01 a.m. PT That’s a wrap!”
SAG-AFTRA had issued a strike order after last-ditch talks with studios over dwindling pay and the threat posed by artificial intelligence ended without a deal.
“This is a moment of history, a moment of truth — if we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told a press conference, following the union board’s unanimous vote to strike.
“We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business.”
Writers have already spent 11 weeks protesting outside the headquarters of the likes of Disney and Netflix, after their demands for better pay and guarantees over the use artificial intelligence were not met.
Movie studios have already begun reshuffling their calendars, and if the strikes drag on, major film releases could be postponed too.
A strike prevents actors from promoting some of the year’s biggest releases, at the peak of the industry’s summer blockbuster season.
Drescher told AFP that SAG-AFTRA was “duped” into extending negotiations for two weeks by studios that wanted to promote their movies.
“But we were duped. They stayed behind closed doors, they kept canceling our meetings, wasting time,” Drescher said.
“It was probably all to have more time to promote their summer movies. Because nothing came out of it that was significant.”
During that two-week period, major premieres have been held around the world for blockbusters including Warner’s “Barbie,” Universal’s “Oppenheimer” and Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.”
The cast of “Oppenheimer” walked out of their London premiere in solidarity with the strike.
“We know it’s a critical time at this point in the industry and the issues that are involved need to be addressed — there are difficult conversations,” British actor Kenneth Branagh said on the red carpet just before the strike was announced.
“I know everybody’s trying to get a fair deal, that’s what’s required, so we’ll support that.”
SAG-AFTRA represents actors from A-list stars such as Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Glenn Close to day players who do small roles on television series.
The last time the actors’ union went on strike, in 1980, it lasted more than three months.
This time, some 98 percent of members voted to pre-approve industrial action if a deal was not reached.
The union said actors’ pay has been “severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem,” and has warned that “artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) said it had offered “historic” pay rises and a “groundbreaking AI proposal” to actors, who had chosen “a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”
But Phil Lord — the writer, director and producer behind hits such as “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Lego Movie” — poured scorn on the studios’ version of events.
“AMPTP has played hardball instead of helping to solve entirely solvable problems that endanger writers and actors on the lower ends of the pay scale,” he tweeted.
– ‘Painful’ –
While the writers’ strike has already dramatically reduced the number of movies and shows in production, an actors’ walkout shutters almost everything.
“I feel sad and it is painful and it’s necessary,” said actor Jennifer Van Dyck, on the picket line in New York on Thursay.
“No one wants to go on strike, but there’s just no way we can proceed.”
Actors and writers are also united on demands for guarantees about the use of AI.
SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland slammed the studios’ latest stance on AI.
He told journalists that studios had proposed to be allowed to scan the faces of background performers — or extras — for the payment of one day’s work, and be able to own and use their likeness “for the rest of eternity, in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation.”