Like the striking writers, leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, have described their labor dispute in stark terms, calling the present moment “existential” for their members.
And like the writers, they have argued that this has rapidly approached a crisis because of how streaming entertainment has exploded over the last decade.
“We’re looking to make sure that acting can be a sustainable career choice for people, not just the 100 most famous celebrities in the world, but for the whole large population of our membership,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the lead negotiator for the union, said in a recent interview. “They should be able to make a living and, you know, pay a mortgage or pay rent like everybody else.”
The actors have raised a number of grievances, including the regulations on self-taped auditions, a pandemic phenomenon that has resulted in fewer live casting sessions.
But the core issues have been about compensation, as well as the use of artificial intelligence. The union has argued that actor compensation — particularly residuals, a type of royalty payment — has been “severely eroded” in recent years. In the old system, if a television series was a runaway hit, actors could expect significant residual checks to hit their bank account for years afterward. In the streaming era, the actors argue, the pie has gotten smaller, as have the checks.
“We’re fundamentally interested in making sure that our members share in the success of projects that they create,” Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said.
The actors also have serious concerns about artificial intelligence, and how the technology could be used to replicate their performances using their previous work without their being compensated or consulted.
Tara Kole, a lawyer with the entertainment law firm Johnson Shapiro Slewett & Kole, which represents actors like Emma Watson and Ashley Judd, said in an interview that the potential use of artificial intelligence was “terrifying” to actors.
“I think that’s become the intractable issue,” Ms. Cole said. “It feels existential and people don’t understand it. It’s new. It’s scary. Everyone is worried that all of a sudden they will be in a sequel to a movie and they are not getting paid for their work.”
Mr. Crabtree-Ireland, the lead negotiator, said of AI, “We have a real vested interest in making sure that something significant is done about this, so that we’re not trying to fix it retroactively three years from now. It needs to be done now.
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and the Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, said early Thursday morning that they offered “historic pay and residual increases,” and offered a “groundbreaking” AI proposal that “protects actors” digital likeness.”
“Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods,” the studios said.