July 24, 2023
Currently, actors under the SAG-AFTRA union are on strike, which means not promoting their movie at events, appearing in any new roles, and many other things. But what are the specifics under their restrictions, why are they striking, and how does it connect to AI?
What is SAG-AFTRA?
SAG-AFTRA is a labor union that represents actors and general media professionals, helping them negotiate for better wages and working conditions in the event that they are unreasonable/unlawful. Not just big name millionaire actors, but small actors trying to break into the industry often find it beneficial to join unions for the reasons stated, and boycotting for higher wages benefits them more than it does the Matt Damons and Tom Cruises of the industry. The union was born in a merger of two established unions, the Screen Actors Guild (1933-2012) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (1937-2012). SAG-AFTRA currently has upwards of 100,000 members.
Events Leading up to the Strike
Last month, under the conditions that their negotiating committee would not reach an agreement on their new contract with powerful Hollywood studios, SAG-AFTRA voted to go on strike. In late June, upwards of a thousand actors signed a letter threatening to strike, including A-listers like Rami Malek and Meryl Streep.
Negotiations that the union proposed to AMPTP (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) included limiting the use of self-tape auditions (due to potential bias towards better camera and audio quality amongst audition participants) and issuing residuals for streaming viewership.
On July 14, the union announced at a press conference its decision to go on strike after their agreements were not met, following the laying out of details of the strike. This would be the first strike involving actors in the television and film industry since 1980.
AI in Film
One of the issues discussed in the strike was the use of AI-replicated digital likenesses of actors. A portion of the statement that SAG-AFTRA made depicting AMPTP’s stance on the issue (which the latter denies) is as follows, “We want to be able to scan a background performer’s image, pay them for a half a day’s labor, and then use an individual’s likeness for any purpose forever without their consent”. This caused outrage among many actors on social media, as the issue of appropriate payment for especially lower-ranking actors is one that has existed for a long time. Most entry-level actors don’t make nearly enough from one role to live off of, so many have to fit auditions, headshots, and other things in between one or two jobs.
This hit a nerve with a lot of people likely as a result of the increased use of AI in movies and TV shows, like the de-aging of some actors and the AI generated artwork in the opening title sequence in Marvel’s new show, “Secret Wars”. The ethical issue regarding AI art is a similar one, as many artists feel their art is being stolen from search engines to create this art, and some artists who do commissions express concern over the possibility of losing customers who want custom art commissioned. The attitudes of digital artists and actors are similar enough, both parties wanting to get full credit and payment for work they create.
Terms of the Strike
The terms of the strike that SAG-AFTRA proposed included actors not being able to promote their projects at film festivals or events, on social media, do interviews, and attend premieres. So pretty much any public promotion of films or shows from the actors is off the table.
Even promotional collaborations posted on social media have a disclaimer in their posts “filmed before the strike”. So, for however long this strike lasts, don’t expect to see any newly recorded media interviews with your favorite actors.
About the author:
Akili Raphael is a third-year student at DePaul University. He’s also an author and published his first book when he was only 10 years old. He is well versed in media topics such as animation, filmmaking, and is active in the online video game and sports communities. In his free time, he keeps his overflowing creativity in check by writing, creating art in various mediums, making short films, and practicing martial arts. Always interested in learning new things and sharing ideas, he considers himself a student of life above all else.