The SAG-AFTRA strike hasn’t been resolved, but that could change after SAG-AFTRA meets with studios. In the meantime, actors should do what they do best and act out what life will be like post-strike.
All theatrics aside, actors of various levels should ready a refreshed strategy and awareness of how to navigate opportunities, negotiations and industry realities as the production world reopens.
Here are four action items that actors, their reps (agents, lawyers and managers) and even concerned spouses, partners and friends should implement so that they are as prepared as possible for performing after the strike resolves.
Have A Whiteboard Handy
I’m serious – get an actual whiteboard and make sure you have a great eraser because scheduling is going to be a nightmare! With over six months of backlogged productions, actor availability is going to be one of the trendiest topics in Hollywood post-strike. Recently, Emma Roberts was kept from doing an indie project because of her commitment to FX’s long-standing series, American Horror Story.
In addition to the backlog of production, several actors were already in first position on television shows or films that were halted due to the strike back in May. Now, actors will need to coordinate permission to take on work and carefully craft the order of their desired projects and opportunities. Talent reps will also have to be very careful to negotiate marginal hold windows and film productions will diligently want to ensure that the project is an actual greenlight – meaning projects that are funded and ready to start filming without conditions.
Oftentimes, talent protects their calendar by requiring that producers guarantee their acting fees on a pay or play basis, so the producer pays whether or not the actor’s services are used. This pay or play obligation is usually tethered to a set period of time where a producer places a hold on the actor, so that they cannot take any other work. Take for instance, Johnny Depp’s termination after one scene in the 2022 film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. After Depp’s partner Amber Heard made a series of turbulent domestic abuse allegations against him, Warner Bros. replaced the actor with Mads Mikkelsen to play the film’s starring villain, Gellert Grindelwald.
After the WGA strike ended, writers rooms for popular series like Abbott Elementary, Yellowjackets and more have started writing again. With countless productions ramping up, both talent and producers will have to carefully negotiate and figure out how much time is enough time to lock in actors for roles. More importantly, both sides will have to decipher how much money can be risked to guarantee such hold periods.
Value Your Influence
While traditional content – the usual films and television series we all know and love – rely on unionized labor and may have been halted during the strike, the creator community online continued to explode economically and influentially, and it isn’t stopping anytime soon. In today’s market, actors must come to terms with their dual role as performers acting out pages of a script and as individuals who harness the power of public recognition and a public voice with a built-in audience.
This is particularly relevant for actors who make up the middle class of the Hollywood scene. When producers are evaluating who to choose with their casting director for smaller, reoccurring or indie film roles, the difference between “broody actor A” and “broody actor B” may be less about acting chops and more about who has more Instagram followers.
Don’t Expect Middle Class Wins
The actor middle class will also likely feel the burden of the SAG-AFTRA scale wins as negotiations open again. For big stars in the acting community, the baselines of SAG-AFTRA terms are irrelevant to them. These A-listers are demanding (and getting) significant compensation and bonuses because they are more famous and therefore, more marketable, even though most SAG members can be considered lower-income. The majority live and die by the baseline of SAG-AFTRA’s scale.
Therefore, when the offer comes in at scale, they already have better terms than before.
But who makes up this thespian “middle class” you might ask? It includes scale actors on their way up, big stars on their way down, and of course, regular character actors. This group is going to suffer from the producer narrative that scale and the SAG-AFTRA agreement is a lot already, so there is no possible room for economic improvement.
TV Is The Big Fish And Movies Will Be The Guppy
The SAG strike is an accelerator of where content is going, not necessarily a cause. But one acceleration that will be in high gear is the irrefutable reality that the economics and timing of television will be the big fish of opportunities in 2024.
Feature films in the studio system are only realizing success at the highest level. Therefore, the feature film market and upside are dwindling. But the stability of an actor landing a television series that may result in dozens of episodes is the evolution of opportunity.
The result of unreliable theatrical success and streamers trying to realize better profits is that theatrical feature budgets are scrutinized and studios exercise caution not to overpay talent so that the budget can hedge for mediocre success and still come out as a win. The result is that talent attached to feature films are facing an uphill battle negotiating for better up-front fees where studios are uncertain on the positive outcome of a feature film in today’s market.
Conversely, television provides for stability and while television budgets have also been pushed down, there are positive factors that may help grow television economics – most notably the increase of streamers to introduce ad supported offerings on their service. With the boomerang reliance on ad-supported content, it will be notable to watch the positive ripple effect that may occur within television. Television studios are prioritizing their productions for 2024 and will be mobilized to offer meaningful and stable offers on shows like The White Lotus or The Last Of Us. It will be very hard for a one-off film that may or may not see a theatrical window to compete.
Actors and their reps have quite a bit of logistics, strategy and negotiations to sift through before “Action!” is called. But with careful planning and forward thinking, we are all getting closer to getting some great, new content.