by Oppenheimer The cast walked out of the London premiere on Thursday night in solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild) actors’ strike. While buzz for Christopher Nolan’s new film was strong in Leicester Square, the possibility of an attack caused the team to delay the premiere event by an hour, just the night before. As the actors’ union was unable to reach a fair agreement with the film studios – for adequate residual payments – the strike was called with an approval margin of 98% of the votes, causing by Oppenheimer cast to leave the venue in order to adhere to the union’s terms.
“I think right now we’re just kind of… I hope everyone gets a fair deal and we’re here to celebrate this movie,” star Emily Blunt told Deadline, during the Oppenheimer red carpet event. “And if they do, we’ll come out together as a cast in unity with everyone… We’ll have to do it. We’re going to have to. We’ll see what happens. Now it’s the joy of being together.” Co-star Matt Damon echoed his sentiments, adding that his and Ben Affleck’s independent studio Artists Equity just wrapped production on an undeveloped film, hoping things can work out between SAG-AFTRA and the studios. SAG-AFTRA is a union representing nearly 160,000 film and TV actors and media professionals primarily in the United States, whose leadership claims its agreement with film studios for adequate pay is not fair. “It’s the difference between having healthcare and not having it for a lot of actors, and we have to do what’s right for them,” Damon said.
The last time the entertainment industry faced a double strike was in the 1960s, with screenwriters and actors voicing their concerns over appropriate pay as a result of the rise of television. At the time, they earned together residuals for repeated TV reruns and broadcast of movies and shows, as well as welfare. Residual payments are useful for artists when they are between projects. Now, in 2023, with streaming services taking the lead, companies like Netflix and Disney+ don’t release the viewing figures for their shows, essentially offering a flat fee regardless of how much a show might rise in popularity. Making matters worse is the debate over the use of AI in filmmaking, such as using apps like ChatGPT to write full-length film scripts – directly impacting writers’ jobs and livelihoods.
AMPTP, the organization that negotiates on behalf of the major studios, said in a statement that it had presented SAG-AFTRA with a deal that promised “historic salaries and residual increases” along with higher limits on pensions and health contributions, and even an “innovative AI proposal.” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, COO of SAG-AFTRA responded to the offer claiming that AMPTP was undervaluing actors’ work. As for the artificial intelligence proposal, it was revealed that the production studios wanted to pay background artists for a day’s work in exchange for the rights to their digital image for all eternity, with no additional compensation or consent. The bizarre situation mirrors the Black Mirror episode ‘Joan is Awful’ from Season 6, where studios acquired the rights to scan and use actors’ digital likenesses forever.
The strikes have caused film and TV series production to be delayed or halted until further notice, when new negotiation agreements are met. However, a Variety report suggests that filming on the Emmy-nominated House of the Dragon will continue as usual in the UK. The cast of the HBO series is mostly UK-based actors who do not work under America’s SAG-AFTRA contracts, but rather under the British union Equity, whose trade laws prevent them from striking in solidarity with international unions. Equity also released a guide for its 47,000 members, stating that artists who join the strike will have no protection against dismissal or breach of contract. It’s worth mentioning that the ongoing writers’ strike had no effect on filming House of the Dragon, as season two’s scripts were completed much earlier, and now creator Ryan J. Condal is strictly involved in a non-screenwriting capacity.
Oppenheimer opens July 21 in theaters worldwide, while House of the Dragon season 2 is set to release in 2024.