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Hollywood shuts down for the first time in six decades

A mega-strike involving writers and performers demanding better pay and increased safeguarding around AI rights is likely to grind to a halt the production of most movies and many popular television shows.

Swapping the red carpet for the picket lines, Hollywood actors are going on strike after negotiations between studio representatives and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) failed to make a breakthrough.

The decision to walk out means that for the first time in 63 years, both the SAG-AFTRA and WGA (the Writers Guild of America) unions are taking simultaneous action.

In short, Hollywood is effectively being shut down and will come to a near-standstill. With no scripts, and no performers to bring them to life, many studios will fall dark.

For films in production, the strike means a large portion of work will become impossible. Even in cases in which filming has already been completed, actors will be unavailable for re-shoots and other essential elements of the filmmaking process.

TV shows that are still being filmed will also largely have to stop, although in some cases side deals could be struck between performers and producers to allow work to continue.

Centred on demands relating to material made for streaming platforms and concerns over artificial intelligence, it comes as the industry grapples with how technology is changing the way movies and television shows are made – and watched.

Actors are seeking higher pay and safeguards against unauthorised use of their images through AI. This is because they deem their jobs especially vulnerable to new tech, with generative AI – namely deepfakes – able to replicate facial expressions, body movement, and voice with alarming accuracy.

They would like to see a guarantee that AI will not be used to replace the duties performed by actors, potentially rendering them obsolete.

And, on the topic of streaming services, it’s being argued that they haven’t shared the wealth, even as they have led to an explosion of entertainment content.

The never-ending quest for new subscribers is an unsustainable business model, say those striking, and studio executives are reaping huge salaries while many actors and writers are struggling to make a decent living.

With an estimated 160,000 performers expected to take part and no date set for when it will end, Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, believes the move will impact ‘thousands if not millions of people’ and have enormous financial repercussions.

‘Despite our team’s dedication to advocating on your behalf, the AMPTP has refused to acknowledge that enormous shifts in the industry and economy have had a detrimental impact on those who perform labour for the studios,’ she said.

‘A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life,’ said the AMPTP in response. ‘The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.’

According to Forbes, this ‘chosen path’ could lead to an economic fallout surpassing the $2.1bn lost in the 100-day writers’ strike 16 years ago.

The publication predicts that the trickle-down effect could touch every facet of the Southern California economy, including the housing market. If the strike drags on for three months, it could cost the local economy $3 billion, but because the current negotiations are so complex, they may drag on even longer, outpacing the losses from last time.

‘The ripple effects will be felt quickly, with many tightening their belts and spending less,’ writes Dana Feldman.