About 11,000 screenwriters affiliated with the Writers Guild of America had been on strike for 72 days since their contract with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade association that represents the major studios when it comes to negotiating labor contracts with creatives and crew members who actually make the movies and TV shows the peddle all around the world. Today, those writers will welcome over 160 thousand members from the Screen Actors Guild of America (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). That means film and television production grinds to a halt. Now!
And not just in America. Any guild member must cease work in the US or elsewhere. That means Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator 2”, currently filming in Morocco, may shoot around Pedro Pascal's absence using non-union extras and stand-ins, but still need to pick up when the strike ends. Plus, to keep Hollywood-centric production going is dangerously close to scabbing. There is also John Chu’s big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical “Wicked,” currently shooting in London with Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande, which may face trouble ahead. Both projects are set for release in late 2024, so at least they have some margin to absorb delays.
Pedro pascal will have to hang his sandals on the set of "Gladiator 2" / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
How long will this last? The last time both groups went to the picket lines was in 1960. Writers began striking on January 16. Actors followed suit on March 7. Both groups held concurrent strikes for six weeks, until April 18. Writers had to extend their pencils-down action until June 12. Back then, the issue at heart was TV residuals: how much writers and actors deserved for a new income stream born of selling exhibition rights to TV stations. 63 years later, more technological changes push creatives to the picket line hands. The distribution dynamic of stream services virtually erased syndication and foreign sales residuals, and AI may displace them from jobs. At least, that's what studios want.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence encroaches on labor and tasks that translate into income. In her recent documentary “Users,” filmmaker Natalia Armada records her voice to generate an artificial version of it, which she will use in her own movie. “Users” is a heady film essay that meditates on the encroachment of technology in daily life and the anxiety it brings about its potential to displace humanity. In Hollywood today, an actor called in to re-dub some lines in a movie may lose the wages of that day of work if the studio uses an AI voice generator, feeding it all the dialogues they recorded during production. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Most writers’ work happens behind the cameras, well before release dates. Studios could navigate the first weeks of the crisis with a devil-may-care attitude. The pipeline of releases is full for the rest of 2023 and part of 2024. “Mission: Impossible 7 - Dead Reckoning Part 2” is ready to screen next summer. Several high-profile projects finished shooting in time for this deadline. But now that actors got into the action, the game changes. Awareness of the crisis will increase, with performers prohibited from participating in promotional activities. That means no premieres, interviews, or public appearances. Star wattage at the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals will diminish if the strike continues further than the summer.
The reactions from high executives at the studios point to a shutdown. Disney CEO Bob Iger said to CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the unions were not “realistic” in their expectations. He went further, saying “It’s very disturbing to me. We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we are facing, the recovery from COVID, which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add up to that disruption.” Way to put the blame on the victims, Bob!
Eiger: "I have $27 million that say you are not being realistic, Minnie!" / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
The trades have pointed out that Iger may earn up to $27 million dollars in 2023. To get an idea of the asymmetries in the business, consider the case of several actors from the hit Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black.” A story recently published on The New Yorker website reveals the precarious conditions of employment they endured and the meager returns they get as residuals, which makes it impossible for them to live by acting alone.
It’s not a good look for the suits. The studios may have the vaults full enough to weather the storm, but writers and actors have the grit.
James Gunn’s “Superman: Legacy” keeps adding stars to its cast. David Conrenswet as the titular hero and Rachel Brosnahan as Louis Lane are old news. Social media is abuzz with the addition of Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, Isabella Merced as Hawkgirl, and Eli Gathegi as Mister Terrific.
Carrigan with "Barry" costars Henry Winkler and Stephen Root. / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
Today we got the news that Anthony Carrigan, the breakout star of Bill Hader’s HBO series “Barry” is on board to play Metamorpho. I have no idea who those guys are, but I guess I’ll find out when the movie comes out in 2025. If it does. Because we don't really know when the strike will end!
The Venice Film Fest Jury is a powerhouse of directorial talent. Jane Campion (Year of the Dog), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), and Laura Poitras (All The Beauty and The Bloodshed) will join Jury president Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Already onboard are Mia Hansen-Love (One Fine Morning), Santiago Mitre (Argentina, 1985), and Gabriele Mainetti (Freaks Out). Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri (The Blue Caftan) and Chinese star Shu Qi (The Assassin) round up the jury.
Do you think they are going to troll Chazelle about “Babylon”? The festival will take place from August 30 to September 9. Luca Guadagnino's "Challengers", with Zendaya, Mike Feist and Josh O'Connor will open the event.
It’s Harrison Ford’s birthday! The actor who gave life to iconic space hero Han Solo in “Star Wars” and adventurer Indiana Jones is 81 today. If you want to celebrate by seeing him stretching his acting muscles, check out his Oscar-nominated role in “Witness” (Peter Weir, 1985). Or, if you want to do him and Disney a solid, buy a ticket for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is about to get steamrolled by “Mission: Impossible 7 - Reckoning, Part 1.”
Happy birthday, Gramps!: Harrison Ford is 81 today. / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.
Patrick Stewart is also celebrating his birthday! The British star of stage and screen is 83 today. He took Captain Picard, his “Star Trek: The Next Generation” character, from TV to the big screen in 4 movies. He also played Prof. Xavier in the “X-Men” franchise. From time to time, he played more grounded roles in human-scaled movies. Check him out in “Jeffrey” (1995), “Green Room” (2015), or better yet, “Coda” (2019). The drama of a pianist facing the end of his career is available to stream in Popflick.
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