On May 2nd and July 14th of 2023, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA walked out of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The 2023 strike, ongoing as we write, is already one of the largest walkouts in film and television history.
Strikes in Hollywood happen infrequently, typically occurring at moments of significant technological and industrial change. In the last few years, film, television, and streaming writers, directors, and actors have found themselves across the table from a new set of corporate entities, not just legacy studios and networks, but also three major tech companies (Amazon, Apple, and Netflix).
Writers and actors have framed this strike as a battle against corporate greed. And the CEOs of the AMPTP have consistently, if accidentally, reinforced this image as out-of-touch elites in their interviews with the press. A clip that perhaps best exemplifies this is Disney CEO Bob Iger’s interview with CNBC from his perch at “Billionaire Summer Camp” in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 13th (the day before the actors walked out). Just after he addressed news of his $27 million contract extension with Disney, Iger weighed in on the negotiations. In a casual blue sweater and crisp white T-shirt, the slightly reclined Iger deployed negotiation rhetoric, calling creatives’ demands “unrealistic.” The idyllic setting of the interview, underscored by a chorus of birds chirping, and mention of a $27 million salary, makes Iger’s casual dismissal of workers’ terms appear to be a woefully bad PR move for a man who has more respect from Hollywood insiders than most of his other CEO-counterparts. It’s hard to make compelling claims about unrealistic expectations in a setting fit for a live-action Snow White.
Iger scoffing over what is “realistic,” is particularly damning from a man who sees all of the accounting and withholds the data with his employees. With little data from the streamers on audiences and ratings and less attachment to the box office, creatives are in the dark about how their success is being measured and compensated. Meanwhile, “content” has transformed film and television into an undifferentiated mass of material to be pushed out on streaming services with little attention or fanfare. The ambiguity of these terms matters for remuneration as well as how we discuss works of art and popular culture.
Writers and actors are facing an existential threat to their professions. Their respective bargaining slates call for more data transparency from streamers and protections against the threat of AI in addition to union-specific bargaining points like minimum staffing requirements and self-tape audition regulations. We hope that the AMPTP and the guilds can achieve a fair and realistic future for the industry and that Hollywood can get back to whistling as it works.