You don't like being an actor? Not being compensated fairly? Work for a greedy person? Great, do something else and work for someone you don't deem greedy.
Err...oh I almost forgot, it's only the other guy who's greedy, not you!
Hollywood Strike’s Big Risk Is a ‘Nanny’ Without a Plan
The actors union let itself be pushed into a walkout by radical posturing when its leverage was low.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., WSJ
July 21, 2023 5:34 pm ET
When actors union boss Fran Drescher, star of the ’90s sitcom “The Nanny,” declared a few weeks ago that negotiations between SAG-Aftra and the studios were “extremely productive,” her A-list colleagues didn’t want to hear it.
With signers like Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, a letter bristling with eagerness for a strike warned that “members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.” Sensing a threat to her position, Ms. Drescher thereupon turned herself into a Madame Defarge auditioning for “The Grapes of Wrath.” Not a lick of strategy has been visible since in the union’s approach to the great Hollywood work stoppage.
Something is loose in the world—some bacillus—that seeks radical destruction for its own gratification. The last time the writers and actors struck together was in 1960, to get a share of the burgeoning new opportunity of TV. The latest comes as the streaming bubble has burst, as network and cable TV are in free fall, as the entertainment giants have begun downsizing and committing mass layoffs.
The moment does not shriek “leverage” in terms of a negotiating plan.
“Both the actors and writers say they’ve been shortchanged by the transition to streaming,” explains Bloomberg News. But this is like angling for a bigger share of beer after the keg is dry.
If Ms. Drescher’s energetic vaporing is meant to a conceal a deep-laid stratagem, it’s well-hidden. “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity,” she says, apparently referring to the contract her members approved by a vote of 74% three years ago.
A tail-wagging-the-dog dilemma pervades her union. The guild may boast 160,000 card-carrying members, but only 27% voted on its last contract. An outside study finds just 2% of those who appear in TV and movies actually make a living from them. The guild itself will say only that 87% of its members don’t earn enough ($26,000 a year) to qualify for health insurance, though Ms. Drescher recently let slip that most members make less than $10,000.
The implications aren’t pretty. Serious, well-paid professionals are putting their careers on hold for the benefit of “journeymen” (Ms. Drescher’s favorite word) for whom the strike may be a lark just as the occasional day on a movie set is a lark.
Some are certainly pursuing lifelong ambitions, but many of these “background performers,” formerly known as “extras,” have little real skin in the game. They are the ones most likely to screw up an expensive shot with an inappropriate face or gesture. And yet, on their behalf, the union is spending negotiating capital to prevent filmmakers from digitally fixing an image after the day of paid shooting.
Is this a realistic vision of filmmaking’s future? No, and the “journeymen” will lose access to a foothold if filmmaking flees the Los Angeles area for more economically rational climes.
Hollywood’s quasi-monopoly over filmed entertainment, which incidentally enshrined for a global industry the quaint folkways of the actors and writers guilds, is not a law of nature. The technical capacity to make movies is only becoming cheaper and cheaper even as Tinsel Town’s costs balloon out of sight. A feature film can be produced and edited on an iPhone. A ninth-grader can make a space opera with graphics to put “2001” to shame. Soon an amateur will have access to a room full of script doctors based on ChatGPT-like large language models.
Panic over artificial intelligence may suit the kamikaze mind-set the union is cultivating in its membership in the absence of a game plan. Leakage from the negotiations suggests both sides actually see dollar signs and are simply wrestling over control of the new tools.
Ms. Drescher’s one brainstorm, apparently suggested by her father, is a third-party algorithm to estimate, based on social-media mentions, how much a show might be worth to a streamer in subscription dollars.
The idea here is the nostalgic one of creating a streaming equivalent of the “residuals” actors once earned from rerun syndication. It’s also the non-flyer of all non-flyers because of the proprietary value the streamers attach to their viewership data. If a new risk-sharing model is needed, and it may be, in which the big money is withheld until a show is a hit with subscribers, the industry is likely to find its way without help from Ms. Drescher’s dad.
Yet lacking is any other hint of a union endgame. Actor John Cusack has become one of Ms. Drescher’s many noisy helpmates. He suggests on Twitter that greed is when somebody else doesn’t want to give him money. His wanting money isn’t greed. Maybe the guild’s strategy is over my head, but its rhetoric and the panoply of people spewing it don’t indicate any strategy at all. It does suggest why so much of Hollywood’s output seems IQ-challenged these days.