Actors and writers strike: what do UNLV students think of it?

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Graphic by Kayla Roberts.

The SAG-AFTRA, a union for actors, has been on strike against film and television companies since July 13, and writers have been on strike for over 100 days; what do UNLV students, staff, alumni and aspiring filmmakers think about it?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actors’ strike, along with the writers’ strike, is the first time since 1960 that both groups are striking simultaneously. Both unions bring up the changing landscape as reasons for striking. Most notable among their demands are an increase in wages and residuals, their concern for artificial intelligence replacing actors and writers, as well as the shift to the streaming business model that puts actors and writers in an unfavorable financial position. Residuals for both writers and actors are not keeping up with the cost-of-living increases they are facing.

Kynan Dias, a film professor at UNLV, explains, “Every three years, the guilds go through a negotiation with the [film] companies or the AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers]. So the writers’ guild, directors’ guild and the screen actors’ guild go through negotiations. Most of the time the negotiations go through just fine. Every couple of cycles, there’s a sticking point or two. This one has been brewing for a little bit. It’s really coming down to streaming and the way streaming has changed the industry.”

Shahab Zargari is an award-winning science-fiction filmmaker and administrative faculty member at UNLV. In explaining the strike, he claims, “Streaming never existed. The last time that both the writers and the actors striked together was when [residuals] came into play. Let’s say you’re a writer on “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” and it was on NBC, with reruns on TBS or reruns on this or that. Everytime someone presses play on Episode 43 that you wrote on, you are going to get kind of a royalty. So the unions [in 1960] negotiated for all these things but, when all of these agreements were made, streaming didn’t exist. You couldn’t even imagine that. At the time, Netflix was mailing out DVDs. That’s all they were. Now, someone who could’ve made an okay living being an actor or being a writer because of these royalties, that made passive income, that made you able to survive, go to the next audition, etc. That money disappeared on streaming, so right now writers and actors are striking together.”

Dias adds, “One of the things that happened is that the AMPTP now includes streaming companies, so Netflix being the big stickler there…They’ve been undervaluing creative talent, as their business model, for a very long time.” Much of that talent comes from UNLV.

Faith Nault is a film student at UNLV, vice president of the UNLVFilm club and graduates in December. Nault is an aspiring director and has directed three films, with many more projects to come. Nault notes that with the rise of streaming, artificial intelligence and cost-of-living increases, “contracts need to be updated and renegotiated [therefore], UNLVFilm stands in solidarity with the strikes.” 

Actors who are part of the union refuse to work, which includes a halt to filming, interviewing or promoting any films they are in. This has put careers in jeopardy, especially for soon-to-be graduates and recent graduates of UNLV’s film program. Corbin Lopez is a recent graduate of UNLV’s film program and former historian of the Cinefemmes club, a club founded by femme filmmakers dedicated to promoting, diversifying and fostering relationships within the film industry.

Lopez says, “One of the biggest ways it’s affected me is since I just graduated in the middle of [the strike]. There’s no jobs. So that’s definitely scary and daunting with everything grinding to a halt like this, but I think it’s definitely for the best. By the time the strikes are done, the industry’s going to be way better off. People are going to be paid, not what they deserve, but a little bit closer to what they deserve, and I think it really shows the drive and kind of dedication of artists.” 

Nault says that the industry is already uncertain in general, but that the strike brings even more uncertainty and fear. Workers in the film industry are losing money, but studios are losing money on a larger scale.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the 100-day writers’ strike in 2008 cost approximately $100 million for film and television companies, posing the question of how much a double strike of this magnitude could cost film and television companies. 

Lopez says, “All of it is about money, so I think if studios and the industry continue to lose so much money because nothing’s being filmed and nothing’s able to go to theaters, go on TV. I think eventually they will have to budge and start paying people better.”

For a majority of those who are striking, many don’t make enough to qualify for health insurance. 

Lopez says, “They’re working check to check, from job to job and really struggling to just stay afloat and do what they love.” Lopez adds, “The film industry has such a spotlight on it that I think hopefully these strikes will trickle down to the people who aren’t in the film industry and aren’t paid enough, being paid a little bit more. I think this really shows the resiliency of the film community, of the people working in it, especially the writers have been striking for over 115 days now. And that’s no work, no nothing, they’re risking their livelihoods, their homes, to make sure the industry is better off after this [strike], so I definitely think it’s for the best.”

Something that Nault notes as a lesson that all aspiring filmmakers are learning from this strike is an appreciation for the arts and appreciation for the people who make movies possible. She says, “We’re all human, and that means standing up for your rights, for what’s fair and safe, even if it’s hard.”1Most notably, what has emerged from the strike so far is smaller and foreign studios being able to continue filming if they agree to the demands from both unions. NPR reports that over 200 productions have been given the green light to continue as usual. Rising from the dearth of content from the major studios and streaming companies are small productions, the very same productions students like Nault and UNLV alumni are engaged in. The future of the film industry is being written before our very eyes by UNLV’s filmmakers.

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