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How Hollywood actor and screenwriter strikes may impact the creator economy

Posted by Dina Zubi in News

11 months ago

Actors have joined screenwriters in strike action across Hollywood, causing production on many of the biggest TV and film projects to grind to a halt.

The strikes – which have been described as Hollywood’s biggest walkout in more than six decades – mainly involve members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

However, one of the main sticking points in negotiations revolves around the demand for viewership-based streaming residuals, making the action a global concern, not just a US one.

Influencers are being encouraged not to work with companies facing strikes, attend premieres or even discuss films and TV shows from affected companies. Creators who breech these guidelines are facing “scabbing” allegations and online criticism.

The Digital Creator Association’s founder and CEO Philip Hughes tells CORQ there are two key parallel desires the Hollywood strikers and content creators have in common – helping those starting out in the industry to earn a good living wage and to obtain protection from those in control. The crossover of the industries is limited but loss of income might be a consequence of the strike for some influencers. “The entertainment industry does make up a good proportion of ‘brand revenue’ in the creator industry, and so a decrease in output from that industry will likely lead to a fall in revenue for some entertainment content-based creators,” Hughes says.

SAG-AFTRA, which recently joined the walkout, has provided guidance for influencers regarding the strike. The organisation discourages creators from accepting paid partnerships with affected companies, unless the influencer is already under contract to fulfil an obligation. In addition to this, it also discourages talking about shows and films from affected companies in unpaid posts and attending events and conventions. This includes Comic-Con in San Diego, set to take place from 20-23 July. SAG-AFTRA noted that non-members who breach these guidelines will not be allowed future membership.

Another of the issues for the striking unions is safeguarding against artificial intelligence (AI), which can be used both to write scripts and use an actor’s likeness to produce new footage. “Probably the biggest impact that the Hollywood strike may have on the creator economy, is what its outcome ends up being in relation to payments and AI – given the parallels between how these issues affect both industries and how potential resolutions may apply,” Hughes says. The content creation world already has virtual influencers taking jobs from actual creators – M&S, Prada and PrettyLittleThing have all previously enlisted virtual ambassadors.

WGA members were first to strike and since SAG-AFTRA has joined the effort, the strike action is attracting even more media attention. At the London premiere of the film Oppenheimer, several stars including Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon walked out as SAG-AFTRA called a strike for its members. In addition to Oppenheimer, the much-anticipated Barbie film will be available to watch in cinemas from 21 July, but as of yet neither WGA or SAG-AFTRA have called for a boycott from fans.

Opportunities of more work vs risk of ‘scabbing’ criticism

Some content creators have shared they are unsure of their responsibilities and expectations during the strike. For instance, American entertainment TikToker Shelby Hallow expressed her confusion about her role during the strike as a non-union member. Meanwhile, others are clear on where they stand. US TikToker James (Movie Good or Movie Bad) announced he will not be reviewing any new films until the strike is over, and instead will focus on international and older films in the meantime. Fellow US TikToker Landon Reid said he turned down attending a film premiere due to the strike. The strike and solidarity conversation seems less prevalent among UK creators as of yet.

While some creators are declining to work with affected companies, others are willing to step in to fill the gaps left by striking union members. The premiere of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion went ahead – not with its actors but with Disney characters and influencers walking the red carpet instead. Attending influencers, such as Andra Gogan (who later apologised and deleted her TikTok video), have been criticised and accused of scabbing.

The WGA and SAG-AFTRA member Franchesca Ramsey said studios will be reaching out to creators to try to fill the content gaps left by striking union members, but urged influencers not to comply, stating this would be seen as scabbing and could hurt their careers in the future. Hughes also anticipates influencers being offered more opportunities during the strike, but adds any collaborations “would, of course, rely upon creators being willing to ‘cross the picket line’ against their Hollywood counter-parts”. As the strike continues, some creators will likely refuse to work with affected studios and networks – expect those who do work with them to face backlash. Interestingly, some US creators have also called for an influencer union in light of the strike.

By Dina Zubi, CORQ news and features writer.