After a paralyzing 118 days, the actors’ strike is now, finally, looking like it’s over, following hard in the footsteps of the similarly resolved WGA strike a couple of weeks ago. The SAG are claiming victory over the studios, who took an exceptionally long time to ratify demands that included everything from increased fees for work appearing on streaming services, to protections regarding the use of AI, to reproduce actors’ images on screen. There were many times during the strike when it looked as if both sides were simply too far apart to achieve a resolution. In the end, money talks: the major Hollywood studios and streaming services realized that without the swift agreement they needed, there would be a drought of product in the marketplace next year, and beyond.
Although the specifics of the deal will emerge over the coming days, Netflix boss Ted Sarandos’s comment that “we didn’t just come toward you, we came all the way to you” suggests that the agreement is one that favors the actors, after a great deal of heat and argument along the way. Some of the more unusual moments in the dispute included leading actors such as George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson offering a freelance solution that would have poured hundreds of millions of their hard-earned dollars into the union’s resources — a kind and thoughtful idea, but technically illegal — and a good deal of mud-slinging on both sides. This included increasingly beleaguered Disney boss Bob Iger saying of the actors that, “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic,” only for striking thespians to remind Iger that very few of them enjoy his level of wealth and insulation from real-world issues.
The agreement has to be ratified by the 160,000 members of the SAG, but if the WGA deal is anything to go by, this is all but a formality, and so the stalled projects that have been waiting to resume production will be able to do so swiftly. It is not out of the question that there might have been some much-needed script polishing done for the likes of Gladiator 2, Deadpool 3 and Beetlejuice 2, which is not usually a luxury that filmmakers have during the all-hands-on-deck period of filming and production. Even leaving aside the worrying fact that two of the directors affected by the strike, Clint Eastwood and Ridley Scott, are in their early nineties and mid-eighties respectively, and need to get back to work, it is now inevitable that there will be a log-jam in post-production facilities. Consider that already overwhelmed special effects departments will be struggling to produce decent-quality CGI in a matter of a couple of months in order to hit the films’ projected 2024 release dates.
As the imminent failure of The Marvels will indicate, Hollywood is in an unhappy place right now. The vast successes of Barbie and Oppenheimer certainly suggested that audiences are crying out for something unusual and not franchise-led, but the actors’ strike has meant that the worried studios will be playing it as safe as they can over the next couple of years, hence the surfeit of presumably can’t-miss sequels. Yet the concern for everyone — whether audiences, filmmakers or executives — is that the battle may have been won, but the war for cinematic relevance is only just starting. The SAG might be trumpeting a return to “business as usual,” but given the difficulties that business currently has, nobody with any serious interest in the future and relevance of movie theaters should be relaxing just yet.