Despite the Hollywood strike, some movies are still in production. Here's why
Updated August 15, 2023 at 12:23 PM ET
Despite a dual strike that has shut down most of Hollywood's production this summer, SAG-AFTRA, the actor's union has given the green light to actors to perform in more than 200 productions. That includes the Sigourney Weaver horror movie Dust Bunny, Rebel Wilson's Bride Hard, and Anne Hathaway's Mother Mary.
The union's rules say actors are not allowed to act in or promote their shows during the strike that began in July. But the union has given a pass to some independent productions to proceed, through some "interim agreements."
That means the stars of Michael Mann's new film Ferrari — Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz — will be allowed to work the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival this month. And actors there can promote Luc Besson's new movie Dogman.
"They're not waivers," says SAG-AFTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. "We've been trying to get people to stop using that term because really the interim agreement is a full-on collective bargaining agreement."
He says in order to be approved, productions have to agree to the same terms the union demanded from the major studios before contract negotiations broke off on July 12: That includes 11% wage increases, protections against artificial intelligence, and higher residuals when streamers reuse content.
"If independent producers are willing and able to sign this agreement and produce projects under it, it really directly defeats any assertion that our proposals are unrealistic," he says. "Well, if they're realistic enough that independent producers who don't have the bankroll of the studios can produce projects on them, how unrealistic are they, really?"
Before approving each production, he says, the union's contract experts vet them to make sure they are truly independent from the studios they're striking against. They do things like review corporate documents and copyright chains.
Crabtree-Ireland says some of the independent productions are also being made in other countries with different labor laws where they can't implement the strike. So Glenn Close can shoot the next season of the Israeli-produced TV series Tehran. And in Hungary, Jenna Ortega and Paul Rudd are allowed to film the comedy horror movie Death of a Unicorn.
The interim agreements have some union members confused and upset.
"So you're just letting people make movies?" actress Sarah Silverman asked in an Instagram post. "And movie stars are making movies that, you know, the goal is to sell them to streaming? ... That's called the end of the strike, which is now going to be probably exponentially prolonged because they have movie stars making movies."
Silverman later met with SAG-AFTRA leaders and posted a second Instagram message laying out various points of view and saying she agreed to disagree with her union. And the union has since revised this policy going forward to include only productions not covered by the Writers Guild of America, which is also on strike.
Outside Disney studios last week, striking actors said no one should get permission to work while there's a strike.
"It's either we're all in or we're not," said actor Lana Gautier.
Actor Jeff Kaye added, "Everybody should have just dropped where they were and walked off to make the statement, because right now the studios are being rewarded with finishing up this content ... allowing them to go a little bit longer while we're out on strike."
He noted that actor Viola Davis had been offered a job on a production with an agreement, but she announced she wouldn't cross the picket line. "Much respect to her for that," Kaye said, and Gautier agreed.
"Brad Pitt put the kibosh on his production in Bulgaria," she said. "So I respect that as well."
Oscar-winner Troy Kotsur was also on the Disney picket line. Through an ASL interpreter, he explained that he worked on a production in Canada that has an interim agreement to finish up.
"I can understand a bit of the controversy," he signed. "But for me personally, I've always supported independent films because they're not under any of the major studios. And so these are real people making passionate productions from their heart and their creativity, and they're trying to show their art."
SAG-AFTRA says if any streaming platform does eventually pick up one of the projects with an interim agreement, they'll be on the hook for paying the actors more. The union leaders say if only the big Hollywood studios would agree to do the same, the strike would end.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.