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SAG-AFTRA joins the biggest Hollywood strike in decades

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Hollywood writers have been on strike for weeks now, and yesterday Hollywood actors joined the picket line. The last time there was a tandem strike in Hollywood, it was 1960, when Ronald Reagan was president not of the U.S. but of the Screen Actors Guild.

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RONALD REAGAN: Negotiators from both sides expressed satisfaction with the contract and the belief that it's fair and equitable and will lead to stable labor management relations in the industry.

FLORIDO: Back then, the fight was over residual payment in light of a relatively new invention at the time, reruns. And today, new technologies are driving the disputes again. For more, we've called Kim Masters. She's the editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter and host of The Business from member station KCRW. Welcome back.

KIM MASTERS: Thank you for inviting me.

FLORIDO: I need to note at the outset that many of NPR's employees are also in SAG-AFTRA, but we...

MASTERS: As am I. Yes. We're...

FLORIDO: Yes.

MASTERS: ...In the broadcast unit, and we don't - we're not on strike. Yeah.

FLORIDO: We are not striking. And so that said, we are in Day 1 of this actors strike, and I'm wondering if you could just give us a sense of what Hollywood feels like right now.

MASTERS: I think there's a tremendous amount of anxiety, of course, and anger. If you heard Fran Drescher speaking yesterday - she's now head of SAG-AFTRA.

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FRAN DRESCHER: I am shocked by the way that people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly.

MASTERS: You know, this was a very passionate, angry statement that the studios are not being fair. And, of course, during labor disputes, the rhetoric is always very hyperbolic and heated up. But this time, I actually think the anger is real, and it's not just posturing.

FLORIDO: You know, in these negotiations, actors seem to be really concerned about a lot of bread-and-butter issues in this contract that they're trying to negotiate - better pay, health and pension plans. But at the core, there seems to be, you know, this deep and fundamental concern about the way that technology is changing, how they work and how they get paid. Is your sense that that's really at the core of the impasse between actors and studios right now?

MASTERS: Very much so. The legacy studios have had their business very much disrupted by starting their own streamers to compete with Netflix and Amazon. This is a very expensive game - you know, trying to come up with original material, trying to get people to subscribe to your thing and make money out of it. And honestly, the studios haven't figured out how to make money off of this. So that is part of the issue.

And then there is the other technology issue, which is AI. And no matter what member of the studio's group, you know, whether they're a streamer like Netflix or not, the actors and the writers are very distrustful as to how they are going to use AI. They do not want to be replaced by AI. They do not want their images generated if they're actors and used in a way they don't want. So this is something that is very, very much part of the argument right now. And it's clear, you know, like, for example, to the writers that the studios could generate an AI script and say, give this a polish. And already the writers are feeling like the streamers have been shorting them, and the anxiety around technology generally is very much at the heart of this. Yes.

FLORIDO: And because streaming services have become such a dominant part of the industry, actors' pay has become a lot more dependent on residuals. Can you just, for listeners who might not know what a residual is, explain what that is and how that's affecting actors' livelihoods in Hollywood?

MASTERS: Yes. I mean, they fought for this back in the day when they started having repeats of shows. The actors would get paid. I mean, just using myself as an example for fun, I did a brief, brief cameo - I'm not an actress - on "The Good Wife" some years ago, the CBS show, and I am still getting tiny little checks from that very brief appearance. And what these people are - you know, seeing the streamers not wanting to be transparent about how successful a show was. You know, what is their piece of the pie? They had a piece of the pie in the previous model, and it enabled many people to earn a living. But, you know, that model is dying, and the new model is not paying them the actors' residuals. And the writers, you know - they feel like, we create this stuff that you're getting all this money from. Where is our piece of that?

FLORIDO: How disruptive and destructive is this strike and, really, the combination of the actors strike and the writers strike for Hollywood right now?

MASTERS: Well, the writers were already being pretty effective in shutting down production by showing up when people were shooting and picketing and making a lot of noise. The actors shut the industry down. I mean, the industry is now shut down. We saw the cast of "Oppenheimer," the new Chris Nolan film that's coming, walk away from the premiere in London the minute the strike was called. You saw Matt Damon saying, we are out. So everything is now shut down. And the studios - you know, they want to play hardball, but they can't afford this either for a long time. You know, they need new material. They're trying to get people to sign up for their streamers. They're trying to get people back into theaters. And it also is destructive to LA. You know, this is costing millions of dollars a day to the community here. It is a very, very destructive moment, and the more it drags on, the worse it gets.

FLORIDO: Well, I appreciate you for following it for us. That's Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter. Thanks so much.

MASTERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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