Hollywood’s first big role after the SAG strike? Acting like there are no hard feelings

Life in Hollywood often means dealing with people you don’t particularly like or trust. Those skills should come in handy after sacrificing more than half of 2023 to strikes by writers and actors, meaning the first order of business now that the Screen Actors Guild strike is tentatively ending will require Oscar-worthy performances pretending there are no hard feelings, after months of acrimony between studios and their employees.

Historically, the ill will that surrounds strikes doesn’t linger for long, with deals and money trumping the temptation to hold grudges amid the euphoria of getting back to work. In a business filled with rejection, where most auditions fail and pitches miss the mark, writers and actors seldom have the luxury of cutting off options, any more than executives can deprive themselves of sources of potential hits.

Still, the rhetoric during this year’s strikes frequently turned harsh and even personal, stoked by anonymous quotes attributed to studio executives saying the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, intended to cause enough economic pain to make talent cave in during the negotiations. For their part, guild members lambasted CEOs like Disney’s Robert Iger and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos as overpaid and out of touch.

Few were spared in the crossfire, including trade papers devoted to the entertainment industry, such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, which served as conduits for much of that back and forth (often delivered from behind the veil of anonymity).

Writers and actors dismissed those outlets as mouthpieces for the studios, advancing their agenda because they covet their advertising dollars – charges also leveled during the last writers strike in 2008. Granted, that mentality probably won’t mean much when publicists want to promote an upcoming movie or tout a sweet deal to the town, but while the strike raged on the media became another casualty.

SAG-AFTRA captain Mary M. Flynn rallying striking actors on the last day of picketing outside Netflix. - Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
SAG-AFTRA captain Mary M. Flynn rallying striking actors on the last day of picketing outside Netflix. - Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The Directors Guild of America has also come under fire for misreading this labor moment by quickly reaching a separate deal in June. Members of the other guilds have since criticized the DGA, saying their actions misled the AMPTP about the resolve of their peers, in a way that may have inadvertently prolonged the strikes.

Regaining a semblance of normalcy offers the most obvious path to cooling down the acrimony. Yet settling the strikes doesn’t address underlying challenges broadly assailing Hollywood that helped make them so contentious, as studios grapple with the economic consequences of the streaming business, which has upset traditional models, including TV viewership, cable/satellite subscriptions and movie attendance further disrupted by and still recovering from the Covid pandemic.

The expectation is studios and streaming services will continue to engage in belt tightening by reducing orders of movies and TV shows, a cost-saving maneuver that will have the effect, intended or otherwise, of adding to talent’s burdens – receiving better pay under the new deals, but with less overall work to go around.

While writers and actors can rightly celebrate gains and concessions won with their united front, their enthusiasm could be tempered over time by a more frugal mentality, including greater reliance on cheaper reality shows and international acquisitions.

With actors free to walk red carpets and attend premieres again, there should be photogenic smiles as cameras start rolling and the year-end awards season (including the delayed Emmys) kicks into gear.

All that could be balanced, however, by lingering financial stress from a painful months-long standoff, uneasiness regarding what lies ahead, and the simmering resentments that the strikes exposed.

Time might heal all wounds, but the more immediate effect, given all those factors, could be covering them with makeup. On the bright side, if Hollywood can fake its way through all that, then maybe the rest is easy.

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