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  • Writer's pictureCharles Glennie

Filmmakers still struggling as new strike looms

Charlie Glennie 

March 22, 2024

It seems as though Hollywood still hasn't gotten the memo.

After the writers' and actors' strike in 2023, which brought TV and movie production to a halt for more than six months, there is now fear of another strike. 

The potential strike will be between The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), including workers ranging from camera operators to makeup artists and customers, and the studios,

For IATSE things look dim for many workers in the entertainment industry, especially those in production that work long hours with little pay in unsafe conditions. 

Over the past year, people in the entertainment industry have had a challenging time making a living due to the harsh working conditions, and with the IATSE contract with studios ending this summer, there is another possible strike to occur if the union’s needs are not met. 

"I am very concerned,” said Will Cannon, a member of IATSE who works in accounting. I have a little life to pay for car payments and mortgages. I don't have insurance right now because my hours have expired, so I'm very worried about another strike. I need to get back to my profession, and I miss traveling and meeting new people." 

IASTE’s contract with the studios includes economic proposals, working conditions, National benefits, and many more necessities for production workers. 

The previous WGA strike lasted 148 days, and the SAG strike lasted 118 in 2023. Both resulted in thousands of people stopping their work and finding other ways of making money. 

Hollywood incurred immense financial losses during the strike, and studios like Warner Bros. Discovery, which initially saw a bump to its bottom line, recently projected lower earnings for 2023 by $300-$500 million. 

With another possible strike looming, the entertainment industry's situation will only get more difficult if demands are not met.

Tensions over new contracts

A significant reason behind this potential strike for IATSE is the need for better pay, proper hours, safer conditions, and the growing fear of AI and how it should be applied to the entertainment industry. 

A global survey of working conditions found long working hours are the norm across the film and television industries worldwide, with 50- to 60-hour workweeks being typical among production crew members in the 20 countries surveyed. 

The last IATSE strike, the first in the union's history, was a 19-day affair in 2007. During that strike, network TV stopped production for two months, effectively shutting down scripted shows and costing California's economy an estimated $2.1 billion.

"It's a lot of people in a small market right now, so it is definitely harder to find a job right now," said Taylor Stiles, an actor, and producer who is part of the SAG union, explaining how even after the strike, the market for film jobs is still very scarce. "IATSE are the people behind the camera, the workers; they're the machine that puts it all together, and with long hours unfair pay and mistreatment it is a recipe for a strike. They feel undervalued and overworked."

Tensions are rising over the new contracts that are supposed to be in place this July, raising concerns about how unions will be fair against studios. The negotiations began on March 4 and encompass a host of unionized workers whose contracts expire on July 31.

While accountants like Will have been able to find work, there is still an imbalance of pay, for which he blames the studios immensely. 

"All the offers I've received have been below my normal rate, and once you take a lower rate, you're stuck with it."  

Like many others in the entertainment industry, Cannon believes that the studios have a large influx of profits and control over what is decided. 

"I think it's always gonna be the studios vs the union, which I believe is in every industry. I think it'll always be the union always looking out for its members and the studios always looking out for the shareholders." 

While productions have resumed since the strike, there is still not enough work for everyone. Rip Russell, a member of IATSE in production management, has still struggled to find long-term work due to studios not opening many new film sets. 

"There is definitely a long-term knockoff effect where studios have smaller budgets and fewer things greenlit for production,” said Russell. "Most people still haven't been called back to work because studios still haven't opened as many jobs."

Russell stresses that the studios can still manage well despite another strike and that no new investments have been made to save money. 

Lately film studios have not invested a great deal into “new” or “creative” projects, instead relying on safe movies and shows that they know will suffice and bring in streaming views. 

Hence, the majority of remakes and sequels are of things that have already been made and were huge successes in the past.

"Studios are holding back to see how things will play out, things are not back to normal, they have the "gift of time" to choose what they want to invest in."

Russell is confident that the studios will be ready if IATSE goes on strike regarding how they control their profits. 

"Studios will be so well versed, they could hold up another strike if they needed to, they have made plenty of money to hold out." 

The state of IATSE

Another critical issue that Russell and many others believe may lead to a strike is the fear of AI and how it can be used to replace workers and lighten the load for the number of workers. 

AI poses a threat to actors, who can be replaced by scanned likenesses of fewer performers on set. This would lead to fewer hair stylists and customers being needed. This example and more are what IATSE members face in their livelihood from new technology. 

"Technology will reduce the amount of people needed significantly. It will be unnoticeable in the first few years. We would likely see drastic changes happen in 10 years."

Using AI eliminates the need for an enormous potential of workers, which will lead to many needing a job if studios decide to cut out the middleman if it means they will make profits, says Stiles.

"It's not out of the realm to think about the threat of AI taking over the industry. It's going to affect the need for gaffers, lighting, DP, and PA. If AI can really create a realistic movie using someone's likeness, and it looks and feels like a real-life thing, then it has the potential of putting everyone in unemployment, especially for production members." 

On top of this issue, IATSE crew members are pushing for better hours and safer conditions that are experienced on set.

Many workers have been overworked with 12-hour shifts and only have a six-hour turnaround time. These numerous circumstances that the entertainment industry has grown used to have led to many unsafe norms for employees. Cannon discusses how these unhealthy shifts can cause harm and how he has seen these situations for himself.

"It happens more times than anyone ever thinks about. I've had a friend who fell asleep behind the wheel from being overworked, but luckily, he didn't get badly hurt."

Cases of crew members getting into car accidents after a long day were a huge concern in the minds of workers as they pushed the negotiating committee to achieve longer turnaround times and higher penalties for making crew work through meal breaks.

Future filmmakers concerned about the industry

Current filmmakers are struggling to find work, and many up-and-coming people who wish to pursue filmmaking, such as students, are also at significant risk of finding work. 

Keller Hollingsworth, a student at the College of Charleston, explains his worries about finding a career in film. 

"It is very difficult, especially since many of the programs require film experience when we don't really get any opportunity because we are still in school." 

Hollingsworth stresses that the film industry is an "insiders club," and with the state of the industry, he is confident that there will be more strikes, mainly due to studio cash grabs and the lack of creators in control of production. 

"I see the underlying problem to be that the people who are calling the shots are people who are profit-minded business people and not necessarily entertainment and filmmaking people and are looking at the assets that their company holds. And it's clear that audiences are getting tired of cash grabs."

"I think it's important that if you want a creator to create something, you give them the room to create something worthwhile. I think that will pay off if you allow them to do that." 

While many are struggling to make a living in this industry, they are still passionate about their work and want to continue working for something they love. 

They just hope they’ll have the opportunity.

“I legitimately do love the film industry,” says Cannon. “I love working on movies, I love being on the business side, and I wish I sometimes was on the creative side, but just to see a movie come together is awesome. It's a great feeling. When it’s out, and you can see your name in the credits, it’s always nice.”

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