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Looming actors strike reflects major tensions in Hollywood

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

SAG-AFTRA - that is the union representing thousands of actors including some of Hollywood's biggest stars. And it is set to go on strike tomorrow. They're in disagreement with major studios over their contract. So if today's last-minute mediation does not work, this could be the latest strike to shake up Hollywood. Kim Masters is editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter and host of "The Business" at our member station KCRW. Hey, Kim.

KIM MASTERS: Hello.

KELLY: I need to deliver a quick note here for transparency, which is many of us, including me, at NPR are members of SAG-AFTRA, but we broadcast journalists are under a different contract than...

MASTERS: Yes.

KELLY: ...Film and TV, all the actors, so we would not be expected to strike.

MASTERS: No. And I, too, am SAG-AFTRA.

KELLY: Transparency all around. So let me start with - I mean, we are hours away from this deadline.

MASTERS: Yes.

KELLY: Sketch out briefly, what are the big sticking points holding up a deal?

MASTERS: Well, this is a moment in both the Writers Guild, which has been on strike...

KELLY: Yeah.

MASTERS: ...And the Screen Actors Guild. So there are huge battles for both guilds. I'd say right now, two of the biggest - of course, they want more money and that sort of thing. But there is the question of AI and how it will be used. And there is also the question of transparency. Actors are used to being paid in success, paid more, residuals. Streamers aren't doing that. They aren't telling people much about how well their shows did or didn't do. And so they want more transparency to be paid residuals accordingly. And they also want control over how AI is used.

KELLY: So that's somewhat - not exactly the same, but somewhat similar to what the writers are striking. About, right? Or is this...

MASTERS: Yes, both guilds are definitely concerned about AI and transparency.

KELLY: And money. Right. OK. So speaking of money, studios are rich. They might be able to afford to hold out for a while. Obviously, some of these actors in question are very rich, but a lot of union members are not high earners, people working smaller parts. Do you think actors in the union are ready to hold out if they can't reach a deal?

MASTERS: Well, let me just stop you on the studios are rich. The studios are in crisis. This is a moment that has been long coming, a time of transition. Streaming has really hurt them. They haven't figured out how to make money on it except Netflix, finally, after a lot of investment.

KELLY: OK.

MASTERS: So the studios are laying people off by the thousands. And what you have here, as much as I hate to use the tired phrase the perfect storm, is the studios trying to grapple with a new reality. The old model of making money has been pretty much destroyed. And meanwhile, the writers and actors are saying, how do we hang on to our part of the pie here?

KELLY: Yeah. If you have - if you were to have actors on strike when writers are already on strike, what could the likely impact on viewers be? I mean, with the writers, we've been told there's a few months of padding. Things were already shot, so we're not going to feel the effects for a while. What about if actors strike?

MASTERS: The writers are having an impact. They've halted production on things. So that's already started, you know? And I don't know that it's good for the studios to be sitting there with nothing in production. They're trying to lure people back to theaters now, and they're trying to get people subscribed to the streamers. So all of this is creating a fraughter-than-usual hot mess. It's almost a moment of existential crisis for this industry. And it sounds hyperbolic, but it feels very, very grim right now. You know, SAG-AFTRA has said they will talk with a federal mediator at midnight if that is not successful, and we are not too - certainly, I'm not feeling like this is going to work. So they may push it again and extend the deadline. But it feels like everybody is at such a pitch that they are kind of ready to walk out.

KELLY: Kim Masters, editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter, thank you.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kim Masters
Kim Masters covers the business of entertainment for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She joined NPR in 2003.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
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