The season two premiere of Best in Show kicks off with a very special guest:, Head of Content at The Ringer, co-host of The Big Picture podcast and fellow awards obsessive.
Should I cancel my streaming services? Is it scabbing to write a Letterboxd review? Our Best in Show crew answer your questions about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes and what it all means for film fans.
This story was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes in accordance with the DGA contract ratified with AMPTP in June 2023. Without the labor of writers and actors currently on strike, many of the films covered on Journal wouldn’t exist.
At 12:01 am on July 14, 2023, SAG-AFTRA went on strike. Over 160,000 SAG-AFTRA actors joined more than 20,000 WGA writers on the picket lines with a common goal: to create a production stoppage in the entertainment industry. The purpose is to draw public awareness to unjust working conditions that have been steadily mounting over a period of huge technological change; in turn, hoping that studios and streamers will move quickly towards an equitable resolution.
The WGA had already been striking since May 2; this marks the first time since 1960 that both unions have simultaneously walked out. By putting down their tools, they have effectively halted the majority of film and television production, sending a clear message to the studios and streamers that their business, profits and the art form in general cannot survive without human writers and actors. The knock-on effects are accumulating by the day: films all over the world are on hold, festivals are scrambling to present programs without major acting talent in support, and both the 75th Creative Arts and Primetime Emmys are being pushed from their September dates.
“The industry has been transformed by the shift to streaming and compensation has been undermined by inflation,” reads the SAG-AFTRA strike site. “The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the major studios and streamers … refused to offer a fair agreement that addresses these existential threats.”
We tend to associate the job of actor with movie stars dripping in glitz, glamor and gold statues. The reality is that the George Clooneys and Julia Roberts of the world make up a miniscule percentage of SAG-AFTRA—the vast majority are background actors, scraping by on a couple of gigs a year while juggling various side hustles. In fact, 86 percent of SAG-AFTRA members do not make the $26,470 a year from acting that is needed to qualify for health insurance, and 92 percent of members earn less than $80,000 a year. While that may sound like a high number to some, keep in mind that screen actors generally have to live in Los Angeles or New York for work, two cities with an incredibly high cost of living. According to The California Department of Housing and Community Development, a $70,000 yearly salary is considered low-income for LA.
Economic fairness is just one of the many workers’-rights issues the unions are fighting for; others include the unchecked advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and abysmally low pay for streaming residuals. There’s a lot to get across, and we’ve been inundated with questions from Letterboxd members keen to understand what’s going on and how to help.
We assembled the Best in Show team—West Coast editor Mia Lee Vicino, editor-in-chief Gemma Gracewood and editorial producer Brian Formo—to focus on what the strike means for those wondering how to celebrate cinema and the people who make it, without crossing any picket lines.
Is it crossing the picket line to go to the cinema?
No. Unless the WGA and SAG-AFTRA explicitly call for a cinema boycott, you can (and should!) continue to go to the movies and support your local theaters. Your Barbenheimer/Boppie tickets are safe! Please support lower-budget and indie films, too. The unions are asking for non-member supporters to help in other ways.
What is a “scab”?
A pejorative term for a strike-breaker—someone who crosses the picket line to work rather than join the collective action for improved working conditions. This includes not just working on a production that wasn’t given an exemption, but attending a red carpet or doing any promotion on behalf of a struck company (studio, streamer, etc.).
Is it scabbing to write a review on Letterboxd?
If you’re not a SAG-AFTRA member, no. Audiences are as vital as script writers and performers to the success of a film. Keep watching movies, keep writing your Letterboxd reviews, keep sharing the undeniable cultural value of films—and the workers who make them.
What about a review of a “struck work” (a film made under the WGA and SAG-AFTRA contracts that are up for renegotiation)?
Still not scabbing. The point of the strike is not to inconvenience audiences or to stop us enjoying movies: it’s to pursue fairer working conditions and contracts for those who make the films we love during a time of immense technological change.
However, if you are a SAG-AFTRA member and the movie in question was made under a contract with a struck company, then you’re best to hold off on sharing your thoughts on any social media, including on Letterboxd, for the duration of the strike.
Can I show support for the strike by canceling my streaming subscriptions to hurt the streamers?
Consumers have power so it’s a reasonable question, but no; your consumer power is better used showing streaming services that you value creative work by paying for it. Neither the WGA nor SAG-AFTRA are calling for supporter-consumers to boycott streamers, so you do not have to cancel your subscriptions.
What are all these acronyms?
SAG: Screen Actors Guild.
AFTRA: American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—these two organizations merged in 2012 to become SAG-AFTRA.
WGA: Writers Guild of America.
DGA: Directors Guild of America; this includes not just credited directors but also members of a directorial team (assistant directors, unit production managers, stage managers/PAs and, in certain cities, location managers).
IATSE: International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (i.e. film and television crew members whose work and livelihoods are impacted by production shutdowns during the work stoppage).
AMPTP: Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. An American trade association that works on behalf of more than 360 TV and film production companies (including major studios Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney and Warner Bros, streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and some indies) to negotiate upwards of 80 collective-bargaining agreements with industry organizations including the writing, directing and acting guilds.
Why aren’t the directors on strike, too?
Like the writers and the actors, the DGA also had an expiring contract with AMPTP, but they signed a new deal before it expired. The directors negotiated a thirteen percent boost in wages over three years and a new payment method that is linked to global subscribers on the largest streaming platforms.
Unlike the actors and writers, the directors did not have major concerns about AI for this three-year contract, which sped the process up. But because the actors and writers are on strike, directors can’t really make new movies (unless granted a waiver), but they can promote their work and sign on to potential projects for when their actors and writers return. And they can (and do) join the picket lines.
Why am I still seeing new press about upcoming movies if writers and actors aren’t supposed to do promotion?
Entertainment journalists and critics are not on strike—even if they work at a broadcaster represented by SAG-AFTRA—because the strike only applies to the TV and theatrical contracts. If you see promotion for an upcoming movie that features actors, it’s likely because the press junket occurred before the SAG-AFTRA strike officially began on July 14, and the coverage had been banked until the film’s release date.
If you see any promotion for an upcoming film that features directors who are also writers—such as our Magic Hour conversation between George Miller and the Philippou brothers—that is because under the DGA agreement, directors can continue to direct and promote their work (as long as they are not also a member of SAG-AFTRA). They cannot, however, write, rewrite, polish or perform other writing services or promote their writing work.
Why can critics post about upcoming movies but social-media influencers shouldn’t?
Social-media influencers with large platforms are often paid by the studios to promote films, while critics are not. Those who are under the SAG-AFTRA Influencer Agreement are discouraged from posting about struck movies and TV, even if they are not being paid and their promotion is entirely organic (with an exception for those who are legally bound to fulfill contractual obligations).
Instead, SAG-AFTRA suggests that influencers “support us online and on social using
#SAGAFTRAstrong” and to check out their social toolkit. Joining the picket line is also encouraged.
I am a podcaster: should I still cover new movies on my show?
The WGA and SAG-AFTRA are American unions—why should I care about the strike if I live outside the United States?
Solidarity and your local economy. Actors and writers from all over the world work on US productions, or want to, and their current or future union membership is at risk if they break the rules. Likewise, US studios often produce their films and series in other parts of the world thanks to tasty rebates offered by governments to attract productions. So there are productions on pause all over the globe due to the strike, which affects local creative labor everywhere. It’s a big deal, and what Hollywood ends up agreeing on is likely to influence negotiations in other regions, whose screen industries share many of the same concerns.
It could be argued that the strike opens the door for indie films made by non-struck companies to fill the “talent vacuum” on red carpets, at festivals and so forth… or even to go into production on that micro-budget feature. As long as it’s within the rules, they can do that—but many will opt not to, because team spirit is high in creative communities. “We are not going to have the UK used as a back door to undermine SAG-AFTRA’s dispute,” the head of Equity (the UK actors’ union) told Deadline.
You might still see some SAG-AFTRA members continuing to work in other countries—that’s because they might be contracted under local rules in countries that have anti-union laws (like the UK). It could also be because their show or film has a production waiver—see next question! The message here is: don’t yell at people for still working unless you’re really clear about why they’re at work. (Also, just don’t yell at people.)
How come some movies still appear to be going into production?
Some production companies aren’t members of AMPTP. Film projects that aren’t affiliated with struck studios can stay in production if they have applied for and received a waiver from SAG-AFTRA to do so. The waiver essentially states that the production will abide retroactively by whatever AMPTP agreement is settled upon in the future. That’s why David Lowery is still moving ahead with Mother Mary (for A24), Rebel Wilson is still planning to film Bride Hard (for Balcony 9 Productions) and Sigourney Weaver and Mads Mikkelsen are carrying on with their Dust Bunny shoot in Budapest.
Will you still be asking people for their four favorites?
For sure! But we’ll be respecting the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike rules. You won’t see picketing workers attending red-carpet premieres, Q&As, film festivals, awards shows, Comic-Con or other events or making social-media posts to publicize a project at the behest of a struck company. After all, a big part of screen actors’ jobs isn’t just to act, but to participate in promotion.
While we loved talking to the WGA strikers on the picket lines about their four faves a few months ago, it’s a bit trickier with SAG-AFTRA strikers, as they aren’t supposed to talk to press about struck work (any struck work, not just work they're involved in). So, you might hear actors hosting a podcast (they’re allowed to), but you won’t hear them discussing or being interviewed about struck work on their own or someone else’s podcast. They might show up on a talk show, game show or other unscripted TV series. They can still appear in commercials, make a microbudget short film, voice an audiobook recording, dance in a Claud music video, be interviewed about the strike—but they won’t be working on or promoting struck projects. And sponsored social-media influencer posts for brands and products are still okay for actors (as long as it’s not for struck work).
How does all this relate to four favorites? Because it’s usually at red carpets and junket interviews promoting a new film that we get to ask this question. So if, during the strike, we run into someone on the picket line, or have them come on the Letterboxd Show to talk about the workers’ action, we might also ask for four of their faves that are not from struck companies! We’ll take this moment to expand our reach to other types of artists (musicians!) and film-crew members—cinematographers, costume and production designers, editors, etc.—since movies can’t be made without crew and with so many productions halted, their work is impacted by the strike, too.
How is Letterboxd recognizing the strike?
We’re in a unique spot in the film ecosystem as a platform for the audience. Like everyone, we are figuring it out as we go, by listening to what people need, working with what we have and drawing attention to the value of creative work every chance we get.
Full disclosure: we work with lots of companies (including struck companies) on campaigns and screenings to help films reach audiences, so that the hard work of filmmakers doesn’t go unseen. We want to make sure that when fair agreements are reached and the industry is back in full swing, there’s an engaged global community of film fans to support that work.
We also respect the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike rules, and we’re happy to use our platform to share the knowledge. That’s why you’ll see notes on our stories and social videos drawing attention to the conditions under which the interviews were conducted, articles like this, and podcast episodes like this.
How can I support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA?
If you live in a city with picket lines, you are more than welcome to join! Picket schedules and locations are available here. If you’re able to spare some money, you’re encouraged to donate to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Emergency Assistance Program to support members in urgent need.
You can also help by posting about the strike, talking to friends and family about why it’s important and continuing to support your favorite writers and actors by watching and celebrating their work.