Historic SAG-AFTRA & WGA Strike Claims Most Productions, But Exceptions Like "The Chosen" Remain

Jon Croft profile image
by Jon Croft
Historic SAG-AFTRA & WGA Strike Claims Most Productions, But Exceptions Like "The Chosen" Remain
Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City, Creative Commons BY 2.0

Writers & actors haven’t had a strike collectively in decades, but now they have found a reason, and very possibly it’s too late to stop it. Now, it’s true that the strike is not only about AI. It is also about wages, and the lack of what is perceived as fair pay in an age in which the value of the US dollar has taken a hit. So, it makes sense to ensure you have livable wages, because this can effect the gig economy more acutely. But, with that being said, let’s get to the 2000 lb. robot in the room, and then we will get to the few exceptions who can still work, like The Chosen, barring new developments.

Artificial Intelligence is a technology that people like Elon Musk have been trying to blow the whistle on, not because we know just how dangerous it is, but because we don’t. The enormous potential of the power of AI on the globe is entirely unknown, even by its creators. Especially in industries that rely heavily on intellectual property. The temptation is to say, “If screenwriters are so concerned about AI taking their jobs, maybe they are just ‘bad’ writers, because even a monkey could write a better script than these people by banging some old typewriters together!” Ok. I can see your insight there, but this doesn’t go far enough. Because what we are comparing a screenwriter’s work to, is to the beginning stages of what AI can do now, after only months of machine learning. We’re not seeing the massive potential that AI could deliver in a few years. Not to mention, the novelty of new story ideas could be scoured and stolen by AI if that idea could be found on a server somewhere. As AI continues to learn and grow, it could defy many rules that we set up online. We already know that AI lies, and gives politically-influenced answers. So, in what other ways will AI endanger mankind, or commit to immoral actions? This is unknown.

Fabebk, CC BY-SA 4.0

Additionally, for the actor this is a concern over your rights over your own human likeness. As a Christian myself, I believe that human beings have immense value. The Bible states that each individual is worth more than the entire physical world that God created. This is the kind of moral conscience that we ought to be using, in order to view our fellow human beings with dignity. So, when an actor is presented with a scenario in which an AI may be given licensing rights to use an actor’s image to create a digitally manufactured product, we are talking about your image as an actor being used in whatever way the AI likes. We’ve already seen this (and worse) with deep fakes. Considering just how immoral AI has already proven to be, what kind of imagery will an AI create of your likeness? Just how much is your soul worth, o actor? This is not a friendly prospect.

However, I do think that a solution here can be more cut & dry. Please allow me to indulge myself here a bit. As an actor you do have the rights over your image & likeness, and that ownership is less of a gray area than IP rights. This means you have a clear right to license it, legally. So, you CAN sell your likeness, but all you must do then, is to NOT undersell your value. For example, if I did, it would be like a joke. I could sell it for 10 trillion dollars or no dice. And chances are, if you value yourself highly, there will be no dice whatsoever. When we value ourselves highly, and possibly as “too valuable” for a company like these to pay us, we put them in a difficult situation. They must prove worthy of buying “the product”, and my guess is that as long as actors hold out and do not sell themselves too cheaply, they will improve the situation across the board for their fellow actors as well. Don’t undersell your value, actors.

The truth is, though, we know someone will take the plunge, so what this strike attempts to do is stem the tide, and at least create a minimum standard for actors, which can benefit all actors. My hope is that they will overvalue, rather than undervalue their fellow actors. But we all know that these values are subjective to people, and that those who remain outside the gated community of the unions, will just do as they please, regardless. Unions can’t force workers to give them their voice without consent, even though the typical modern union would force this on workers tomorrow if they had the choice. Why? Because it makes them stronger, and this is their single purpose, as their union members know. This isn’t to say that there are not exceptions to this rule, but the typical modern union cares less about the individual voice, because they have enshrined, as their own ethos, the idea that the “collective voice” is more important, which makes their own cause more important than yours. But if one voice was as important to the corporation as the collective, this wouldn’t hold true. This is pure, simple math, for them.

Speaking of exceptions, The Hollywood Reporter clearly lays out here who the exceptions are in this strike, and in this case, The Chosen gets to be that rare exception.

In this case, some actors, writers, and producers benefit, regardless of the strike. The exceptions are the workers who see their own voice as substantial, and they use their bargaining power with their employer outside of union negotiators and mediators. They are non-union workers that often work outside Hollywood, and in states where workers have been “granted the right” to negotiate for wages without a union. Imagine thinking you have a right to negotiate your own terms. Pretty "funny" huh? Well, I’m one of those people. I have a right to negotiate with my employer and I have a right to negotiate with a union, for my negotiation rights. After all, if I have no ownership of my own negotiation rights, how can I “give it away” to a union in the first place? Either those rights rest with me (the owner) in the first place, or I never have owned the right to speak for my own benefit. Now that is a shocking prospect. This would mean, you’re not your own. You don’t own yourself, nor your mind to think, nor your mouth to speak. Which is why you need someone to negotiate for you.

SAG-AFTRA Building, Credit due Shaunti Griffin, CC BY-SA 4.0

But many talent & crew do need a union, and many are right to work with the union they now negotiate through. Even in The Chosen’s case, the contract they negotiated was, luckily, a more flexible one, which allowed them to get a waiver to finish this season of the show. As a result, the show benefits on many levels. They get to be in the union, many of them, but they also get to work on these kinds of productions, that exist on the periphery of Hollywood. These kinds of productions are the future in my view. They still do professional work. They still pay out good wages. They still are well distributed and successful, and yet they rely on creative financing from companies like Angel Studios, and they get to have more flexible contracts with unions. This may be because they shoot in “right-to-work” states, which don’t require unions, or it may be the flexible contracts these producers negotiate, but either way, their work benefits fans of The Chosen in a major way!

If you want to learn more about what makes Angel special, go here.

Outside of these rare exceptions, Hollywood is in trouble. But, Hollywood has been in trouble. They are between a rock and a hard place, economically. Between China no longer featuring as many films in their country, Marvel films (and super hero blockbusters, in general) not being as popular, Disney taking a hit in their stock values and firing a ton of employees, the Hollywood star losing their bankability, the industry reviewers and aggregators seeming to lose their objectivity, not to mention the general quality of storytelling at risk with Hollywood “sequelitis” and “franchisitis” being the evidence, and with the streamers taking over the industry’s entire business model, “they have a few hurdles to get over” is the understatement of the century.

Well goodness, if it wasn’t for Sound of Freedom, I’d probably be ignoring theaters altogether. But now, I’m sitting with baited breath and enjoying the popcorn, and I don’t need to be in a theater to do it, because the biggest drama isn't to be found in the Hollywood films so much as in the Hollywood industry trades looking for which studio goes belly up first. Interesting times, indeed.

Did you enjoy this article? Are you happy that The Chosen is still able to film, or do you think they should be in the picket line? Let us know in the social medias, or comment down below (with subscription).

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by Jon Croft

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