A few people have expressed support and empathy for the actors’ and writers’ strikes but also said they don’t exactly understand what’s going on. Here’s a little more info. There are many issues on the table, but a couple of the key issues are residuals and AI usage.
Residuals are what actors get paid each time a show airs or a movie plays. In the past, TV and film residuals were how most actors (and writers) survived. You have to understand a few key things here. Firstly, 99% of actors are not rich. 99% of actors, even actors you might know from TV and film, are working actors just trying to pay the bills like anyone else. Our job is mostly auditioning. So, basically we are constantly interviewing for jobs. I once heard a statistic that if an actor is booking 10% of their auditions, that’s really good. 90% rejection means you’re doing well. If you book the job, there are many different levels and contracts, but in general you get paid a certain fee for the days you work. Then, with larger TV and film projects, you get paid a smaller percentage every time it airs. Just like how musicians get paid every time a song is played on the radio or on TV or in a film. This not only helps get us through to the next job, since we don’t get paid to audition, but is also only fair as the places playing the show or movie are making money from that every time they show it, so the creators also get a cut.
Enter the age of streaming. Streaming is still fairly new, and as such, both movie and music executives have used it as an opportunity to put more money in their pockets and screw over artists such as actors, writers and musicians. Streaming is considered a different medium from TV or film, and thus has different contracts. Those residuals that actors and writers used to survive on? They are practically nonexistent in streaming. Where someone in a major television show might have been able to survive for a year on their residuals in the past, with streaming they are literally getting checks for pennies. There are countless stories out there of actors and writers on huge shows making almost nothing from streaming. So this is one thing the guilds are fighting for. Just trying to get streaming in line with the contracts that have been in place for film and television for many decades. Streaming is not some weird “exception” that shouldn’t have to pay the same agreed-upon rates as TV and film. Streaming is TV and film now, and actors and writers should be able to make the same livings as they have from TV and film in the past. As mentioned, the same thing has happened in the music world. Whereas a hit song used to make an artist rich in the era of radio and albums, now you could have the biggest hit song on the planet, and yet not make enough to live on from the streaming revenue.
Now let’s talk AI. The studios have proposed being able to pay a background actor, or “extra,” one time for one day’s work and then have the right to use their likeness forever with no additional pay or consent. This is ludicrous, and I’m sure will eventually try to extend past just background actors. This would be like you getting a job, and then getting paid for one day of work to train a robot to do your job, and then you never work again. Eventually there would be no need to hire any new background actors, because if you have a data bank full of them that you can just pop in for free to as many crowd scenes in as many movies as you want, why would you pay some human to do that? There are a lot of very troubling potential precedents with AI right now. Offering voice actors a one-time fee to add their voices to the AI data bank so that they can then just generate future voiceovers without the need to hire you again.
These are just quick, simplified, “tip of the iceberg” examples to try and help those of you who have expressed empathy and a desire to understand more about exactly what is going on. It’s not simply greedy actors, or successful millionaire “stars” asking for more money. Art, storytelling, and escapism have been giant and necessary parts of humanity practically since we emerged from the primordial soup. Everyone consumes it. Everyone uses it to get through hard times, to decompress, to get inspired, to feel something. And yet so many take it for granted and want to villainize those who create it as worthless, greedy children playing with toys. And the millionaire/billionaire executives want just that. For you to not be looking at them, but instead directing your ire at these “unreasonable, lazy bohemians!” I can’t even really blame the uninformed for falling prey to this. Our industry is strange and unlike the typical jobs people are used to, and therefore the inevitable comparisons just don’t work. You can’t compare “salaries” or “wages,” as it’s apples to oranges in how it all works and breaks down. I also realize that not everyone is lucky enough to be doing something they love or are truly invested in, and that can be tough. As humans we can fall prey to the “Misery loves company” aspect and it can be hard to empathize with and support others for many different reasons. I fall prey to that. I’ve definitely worked jobs that made me feel like a tiny piece of my soul died each day. That aspect of humanity, along with the lack of actual working knowledge of the job makes it easy to trivialize the arts as “not real jobs” that are frivolous and easy. A lot of it is amorphous, esoteric, and hard to quantize and explain to those in more traditional industries that are more familiar to most folks involving standard hourly wages or monthly salaries and a 40 hour work week. We all walk a unique path and I do find myself truly hoping that everyone I see is happy with their life whether it be as an actor, a programmer, a person working at a sandwich shop, a dentist, an accountant, someone who make tchotchkes for flea markets, or anything else I encounter on my path.
So to those who feel need to bash and trivialize artists and their industry, I can’t pretend to know the seed lodged deep in your heart that makes you feel the need for this bile, but I sincerely hope that despite your attitudes and efforts, we the targets of your ire get to keep making things that might help make your short sojourn on this spinning rock a little bit better.