SAG Strike: Actors Picket in High Heat to Show Solidarity

A glimpse into the actor’s life in summer 2023: One day you’re nominated for your first Emmy, the next day your union goes on strike.

Young Mazino is living just this reality after a whirlwind week that saw him land a supporting actor Emmy bid for his work in Netflix’s “Beef.” On Monday, he was out on the sidewalk in front of Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters, hoisting a sign in nearly 90-degree heat and making his voice heard. SAG-AFTRA called a strike against Hollywood studios and production entities that began July 13, one day after the 75th annual Emmy Awards nominations were revealed.

“It’s a weird feeling of being Emmy nominated one day and then the next day, there’s a strike going on,” Mazino told Variety. “I think this [the strike] feels better than the nomination because it’s addressing a symptom of a larger problem. I got lucky getting in on ‘Beef’ right before this all went down but there’s a whole community that relies on things like residuals.”

Mazino’s viewpoint was reinforced by remarks from another more experienced actor who emphasized the importance of residuals in a profession where a steady income is hard to come by. Moreover, residual fees have been coming down steadily in recent years as new forms of distribution such as streaming emerged.

“On streaming, a lot of us get paid a lot less than they would on network TV, and we don’t get residuals,” said Maria Bello, an actor known for her work on “ER” and “NCIS” and such film as 2000’s “A History of Violance” and 2000’s “Coyote Ugly.” “Guest actors on network TV used to get residuals. So our bank accounts are getting less and less. And yet the corporations and studios are getting richer and richer.”

Bello and Mazino both pointed to the rise of artificial intelligence tools as a gigantic concern for the future livelihood of actors, particularly background players and extras.

After contract talks broke down between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, union members have become alarmed at details of the AMPTP’s AI proposal as released by SAG-AFTRA. The offer has been interpreted by members as AMPTP companies seeking the right to scan a background actor’s likeness for use in perpetuity in exchange for a one-time $1,000 fee. The AMPTP strongly disputed this, saying the proposal is more complicated. One thing’s for sure, the issue of AI is energizing to actors as well as showbiz writers who have been on strike since May 2.

“With AI right now, it’s very, very complicated,” Bello said. “Some of the folks here, the background actors in particular, they would take an image of their face and use it in perpetuity. These actors would be out of work. We’re both very lucky that we’re working actors, but a lot of the other actors — we’re here with them in solidarity,” Bello said of herself and Mazino.

Mazino also sees AI as a threat to his future.

“We’re making art. You can try to use AI and make the art and see what happens,” he said. “The writing’s been on the wall, but if they don’t see it, we’ll be here.”

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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