This is Day 76 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.
A fourth straight day of rain in New York City — the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia — greeted striking film and television workers who were back on picket lines this week for the first time since the announcement of a deal between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Although WGA pickets are suspended, a smattering of Guild members and their union representatives turned up on Tuesday to bolster rain-soaked SAG-AFTRA picket lines at the four locations in Manhattan where AMPTP studios are headquartered.
“SAG was there for WGA from Day 1, and they came out in such encouraging numbers when they really didn’t have to,” Eric Glover, a writer for the CW’s Tom Swift, told Deadline at the end of a soggy 2½-hour march outside Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery offices. “I can’t technically be here in my WGA shirt, but I just wanted to be a warm body to provide support.”
Turnout overall was comparatively light on the day after Yom Kippur and a weekend of developments signaling a possible end to a writers walkout, now in its 22nd week. But SAG-AFTRA tents were up at all four sites — Netflix/WBD, NBCUniversal, Paramount and Amazon/HBO — with union representatives handing out ponchos, snacks and picket signs.
Marchers chanted, “Rain or shine/We walk the line/We won’t go home until the contract’s signed.”
SAG-AFTRA members — on strike since July in the first combined walkout of both actors and writers since 1960 — said that they were heartened by developments with the WGA but staying in strike mode even as pressure on their personal finances hasn’t let up.
“I am OK,” actor, playwright and model Jason Duval Hunter told Deadline as he marched outside Paramount offices with about two dozen other picketers. “But I’m at the end of my savings, tapped out on my credit, and all of that good stuff. I’m in good spirits. I’m optimistic — good thing I have my hand in a lot of different avenues in this industry. I’ve been doing this since the ’80s.”
Hunter said that he was just in an off-Broadway play that paid “a little money” and that he walked the runway for Fashion Week in New York earlier this month.
Lila Donnolo — an actor, writer, podcaster and intimacy coach who is also doing copywriting to help pay bills — told Deadline after the Netflix/WBD rally, “I’m hopeful but pragmatic.”
Donnolo described artificial intelligence as a kind of wild card in contract talks once they resume between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP.
“How can we prevent future things that we don’t know about that would be awful for us as performers from happening?” Donnolo said, alluding to fears that generative AI could replicate and replace on-screen actors. “I think that takes a lot of more time and a lot more thought, which means more time for negotiation, which means dragging the strike on longer.
“It’s not simply wages,” Donnolo said. “There’s almost an existential fight that we’re fighting that is far greater.”
Hunter made a similar point, saying that AI and streaming technologies represent a “new era.”
“We needed to do this strike so that we can have an understanding: How do we make a living?” Hunter said.
At NBCUniversal, children’s television actor and writer Stephanie D’Abruzzo was not on strike because she works in programming that is covered under different contracts. But D’Abruzzo told Deadline that the WGA has set an example, and a tone, for the other contract negotiations — hers included — coming down the pipeline in film, television and video gaming.
“Their determination … has inspired SAG-AFTRA, a union that has had its share of division in the past, to truly come together and be united,” D’Abruzzo said.
“Obviously we don’t know what all of the details are with the WGA tentative contract, and with any situation you know that someone is going to be disappointed,” D’Abruzzo said. But she took it as a good sign that the WGA is calling the new deal “exceptional” in its official statement — in contrast with the more downbeat language that the union employed after the last writers’ strike in 2008.
This time around, she said, “The fact that the Writers Guild led the way, held strong, stayed united … is going to mean everything for the future.”
Robert Keniston, a Los Angeles-based actor originally from New York, marched outside Amazon offices with a dozen other picketers including his father.
“I’m out here on vacation so I’m taking some time to show solidarity,” Keniston told Deadline. He said that news of a potential end to the writers strike brought him “a healthy dose of optimism that we’ll get the contract we need.”
“I’ve been one of the lucky ones,” Keniston said. “I have a day job that’s not related so I’ve been able to make ends meet. But I definitely have friends who are struggling and have to rely on the SAG-AFTRA Foundation grant or the Entertainment [Community Fund] grant.”
Ashley Zukerman, who had a recurring role on all four seasons of HBO’s Succession, told Deadline after the Netflix/WBD rally, “We’ve just got to stay strong.”
“This has been very confusing and very cruel so it just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Zukerman said. “But we’re hopeful AMPTP comes clean.”