The historically long writers and actors strikes of 2023 had significant repercussions throughout the entertainment industry. The town was abuzz with picket lines, moguls took a hit, and stars made blunders. However, amid the chaos, there were several winners who emerged from the strikes.
Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland were undoubtedly the stars of the show for SAG-AFTRA. Drescher faced criticism head-on, openly discussing her unique negotiation tactics, while the union managed to secure a wide-reaching and favorable contract. Crabtree-Ireland, as SAG leader, championed the cause of the “journeyman performer” and played a crucial role in securing significant gains for background actors.
Another standout figure was Ellen Stutzman, who was thrust into the spotlight as the WGA West assistant executive director during the negotiations. Despite the challenging circumstances, she helped broker a tentative deal that was ultimately ratified, and in November, she was promoted to executive director.
Chris Keyser, the co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, also made a significant impact. His personal appeals to top CEOs, along with regular video updates for WGA members, were hailed for their impassioned communication and played a key role in bringing both sides back to the bargaining table.
Lindsay Dougherty, the Hollywood Teamsters boss, led with her own brand of feminine energy, directing her drivers to respect picket lines and effectively shutting down productions. Her strong leadership and solidarity within labor movements positioned her as a force to be reckoned with as the clock ticks on her own union’s contract expiration.
In addition to individual winners, early-career writers and actors emerged as beneficiaries of the strikes. The WGA’s deal included provisions for writers to be on set during production, providing valuable experience and paving the way for career advancement. SAG-AFTRA’s tentative deal also offered outsize gains for background actors, as well as regulations regarding self-taping and artificial intelligence, making acting a more viable profession.
On the other side of the coin, the strikes also identified several clear losers within the industry. The Directors Guild, led by Lesli Linka Glatter, failed to wait for the results of SAG’s strike-authorization vote, relinquishing potential leverage in negotiations and reaching its own deal with the AMPTP after less than a month of negotiations.
High-profile figures such as Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, and producer Ryan Murphy faced criticism and backlash during the strikes. Iger’s comments that unions were being “unrealistic” galvanized labor sentiment, and Murphy’s threat of litigation against a strike captain fueled controversy.
Furthermore, Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher, both actors with beloved reputations, came under fire for their handling of the strikes. Barrymore faced backlash when she decided to bring back her talk show without writers during the strike, while Maher attempted a similar move with his show, resulting in public outcry.
In the broader scope of the industry, the strikes also had ripple effects. The Sherman Oaks Galleria, which served as the primary location for negotiations, received a dose of fame before talks moved to the guilds’ respective headquarters, and firms such as Hackman Capital Partners faced public scrutiny for their handling of the strikes.
Ultimately, the strikes had a significant impact on California’s economy, putting over 100,000 actors and writers out of work and sidelining numerous other workers involved in the production process. However, amid the winners and losers, the strikes marked a pivotal moment in labor relations within the entertainment industry, setting the stage for potential future challenges and negotiations.