The Studios’ Summer Blockbuster is Here – The Strike!

By Roger Paradiso

The Strike is the drama to see this summer. It is a riveting tale of greed and capitalism gone mad. And you can watch it 
by streaming on your favorite device.

“THIS IS NOT JUST A HOLLYWOOD STRIKE as they’ve been trying to portray in the media,” said Jonathan Kaine, SAG-AFTRA Strike Captain outside of the Warner Brothers/Discovery office in Chelsea, “this is a labor movement. They will come for us and then they will come for everyone else. If they will come for the most recognizable faces in the world, they won’t stop there. It’s not just about us, it’s about everyone.” Photo by Bob Cooley.

With SAG-AFTRA joining the WGA at midnight on July 14, we now have actors and writers all around the world in a fight for the deal of the century. It is the blockbuster of the summer. Here is how Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, put the struggle to halt Artificial Intelligence and its now and future hold on the entertainment industry and the attempts to gain a share of the streaming gold rush:

“We are the victims here,” Drescher said. “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

And now in the other corner is Disney CEO Bob Iger. During a CNBC appearance, he stated that the strikers were not being realistic. “It’s very disturbing to me. We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption,” Iger said. “I understand any labor organization’s desire to work on behalf of its members to get the most compensation and be compensated fairly based on the value that they deliver… There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.” Naturally, his comments weren’t exactly met with cheers. Josh Rosenberg, Yahoo Entertainment

The Start of Streaming

One upon a time, while theaters were still around, there were the original studios who owned all products for TV and movies. Then, upstart streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu invented an ingenious device called streaming. It was designed to make money. It did. But they also started to eliminate those theater owners who had split the door with movie Studios for years. The Studios liked that. No more 50 to 80 percent splits in the theater’s favor. And they take the concessions and don’t even market the films. Oh, the poor Studios hated that. But now they have Streamers cutting into their action. Yes, streaming was making money without the Studios. The Streamers started making their own movies and leasing films from around the world. The Movie Studios don’t like the streamers because they don’t pay them enough considering their huge investments in the product. The product used to be owned by Hollywood Studios only. Unable to break or purchase the Streamers, the Studios decided to became streamers too. Now the theater owners are slowly being phased out in this battle of musical thrones. Let’s see who else is out. The writers. The actors. Everyone else, especially independent filmmakers who are really screwed. (Full disclosure, I am an independent filmmaker. I also belong to the Directors Guild which has settled with the Studio/Streamers.)

Why pick on streamers? I like my Netflix and Hulu. Yes, but do they like you? How would you feel if we were replaced by Artificial Intelligence? Have you not noticed the non-human voice when you call these companies? Have you noticed the clerks who have been fired? Do you use self-check or the human staffed checkout?

If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by 
—Fran Drescher

The Battle Lines

People used to go out to movies. But now they come home from their long days at work. They throw on their sweatpants. They heat up the meals in the microwave. And then the genie out of the bottle appears now housed in an app or, for you old timers, in a cable box or smart TV. You pick up the magic wand, the cumbersome remote control, which are ominous words. Now you have control over your entertainment. No rushing to a theater and parking and eating at a fast-food place to make the screening time. You can watch anything and everything at any time. Or do the algorithms for the AI pick out the shows you see? So, there are limits to freedom of choice but it is almost ideal, this streaming, for the modern human worker who doesn’t want to make so many decisions.

As you can see, the battle is between the Streamers who want to control the world and make lots of money. Aligned with them are the Studios who have become streamers in these dying days of theatrical distribution. There is still some gold to mine in theaters, but the vein is running thin.

On the other side are the Artists and studio mechanics who make the product. These artists include independent filmmakers too. There are directors and their assistants, actors, writers and many crews who make films and TV streaming shows.

Who Do You Choose?

And there is the audience who is being wooed by the Streamers and the Artists. Who do you choose?

The streamers are almost done colonizing the world. Like Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants who are in every country with subscribers. And they are mining it every day. Their claim that they are not making money is not believable to the audience. They are subscribers to these giants. They spend their hard-earned dollars on their apps and remote controls. Where is that money going? Not to the artists and crews.

Where are your hearts and minds? Where do you stand in this battle for the almighty buck? Are you seduced by streaming being easy and watching movies on your phone or laptop? Someday you may be able to buy a chip and watch it in your head.

Deep down inside, the audience knows that the Streamers are lying. Their CEOs make millions of dollars a year. And their administrative staff costs millions more. There is money in streaming. The question is where does it go? To the artists? Or to the large Streamers? It should be noted there are smaller art house type streamers of independent films who are barely hanging on. It’s the large international conglomerates that make the money not the mom-and-pop streamers.

AI savage(s) capitalism—blame it on the 
algorithms you create to make more money. That’s not a labor deal—it’s a labor fatwa.”
—John Cusack

Actor John Cusack tweeted, “Studios wanna have extras work one day, scan them —own their likeness forever—and eliminate them from the business. Do you think they will stop with extras? That’s what AI is—a giant copyright identity theft—Criminal Enterprise. We had no idea this would happen, they will say in 10 years when the scope and scale of the plunder is revealed. Of course they did—it’s the business model.”