'Barbie' and 'Wednesday'

THE WRITERS’ STRIKE has slowed down production on some of Hollywood’s most anticipated projects, and the actors’ strike has effectively brought the industry to a grinding halt. As plenty of recognisable faces, from Jason Sudeikis to Succession‘s Brian Cox (wearing Australian label Christian Kimber, no less) have been hitting the picket lines instead of the production lot, delays and setbacks have become the norm in Tinseltown. Excuse us while the reality of not getting our weekly binge-watching fix for the last five months sets in.

There is hope on the horizon however. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has reached an agreement with studios, bringing their strike to an end after WGA union members accepted the proposed deal. No word yet on whether the the writers’ acting counterparts will follow suit. But as long as actors remain on strike, industry stagnation will likely continue.

During the course of the strikes, a number of films and TV shows have announced delayed release dates and production pauses (even the Emmys have been postponed). Which has been bad news for cinemas, streaming services, and perhaps above all—popcorn producers.

And now it goes a step further, with striking actors given strict orders from SAG-AFTRA, essentially prohibiting actors from dressing up as any characters from ‘struck’ content and then posting to social media. So, yep, that means no Barbie, Ken … or Barbenheimer this Halloween. According to The Hollywood Reporter, dressing up as characters from struck content—and posting such ‘fit to social media—could be considered promo for the project.

Let’s break down the spooky details of the WGA deal, including the Halloween rules, and take a look back at the all the delays and drama caused by the strikes.

What’s in the WGA deal?

The WGA deal—which we can now thankfully write without the word ‘tentative’ preceding it—is a
three-year contract between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), who have been at loggerheads to this point. The agreement addresses three main issues that necessitated the strike in the first place: the threat posed by the increasing ubiquity of artificial intelligence in automating creative work, low residual payments from streaming platforms and unacceptable staffing minimums in writers’ rooms. All three issues have been resolved in the deal.

Residual payments from streaming services have been addressed, with the new deal tying the payments to content performance, rather than offering a flat rate. The number of writers required to develop content for TV shows has been a sticking point, with studios increasingly expecting to get more results out of fewer writers, but that issue has also reportedly been remedied in the deal.

What about the struct Halloween costume guidelines?

As mentioned, SAG-AFTRA has issued some strict Halloween costume guidelines for striking actors ahead of Halloween season over the next two weeks. Striking actors are prohibited from dressing up as popular characters from struck content (and then posting the images on social media) as it may be seen as promoting the content.

Instead, the union is encouraging members to dress in the more classic Halloween attire, aka: “choose costumes inspired by generalised characters and figures—ghost, zombie, spider, etc”… lame!

However, striking actors are allowed to dress as characters from non-struck content—think animated TV show characters. However, fans hoping to cosplay as Black Widow, Thor and the Marvel crew can’t as the comic book franchise is owned by Disney.

Does the WGA deal include AI protections?

A major sticking point in the final negotiations between the AMPTP and WGA was the issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The restrictions placed on the technology could prove to be the most impactful aspect of the final deal. AI and its language generating capabilities threaten to render the need for human writing redundant. The WGA-AMPTP agreement represents a compromise on AI, with the deal combatting concerns by introducing safeguards for the technology, protecting writers and studios alike.

The WGA-AMPTP deal does not forbid the use of AI entirely, but places restrictions on how it can be used and how it must be credited. One thing that both sides didn’t have trouble agreeing on was that AI work absolutely doesn’t equate to human work. “The Companies agree that because neither traditional AI nor Generative AI is a person, neither is a ‘writer’ or ‘professional writer’,” the deal states. “Therefore, written material produced by traditional AI or GAI shall not be considered literary material.”

Fears of AI automating writers’ jobs played a key role in causing the WGA strike. The new deal includes protections from the threat of studios replacing writers with AI, expressly stating that use of AI must be disclosed by both sides, and that this use cannot form the “basis for disqualifying a writer from eligibility for separated rights”.

The WGA-AMPTP agreement shows us that neither studios nor writers are entirely opposed to the use of AI, and that both sides believe the technology can assist human writers, rather than replace them. However, if a writer wants to use AI, they need permission. “A writer must obtain the Company’s consent before using GAI,” the deal states. “The Company retains the right to reject the use of GAI.” It’s clear that studios envision a future in which human writers work collaboratively with AI, but according to the deal, they can’t force writers to use the technology.

Is the writers’ strike over?

Yes! After WGA union members ratified the proposed agreement earlier this week, the deal has officially come into effect, ending the writers’ strike. Writers won’t be picketing throughout Los Angeles again any time soon—unless it’s in celebration of the new deal—but there is another factor preventing a complete return to business as usual in Hollywood: the absence of actors. Writers can start writing again, but for now, there’s no one to perform the lines they write, so most productions will still be paused until the SAG-AFTRA strike ends. There is hope that talk shows like Saturday Night Live (whose on screen talents are not SAG members) could return as early as October.

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Will the actors’ strike end too?

Writers and actors go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other—although some projects have tried over the years, with minimal success. Until the SAG-AFTRA strike ends, it’s unlikely our favourite films and shows will resume production. But the WGA deal is a solid indication that the SAG-AFTRA strike is nearing its end.

The WGA agreement won’t directly influence any SAG-AFTRA agreements. The guilds are separate entities after all, and SAG-AFTRA have publicly stated they won’t let other unions’ deals undermine their efforts. But writers and actors have been striking over interrelated concerns, so a similar resolution shouldn’t be far away. If nothing else, the WGA’s deal indicates that the AMPTP is willing to meet the demands of those on strike, and that just like the rest of us, they’re keen to get production back underway.

How have celebrities been supporting the strikes?

The strikes make for a particularly tough time for SAG-AFTRA actors whose pay checks don’t see them pocketing millions with every gig, and who therefore cannot comfortably last months without further income to sustain them. But in troubled times, people pull together, and Hollywood’s A-listers have certainly answered the call.

Simply donating to the cause obviously wouldn’t be enough, so celebrities are offering their services and peddling their wares on eBay as part of a mutual aid auction to support striking workers in the entertainment industry. Proceeds from the auctions, which are being run by the Union Solidarity Coalition, will be funnelled into a health insurance fund for striking workers who have lost their protections as a result of the strikes.

“While the studios’ inaction prolongs the strikes, the creative community has turned to taking care of each other,” a WGA spokesperson said in a statement. “Members of Hollywood’s labour unions are coming together to raise money and aid for the people being financially impacted by our fight for sustainable jobs that allow workers to share in the success of the products they create.”

Hollywood is rarely ordinary, so as you might expect, the products being auctioned are not as dull as Brad Pitt’s used desk chair or Kevin Hart’s pre-loved pillows. Thankfully, there’s a fun twist to what’s on offer. Keep your card details handy, because for the right price, Adam Scott will walk your dog, the cast of Bob’s Burgers will compose and perform a personalised song, and you could even land a “pre-worn” apron from the set of The Bear.

The value—and oddity—of what’s on offer varies. You could land a desirable, but not particularly unusual Zoom call with the cast of New Girl, or a mentoring session with Spike Jonze and Lena Dunham. On the more unorthodox side of the equation, John Lithgow is offering to paint your dog, Dunham will also paint a mural in your home, and Natasha Lyonne will help you solve The New York Times crossword puzzle.

As it stands, the item with the highest bid is an offer from Bob Odenkirk and David Cross to join you for dinner. Which has fetched a not exactly paltry fee of $8,200 USD. Personally, we believe a pottery class with Busy Philipps for $2,800 is a bargain.

Nothing goes un-memed these days, and almost as soon as news of the auctions broke online, the internet saw the potential for a new meme template, and delivered. Here’s some of the best.

What celebrities have donated to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation?

Outside of novelty auctions, celebrities have also contributed to funding the strikes with direct donations. After reports on July 24 that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson donated a private sum to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation (said to be a “seven-figure” sum), the Foundation’s president Courtney B. Vance and executive director Cyd Wilson revealed to Variety that the generous offering followed a letter being sent to the union’s 2,700 top-earning members, pleading for donations.

And now, it appears that further celebrities have rallied to support their fellow union members, donating USD$1 million each (or more). On August 2, the foundation said that they’ve now raised more than USD$15 million from an ever-growing list of generous celebrities, including:

  • George and Amal Clooney
  • Luciana and Matt Damon
  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness
  • Dwayne Johnson
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck
  • Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively
  • Julia Roberts
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Meryl Streep
  • Oprah Winfrey

“Thanks to the support of some of Hollywood’s top-earning stars, the Foundation is preparing to bring aid and hope to thousands of journeymen actors facing tremendous economic hardship,” the foundation said in a release.

“The entertainment industry is in crisis and the SAG-AFTRA Foundation is currently processing more than 30 times our usual number of applications for emergency aid,” Vance added, per Deadline. “Our Emergency Financial Assistance Program is here to ensure that performers in need don’t lose their homes, have the ability to pay for utilities, buy food for their families, purchase life-saving prescriptions, cover medical bills and more. It’s a massive challenge, but we’re determined to meet this moment. For more than 38 years, the Foundation has been a safety net for our community during its most challenging times, and much like the Covid pandemic, this work stoppage magnifies the precarious living conditions and financial distress of many actors living paycheck to paycheck.”

What films and TV shows have been delayed by strikes?

Amid the continual Hollywood actor’s strike, we’ve compiled a list of all the biggest movies and shows that have already been held up. But with so many delays expected, and more likely on the way, it looks likely that for the time being we’ll be revisiting old classics like Friends and Seinfeld for the millionth time. 

Brad Pitt’s Formula One movie

Fresh off of a surprise appearance at the British Grand Prix less than two weeks ago, the fast-paced, high-octane flick that places Brad Pitt behind the wheel of the highest of high-performance vehicles, has rather ironically… stalled. The movie (unofficially titled Apex F1) was scheduled to continue filming at multiple F1 races this year but has now been stopped indefinitely. This means F1 fans will have to wait a little longer for another look at Pitt decked out in racing gear. 

Gladiator 2

In heartbreaking news for fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Irish dreamboat Paul Mescal’s shirtless escapades in Ancient Rome anytime soon, production has been halted on the highly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s celebrated film. Gladiator 2, which also stars Denzel Washington and Pedro Pascal, was originally set to release in late 2024 and is about two-thirds done with shooting, but further filming has now ceased.

Beetlejuice 2

It’s been 35 years since the original Beetlejuice made movie-goers laugh in joy and scream in terror, and fans hungry for a follow-up will be temporarily left in the lurch as production has halted with only one final sequence yet to be filmed. Tim Burton has returned to helm the sequel, and Michael Keaton will also reprise his role as everyone’s favourite (but admittedly crude) ghost. With only minor filming still outstanding, there’s hope that Beetlejuice 2 could still be ready for release in September 2024, as originally scheduled.


Stranger Things Season 5

Netflix’s most successful series of all time has been on the backburner for months. Since the writers’ strike began in May, we’ve known that the final chapter of the 21st century’s biggest sci-fi hit would be delayed. Now the actors’ strike complicates things even further. Originally set to release in 2024, Stranger Things fans (who apparently call themselves strangers? Bleh) will be waiting quite some time for the conclusion of their beloved series.

Deadpool 3

Merely days after sending fans into uproar over the much-hyped reunion of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, the third Deadpool film has stopped production. Despite a relatively close release date in May 2024, it seems Deadpool 3 was still in the early stages of filming, meaning that a long delay looks likely.

Euphoria Season 3

The next season of Emmy-award-winning HBO hit Euphoria has already been a long time coming after the drama’s second season launched in January 2022. Now we might be forced to wait as long as three years to find out what becomes of Rue and her equally troubled friends. The writers’ strike already set back the release date to 2025, and creator Sam Levinson has been busy working on 2023’s biggest TV flop: The Idol. But it’s doubtful that disaster will be taking up too much more of his time after its initial season was cut short.

Lilo & Stitch

Say what you will about live-action Disney adaptations, the studio isn’t giving up on them. Regardless of mixed receptions to nearly every live-action adaptation to date, Disney is giving reboots another shot. Unfortunately, for people who love seeing their childhood icons come to life in uninspired profit-motivated retellings, the movie is now facing delays after filming was initially set to wrap up next month.

Euphoria. | HBO

The Last of Us Season 2

The post-apocalypse had never looked as heart-warming and, at turns, terrifying, as it did in the debut season of The Last of Us. The series captured the hearts of viewers and firmly cemented Pedro Pascal’s role as the internet’s daddy before earning a ridiculous 24 Emmy nominations. With production on a second season of the revered show due to begin later this year, all work has now been suspended after co-creator and proud WGA member Craig Mazin voiced his support for those on strike.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two

Dead Reckoning Part One has left fans of the Mission Impossible franchise desperate for more of Tom Cruise’s death-defying action, but the next film has been held up halfway through production. With most action sequences already complete, the less awe-inspiring scenes are yet to be filmed. The main cast and lead writers are now stepping away for the time being, so enamoured fans will be waiting a bit longer before that cliffhanger ending is resolved.


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