Actors & writers take on powerful Hollywood execs & studios!

Actors & writers take on powerful Hollywood execs & studios! Date: July 18, 2023

Take a moment, step back regardless of age, and think about all of the truly “big decisions” you’ve had to make to this point in your life. More often than not, depending on your age, most folks land between 5-10 decisions. Ironically, what I’ve found in my life, is that I tended to think decisions were larger than they really were when I was younger. That’s honestly not as a cheap shot if you’re under 30, it’s merely meant to remind us all that the less amount of life you’ve lived, the more many big decisions have simply yet to infringe upon your path.

When you’re an actor doing live theatre, or a large ensemble cast in a feature film or television series, you are genuinely on a TEAM. Still, acting at its core, is an individual sport. Whether you’ve played baseball or not, even if you watch it, you’ll get my metaphor. It is 9 people, on a field together, yet separate in so many ways as they catch, throw and hit the ball…all alone. I’d like to believe most people have had that team vibe of a family, or as an employer, and certainly as a parent. Yet, the truth is, in my life I can honestly say that I don’t feel “most people” have had to make BIG decisions knowing that it will affect a large number of people.

Making the decision, to vote to go out on strike, putting more than 100,000 actors potentially out of work along with all of the writers, directors, the crew people plus all the retailers surrounding Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, etc. is NO small decision. So, to be a member of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee, is not a role that I took lightly in the least. Yes, I had been on contract negotiating committee’s before, but we ALL knew this one was going to be historically different.

For the first time in history we already knew, just from the Wages and Working Conditions meetings that SAG-AFTRA has nationwide prior to the negotiations, that artificial intelligence (A.I.) was going to be “on the table” as well as needing to bring “Revenue Sharing” into the negotiations as well. Our TV/Theatrical contract is more than 1200 pages long, massive in complexity, and extremely challenging to comprehend on a macro basis. Probably 95-98% of union actors have never so much as cracked one page in terms of sitting down to read it. Honestly, I don’t blame them, yet if any negotiation proved what I have been teaching and coaching since 1991 it is, YES, this is a damn business.

To me the greatest paradox of wanting to Be a Star or make a tremendous living as an actor is that the more successful you are, the more you absolutely must treat it as a business, full stop. Performing in a local theater show back home or being on stage for your Senior High School talent show or even booking a few local commercials in your hometown allows us to ignore the business in certain ways. While I certainly don’t agree with ever ignoring it I do understand why, we the artists and actors, would prefer to shun its existence. Ha. Still, for those who wish to truly make money – the big bad reality of reading contracts is a requirement.

To provide perspective, let’s go back to the end of the beginning, to ensure you understand how we got here. The SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical contract expired on 6/30/2020. Yes, you’re correct, that is only 100 days or so after the national public health crisis of COVID was declared. And yes, those negotiations took nearly eight weeks and they were 100% executed via zoom. Indeed, it was quite odd, a different kind of difficult, and honestly for me not particularly successful for the union. From the moment the negotiations ended and the industry continues to work, all of the new provisions, are “in force.”

Therefore, on July 1, 2020 the march toward 6/30/2023 had begun as our contract provisions and term are for three years. Every single job, complaint, claim filing of inappropriate behavior by a producer or unfair labor treatment or even claims of “breach of contract” all begin to tell the story of what the next negotiation will contain and where the contract FIGHT begins. With each passing day, week, month we can see what is coming down the tracks and it was a really HUGE train of A.I. and millions of dollars only going to the top executives while income inequality in America continued to rise. We knew, this was going to be a knock down drag out fight, and I personally knew from the time we began the early phases of pre-negotiation actions we would likely be forced…to strike. Please be reminded, that doesn’t mean we wanted to, it just means like some of those “Big Decisions” you’ve made – not all of them are fun and not all of them are without consequence.

If you have researched me at all, my history as an actor, my history as a leader, a speaker, and an educator you already know why I chose to participate in every single piece of media that I was both allowed or desired. Yes, once the decision to “walk out” became official at midnight on July 12, 2023 my focus turned directly toward, HOW do we WIN this negotiation, this strike action and create better wages and conditions for my peers. Much like some of those team, family or even theater company discussions go, when you put a group of people in a room to tackle an incredibly difficult situation discord is inevitable. However, I will say that I was incredibly proud that the 44-person negotiating committee, which represented 160,000 actors from the U.S., voted unanimously to strike. Not ONE individual, alternates included, voted against. THAT is SOLIDARITY.

Please know that if you click below to listen you will be leaving the Actor Business BLOG. The Radio Show “Your Call” is hosted by Rose Aguilar and produced by, Bee Soll.

Radio Show Information: On this edition of Your Call, we discuss the Hollywood actors and writer’s strike. Last Thursday, more than 160,000 actors joined screenwriters who’ve been on strike since early May, marking the first industrywide shutdown since 1960.

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher accused studio executives of making Wall Street and greed their priority while ignoring the essential contributors that make the machine run. Their demands include pay increases, healthcare, and revenue sharing for streaming shows. Demands also say, artificial intelligence can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and [works covered by union contracts] can’t be used to train artificial intelligence.


Kevin E. West, member of the SAG-AFTRA theatrical negotiating committee, longtime television actor with roles on shows, including Criminal Minds and Bones, motivational speaker, author, and founder of The Actor’s Network

Jonterri Gadson, strike captain for Writers Guild of America West, and an Emmy-winning screenwriter for several shows, including Everybody Still Hates Chris and HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show.