The actors’ and writers’ strikes are having a more lasting financial impact on freelancers than expected. The Freelance Informer looks into how a petition created for income support for those UK freelancers affected by the strikes, could act as a framework for government-backed income support for all freelancers. Plus could the arguments of striking actors and writers speak for all freelancers regardless of their industry when it comes to artificial intelligence?
Many freelancers, such as IT contractors, probably couldn’t fathom the core talent of their industry going on strike leaving them with no projects or income. However, that’s what is happening to freelance film and TV crews linked to projects on hold due to the US actors’ and writers’ strikes.
Laura Evans, a UK actress and composer, has created a petition that has gathered more than 28, 400 signatures at the time of writing calling for the government to do more to support UK TV and Film Crew who cannot work due to strikes by actors and writers.
“The UK freelance crew who work on these projects need financial support and reassurance from the Government that they will not abandon the crew during this crisis,” says Evans.
Evans argues that the UK Film and TV industry contributes billions to the economy, and a large proportion of production is based on work from US studios. “Current US strikes mean that work has disappeared for many UK freelance crew overnight,” she says.
There has been no bespoke support for the crew during the strikes. Many are only recovering financially after COVID-19 lockdowns and now find themselves again without work. Many are suffering financially and mentally and are having to find work elsewhere. This could have a long-term effect on the entire industry, according to Evans.
The government responds to all petitions that get more than 10,000 signatures; at 100,000 signatures, Evans’ petition will be considered for debate in Parliament. The deadline to get the signatures is 22 February 2024, which arguably could be too late for tens of thousands of freelancers working in the entertainment industry trying to make a living.
The entertainment industry union Equity UK released a joint statement in July with SAG-AFTRA following the announcement of the US industrial action, vowing to support the action and its members by “all lawful means”. You can learn more here.
Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston on why actors are striking
Actors are concerned that artificial intelligence (AI) could replace them in the future, and they are asking for guarantees that this will not happen.
Stars including Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves have been the subject of widely viewed unauthorised deepfakes, which are realistic yet fabricated videos created by AI algorithms, according to Sky News. These deepfakes raise the possibility that AI could be used to create realistic performances without the need for human actors.
The streaming boom is also a factor in the actors’ concerns. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are providing the bulk of TV actors’ work, and the unions say that these services are not paying actors fairly. Series have become shorter, breaks between seasons longer, and the unions say that although series budgets are rising, that increase is not being reflected in the share of the money coming to performers, according to another Sky News report.
Residuals, which are payments for the reuse of credited work, are also much smaller on streamed content or “streamers” compared to broadcast TV rates.
The unions are asking for guarantees that AI will not be used to replace actors, and that they will be paid fairly for their work on streaming services. They are also asking for more transparency from streaming services about how they make decisions about casting and pay.
The issue of AI and the future of acting is a complex one, and there is no easy answer. However, it is clear that actors are concerned about the potential impact of AI on their jobs, and they are asking for guarantees that they will not be replaced by machines.
A more humourous take on how AI could dehumanise the workforce
How are other freelancers impacted by the strikes?
The strikes are also impacting US freelancers like Joe Collins, a freelance cinematographer whose past work includes the shows “City on a Hill” and “Royal Pains.” Collins told non-profit news site The Gothamist, that since the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strike began in May, his income is “basically nonexistent,” aside from occasional residual checks from past productions.
The Gothamist reported that within the industry, crew members have rallied around residual checks to show how negligible income from previous work can be.
To keep updated on the strike news Deadline is a good source.
Unique industry situations such as these raise many questions for freelancers and whether the government should step in to provide income support and what happens when they don’t.