As a historic dual strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, last endured in 1960, gets ready to bring the global film and TV industry to its knees, the worst-case scenario many have dreaded for months is fast becoming a crushing reality.
Talks between the U.S. actors union and Hollywood’s collective bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, broke down Wednesday after a turbulent 12-day period of extended negotiations. At midnight Pacific time, both sides concluded talks without reaching an agreement, thus triggering a strike vote by the SAG-AFTRA National Board for Thursday morning. A strike is expected to be called, and the union will direct its 160,000 members to immediately stop all scripted film and TV work around the world.
The American writers strike, now in its third month, has already shut down many U.S.-based productions, and a concurrent actors strike will bring any remaining productions shooting overseas with SAG-AFTRA talent to a grinding halt. For many working in major markets like the U.K., which has seen a noticeable slowdown in production in recent months, the reverberations of U.S. labor strife are sending a clear message about the state of local productions.
“We’ve always said if the circus leaves town what sorts of indigenous production do we have?” says one senior British union executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Large parts of Europe and Australia will be in the same situation, and this will have a global impact. We have been relying on inward investment and this exposes a weak point.”
Yet the strike’s impact on international goes much deeper: Many of the key issues affecting U.S. writers and actors, such as artificial intelligence and streaming residuals, are shared by their international counterparts, who are also operating in an increasingly globalized content landscape. Local unions have so far displayed unprecedented solidarity and support for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, and while they can’t technically authorize their own strikes, industry insiders anticipate untold pressure on performers to down tools regardless of their union affiliations.
“A lot of actors are talking about striking in support, and it will undoubtedly affect the business in the U.K. as a whole,” says one top agent representing major British stars.
Another U.S.-based financier-producer asks: “Some British actors have done one or two U.S. movies and gotten into SAG-AFTRA. Will they go in solidarity with the strike?”
One senior executive at a European production giant juggling productions that are now in limbo had the same questions: “Let’s say we’re shooting something with a big European director in Europe, and 90% of the cast is European and non-SAG-AFTRA, but you have two key roles played by U.S. talent. Will the movie stop and not get done or will those roles be substituted with European non-SAG-AFTRA actors? I suspect what will happen is it will depend on the talent. If the reception is, ‘This is going to be a quick strike,’ directors will say, ‘Let’s wait.’ But if it looks like a long one, it could mean those roles will be changed.”
In recent weeks, international productions led by SAG-AFTRA talent have worked furiously to wrap filming ahead of a potential strike. Sky drama “Mary & George,” starring Julianne Moore, completed its U.K. shoot earlier this summer, while Season 2 of Prime Video’s big-budget — and meticulously scheduled — “Rings of Power” also wrapped a few weeks back, Variety can confirm. In France, Jacques Audiard’s musical thriller “Emilia Perez,” starring Selena Gomez and Zoe Saldaña, wrapped filming just last week in Paris.
Meanwhile, sources say Roland Emmerich’s high-profile gladiator series “Those About to Die,” starring Anthony Hopkins, completed filming its scenes with the Welsh actor in Italy weeks ago in anticipation of strike action. A spokesperson for Rome’s Cinecittà Studios confirmed that the series, which is effectively a European production, will continue lensing at the refurbished studios.
Yet many international productions haven’t been as lucky. FX’s “Alien,” a series adaptation of the “Alien” franchise written by Noah Hawley and Ridley Scott, is currently in pre-production in Thailand. Sources indicate the show will be a large-scale undertaking that’s reportedly booked out multiple Bangkok studios and hired vast quantities of lighting equipment.
However, a mix of SAG-AFTRA and Equity members comprise the cast (two of the main leads are believed to be SAG-AFTRA members), meaning that production will need to work around the absence of key cast members. The show’s Thailand-based producer Chris Lowenstein declined to comment.
Elsewhere, Season 3 of HBO’s “White Lotus” series is also slated to shoot in Thailand — another major shoot that would almost certainly employ SAG-AFTRA members. While the show is already paused due to the writers strike, the impact of an actors strike — which could muddle talent schedules in the future — means it could be delayed even further.
Other major international shoots set to pause production due to the actors strike include the Paul Mescal and Pedro Pascal-starring “Gladiator 2” movie, which was filming in Morocco, and martial arts sequel “Mortal Kombat 2,” which was filming in Australia. Sky and Peacock series “The Day of the Jackal,” starring Eddie Redmayne and Lashana Lynch, has been shooting around Central and Eastern Europe and is also likely to take a break.
Much like the U.K., Australia is another English-speaking territory that’s home to a vast number of “runaway productions.” The country has a large roster of talent who are members of local guilds as well as SAG-AFTRA. Similar to the situation faced by British actors, it’s unlikely big Aussie stars will want to jeopardize their Hollywood careers with any activity that could see them portrayed as strike breakers.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance told Variety earlier this week that it has been kept “informed” of the strike situation by its U.S. counterpart. “As a sister union, MEAA stands in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and will continue to work with SAG-AFTRA to determine the appropriate steps needed on any productions in Australia that are impacted by industrial action if it occurs in the U.S.” they said.
Strike action has, in fact, already dealt a blow to one Australia-set production. Sam Esmail’s UCP-produced reimagining of the 1927 Fritz Lang classic “Metropolis” was canceled outright in June after mounting costs and unfinished scripts made the big-budget Apple TV+ show untenable amid the writers strike.
Similarly, production in France — where streamers such as Netflix film some of their most popular European originals — has also been disrupted.
Season 4 of “Emily in Paris” was scheduled to start filming in the French capital in late summer or early fall, but the shoot was delayed until October due to the writers strike. The actors strike will likely postpone the shoot even further, and also prompt a change in filming locations as the Cité du Cinema — the studio that housed the first three seasons — has been booked for the Olympic Games from Dec. 1 through to Oct.1, 2024.
Even series slated to shoot in Paris before the end of the year may be postponed because of extended strike action. This includes Prime Video ballet drama “Étoile” from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, and Apple TV+ period drama “The New Look,” which charts the meteoric rise of French fashion designer Christian Dior, and stars Ben Mendelsohn and Juliette Binoche. The latter show is due to start filming in November but sources say scripts are still awaiting sign off.
Leading talent agent Laurent Gregoire of the agency Adéquat represents some of France’s most sought-after actors. The executive says he’s in as much of a precarious situation as his clients — many of whom have been forced to drop out of projects.
Gregoire’s client, “Call My Agent!” star Camille Cottin, had to exit “Étoile” after it was postponed because she’s committed to other projects. Cottin had been cast in the series alongside Luke Kirby, Simon Callow, Lou de Laâge and David Alvarez.
“We’re all in limbo with this strike,” says Gregoire. “It would be better if shoots were canceled rather than delayed because we can’t wait any longer in this fog. We need to know where we’re going.”
Brent Lang and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this story.