It has been about a month since the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) members went on strike and the impact is hitting more than Californians and New Yorkers.
Synthetic Cinema International is a Hartford-based film company that produces films for Netflix, Hallmark and other networks. Andrew Gernhard, the company’s owner, says he and his staff have post-production projects to keep them busy until October, but then that’s it.
“We did work on four movies back to back since last November and we wrapped our fourth production just before the SAG strike,” Gernhard said. “We’re just hoping that the people above me make the agreements so people can keep working.”
Gernhard said even if the strike ends in September, work likely wouldn’t pick up again until the beginning of next year.
“We’re a very small company. I’m sure big companies like Disney and Netflix can get moving on things right away,” Gernhard said. “But for a smaller company like us and for smaller projects, I’m sure it’ll take at least a couple [of] months to get up and rolling.”
Gernhard said many of his crewmates and friends, including background actors that his company works with, are going through a tough period trying to find work.
The strike began July 13 after SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, who represent Netflix, Warner Bros., and other companies, failed to agree on the terms of a new contract for SAG-AFTRA members. The members are mainly seeking better residual compensation for work and the assurance that their likeness would not be appropriated by artificial intelligence (AI). Simultaneously, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have also been on strike since May.
According to the Connecticut office of Film, TV and Digital Media about a dozen films are produced in Connecticut each year, spending over $20 million in the state, while other television and digital media expenditures often exceed $300 million annually. The office said in a statement that several upcoming films set to go into production before the end of the year have been “placed on hold” due to the strike. The knock-on effects of this are expected to disrupt other businesses like hotels, car rentals, restaurants and more.
Mystic-based actress Callie Beaulieu is a member on strike. Beaulieu told Connecticut Public she has not been able to audition for a few months and has had to do other work.
“I have what I call my civilian jobs. I’m working outside of the industry as well to supplement,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu said an increase in compensation for actors is about beyond earning more money.
“In order to get health insurance through the union, you have to make $26,000 minimum,” Beaulieu said. “We’re working to have residuals which combine with our day rates so that we can qualify for just health insurance.”
The actress says the profession is at a tipping point for its survival, especially if AI is being set up to do their job. According to Beaulieu, some actors in the state have gone through an AI scanning process where their likeness is replicated. However, there is no contract that states what consent or payment for the usage would be like.
Beaulieu has not been scanned, but Norwich-based actor, George Vezina, has been.
“There’s a trailer and … somebody would check off your name on a clipboard, and then you’d step inside and all these cameras would surround you and they’d say, ‘oh, we’re gonna take a 360 picture of you,’” Vezina said.
Vezina said many people were wary of the idea.
“So the suspicion was there, but it wasn’t until it started happening a little more that finally it clicked somewhere in that hierarchy and we said, ‘Well, wait a minute, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, or maybe we should at least be compensat[ed] for it,” Vezina said.
He says he does not want to return to work until the AI issue is resolved in favor of the SAG-AFTRA members.
Currently, Vezina is living off his savings and he’s hoping for a near-end to the strike because he says something as little as his car breaking down could cause an issue for him.
“And you know worst case, I’ll have to get a real job in the real world somewhere, which I haven’t done in quite some time,” Vezina said.
Both Vezina and Beaulieu said they love their work and want to continue in the industry.