Grim impacts loom as the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strikes march on
Labour | Jorge Ignacio Castillo
In any normal year, I would be preparing my yearly pilgrimage to the Toronto International Film Festival and kvetching about the studios overlooking my interview requests or fretting over upcoming roundtables with that obnoxious journalist nobody likes.
This isn’t a normal year. Is there such thing anymore?
As the SAG/AFTRA and WGA strikes enter their second and fourth month respectively, TIFF ’23 is looking like a pale version of editions past. Not only has the Venice Film Festival scooped the better titles (new movies by David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, Michael Mann and William Friedkin’s swan song), the star power isn’t there. This means directors will bear the brunt of the promotion and stunt guests (Lil Nas X! Stallone!) are the next best thing, but it’s weak sauce all over.
Granted, SAG/AFTRA and WGA members have more pressing concerns than fall festivals doldrums (like, say, food and shelter), but it’s the most noticeable impact to Canadian audiences.
The impasse between talent and studios goes beyond salaries, data transparency, and profit sharing. It’s about stopping Hollywood C-suites from cutting costs at the expense of actors and writers, and ensuring creators get their fair share (as opposed to CEOs paying themselves seven and eight-figure bonuses.)
As negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and union leaders remain at a standstill, this is what to expect in the immediate future.
CANADIAN FILM INDUSTRY
While the local unions have manifested solidarity with their peers over the border, Canadian productions haven’t been crippled by the strikes (except those with SAG/AFTRA members, like CTV’s Sullivan’s Crossing). You can still count on Murdoch Mysteries and Hudson & Rex to get you through the winter.
The problem lies with the American films and TV shows shooting in any of the country’s production hubs (Vancouver, Toronto, Alberta). These on-hold production crews are mostly Canadian professionals, as are the background performers. The strike is believed to impact 25,000 screen industry workers (more than two-thirds of IATSE members), and there’s only so much labour made-in-Canada fare can absorb.
The SAG/AFTRA strike means the talent in front of the camera can’t promote their movies. Some recent mid-size releases have suffered because of it: Strays and Meg 2: The Trench would probably have done better if Will Ferrell and Jason Statham hit the talk show circuit.
For end-of-the-year blockbusters, there’s reason for concern, particularly those that aren’t a known IP. Sure, The Marvels has a built-in audience (never mind the MCU’s spiral into dullness), but Dune: Part Two already flew the coop for March 2024. Odds are good Disney’s Wish, George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat, and Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins follow suit.
If bigger titles like Wonka or Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom get postponed, movie theatres will suffer the most. Cinemas continue to reel from the COVID restrictions and would need about 10 BarbenHeimers to fully heal. Without that sweet Christmas cash, casualties are almost guaranteed.
There was a time the Oscars were certain to bring all sides in a labour dispute to the negotiation table. Thanks to the emergence of streamers — and the growing disconnect between popular films and award recognition — this is no longer the case. The Emmys already moved from September to January 2024. Since nobody is speaking to each other at press time, other ceremonies are likely to follow.
Since Oscar-bait films are starting to flee the so-called “award season”, movies that saw the light earlier in the year are now the frontrunners. At the head of the pack, the one-two punch that keeps on giving: Barbie and Oppenheimer.
Whether there’s anything to celebrate remains to be seen. ■