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Former Bruins support picket line amid SAG-AFTRA strike

People hold signs during the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike. The UCLA community showed support for writers and actors participating in the strike. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

By Christine Kao

Aug. 30, 2023 2:18 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 4 at 10:56 p.m.

Recently graduated UCLA writers and actors expressed support for the SAG-AFTRA strike.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists began the strike July 14 following an unsatisfactory negotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on its latest contract, according to the TV/Theatrical/Streaming strike order.

SAG-AFTRA advocates for the rights and safety of its 160,000 members, including on-screen performers and off-stage professionals, according to its mission statement. The union has demanded a wage increase amid inflation, provisions surrounding the use of artificial intelligence in the industry and an updated model for streaming revenue sharing, according to the strike’s website.

The strike started a month after theater alumnus Blaire Battle and their classmates graduated in June. Battle said she has been picketing outside the Sony Pictures Studios and Netflix’s Sunset Bronson Studios in support of SAG-AFTRA, despite not yet meeting the eligibility to become a union member.

Even with the walkout ceasing current job opportunities, Battle is prioritizing the chance to seek better working conditions for actors and writers, they said.

“It’s very frustrating graduating into a double strike and finding that there’s no jobs,” Battle said. “The advice I’ve gotten and the advice I would continue to give to anybody is don’t rush. Don’t try to go, ‘Oh, I just wish this could all be over, and I can get back to work.’”

Many SAG-AFTRA members work as background actors and voice actors, whose roles are jeopardized as studios begin replicating their images and voices using artificial intelligence without compensating them, Battle said.

Battle has already encountered an employer’s attempt to reuse her likeness, despite just starting work in the industry, she said. Their manager had to stop them from signing a contract that had a clause granting the company perpetual rights to use Battle’s image scan, they added.

Battle said she feels that concerns over both the rising use of AI and the decreasing payments from reruns have unified writers and actors this summer. Meeting people from different backgrounds – from experienced professionals to pre-union graduates like them – at the picket lines has been inspiring, they added.

“Any time we can put power back in the hands of workers, back in the hands of artists, away from the lone pursuit of profit – it’s a net good for all of us,” Battle said.

Fellow theater alumnus Xavier Brown echoed the sentiment, as he said he hopes the movement helps preserve authentic human stories written and shown through films and television.

“I really, really, really hope that there is regulation on AI as a whole in the entertainment industry because it really is taking away jobs,” Brown said. “In my personal opinion, that could very well take away the human experience that we all come in love from TV shows and films.”

Brown said many of his classmates have been meeting with agents and managers but are not signed to companies right now, as the strike has prevented them from starting any work.

Beyond pushing for AI regulations, the strike is an important step toward actors and writers acquiring livable wages, Brown said.

Actors and writers create narratives audiences recognize and enjoy, but they don’t earn nearly the amount of money that executives at production companies do, he said, adding that he hopes the strike brings awareness to such conditions.

Frank Bishop, a 2023 theater alumnus, said performing in the theater has not been a lucrative career. The actor and boxing trainer, who joined the union when he started doing stand-in work a decade ago, said many performers including him have to do additional work to make up for their cost of living while sacrificing time from their day jobs for rehearsals and performances.

“I couldn’t live off of what I made because it wasn’t enough,” Bishop said. “Even as a union member, the pay wasn’t great.”

Bishop said he is worried that younger students who aspire to work in theater, television and film may give up on their goal because of the gloomy financial outlook of the industry right now. He hopes students in other fields stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA, as Bishop said he feels unions serve as an important force against human exploitation in every profession.

“This is bigger than Hollywood,” Bishop said. “This is across the board, and this is a way of showing, ‘Hey, look, if we get together and organize, and we’re united in solidarity with each other, we can make big things happen. We can make big changes in our society.’”

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