How the SAG-AFTRA Strike in Hollywood is Affecting Pittsburgh’s Entertainment Industry
The strike is going to delay fall production of three filmed-in-Pittsburgh series and could have other consequences.
The first strike by members of the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles since 1960 will have ripple effects in southwestern Pennsylvania, where 5,000 people are employed full time in the entertainment industry.
Dawn M. Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, says while there are no current productions filming in the Pittsburgh region, the strike is going to delay fall production of the three ongoing Pittsburgh- and Western Pennsylvania-based series — “Mayor of Kingstown,” “A League of Their Own” and “American Rust.”
“We’re hopeful for a quick, successful resolution to all of their needs,” Keezer adds.
Nancy Mosser of Nancy Mosser Casting also hopes for a quick resolution to allow future productions to come to Pittsburgh and film. Her firm typically casts one or two large productions a year in the region.
Overall, more than 20,000 Pennsylvanians work full time in the entertainment industry, Keezer says.
The Hollywood actors joined members of the Writers Guild of America who walked off the job in May. They are striking for similar reasons: demand for fair pay and residuals and concerns about the use of AI.
“SAG-AFTRA (the union representing 160,000 television and movie actors) negotiated in good faith with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (the entertainment industry’s official collective bargaining unit),” the official strike website reads. “We said we need a modern contract that addresses modern issues. They countered with business as usual: Income Erosion. AI Exploitation. Abusive self-tape demands. Our careers as performers are now in jeopardy. This is why we’re striking.”
In a New York Times article, Christopher Kuo notes the leaders of SAG-AFTRA announced the strike “after negotiations with studios over a new contract collapsed, with streaming services and artificial intelligence at the center of the standoff.”
In a CBS News video posted to their YouTube channel, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said during a press conference: “When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and forget about essential contributors that make the machine run, we have a problem. They plead poverty that they are losing money left and right when they give hundreds of millions to their CEOs! We are being victimized by a very greedy entity… ”
Keezer adds that the strike could give Pennsylvania’s legislature more time to pass a budget that includes a hefty increase in film tax credits.
State lawmakers, during the summer of 2022, increased the state’s film production credit program in their 2022-23 budget from $70 million to $100 million a year, which gives filmmakers extra incentive to shoot here. It had been at $70 million for several years. Still, Keezer says, the state hasn’t stayed competitive.
“Last year we lost half a billion dollars in work from four feature films and four TV series because they couldn’t come to the state to film,” she says. “We are hoping to have a $300 million tax credit program.”
She continues, “New Jersey has a $350 million tax credit program and New York City has $700 million. Georgia is uncapped. They also haven’t taken into account streaming services and the insatiable need for content, along with the amount of work they want to do in Pennsylvania. If we had more tax credits, we would have a lot more work.”
Hollywood actors took to social media Friday to show their support of the strike, as well as point out disparities in salaries. For instance, only a small percentage of actors are said to qualify for SAG-AFTRA health insurance each year, which means they make at least $26,740 a year through work or residuals.
Actor Brendan Fehr of “Roswell” and “The Night Shift” Tweeted the following Friday:
“I’ve qualified for #SAGAFTRA health insurance 1 time in the past 3 years. Don’t have it now. That’s right, didn’t make $26k to qualify and had 3 movies released in the past 3 months. When you do the math, it’s not good.”
TV’s former “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter Tweeted:
“This is a painful chapter in the lives of artists everywhere. Most actors & creatives don’t make millions. Many who make magic on-screen struggle to make ends meet. It’s easy to take this for granted at the top. We can’t have art w/o a sustainable future for artists. #SAGAFTRA.”