Star Wars: The Thespians Strike Back

One film tagline you probably won't hear this summer: The Strike II - This Time It's The Actors....

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Just months after a writers’ strike brought the Hollywood money-making machine to a virtual standstill, the threat of industrial action hangs over Tinseltown once again – but this time it’s a luvvie-off. In fact, this latest spat has got everything you’d want from a summer blockbuster: an intricate plot, a cast of thousands, friends and colleagues set against each other, and some of the biggest, most bankable stars in the world, including Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Ben Stiller, Martin Sheen and, erm, Alec Baldwin.

The plot focuses on the impending contractual negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild, representing 120,000 actors, and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, representing the studios. With the contract between SAG and AMPTP about to expire, SAG now wants higher pay for ‘lower-tier’ artists (those on less than £50,000 a year – poor lambs) and also a bigger cut of the profits from DVD sales. A failure to reach agreement could apparently lead to a strike.

To add to the intrigue, another actors’ union, the 80,000-strong American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), has already reached its own royalties agreement with the studios. So it’s all right, Jack.

Now here’s the twist: 44,000 US actors are members of both camps, and SAG is urging these members to reject the AFTRA agreement. In what could be a new addition to the ‘star wars’ series, there has been much unseemly public feuding, with Spacey and Baldwin (supporting the AFTRA agreement) on one side, and Nicholson, Stiller and Sheen (supporting SAG) on the other.
So the question is: will a hero arise to stop the war and bring peace to Tinseltown? Step forward Hollywood heart-throb and all-round nice guy George Clooney. Despite his success, multi-millionaire Clooney still cares about the little people: he’s not only fighting for the rights of his fellow actors, but also playing peacemaker between the two unions. He’s suggested that they should set up a panel of heavyweight stars, who could sit down once a year with the studios and discuss issues of concern. He’s also urging all these actors to avoid public feuding on the issue. Like all great thesps, George clearly has an instinct for the starring role....

It's unlikely that SAG will get the 75 per cent approval among its members it needs to authorise a strike. But if it does, expect a few blank screens at the cinema this autumn, with 17 major projects at risk of postponement. Although this does include the latest offering in the Da Vinci Code franchise – so it's not all bad news...

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