Why Care About Hollywood Strikes? We’re All Background Actors.

In Hollywood, cool kids have joined the picket line.

As a writer, I have no ill will towards writers who have been on strike for over two months against film and television studios. But writers know the score. We are words, not faces. Even the cleverest picket sign jokes can’t match the attention-grabbing power of Margot Robbie or Matt Damon.

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing TV and film actors, joins strike with writers over how Hollywood distributes money in the age of streaming and how humans can thrive in the age of artificial intelligence. bottom. If you use the power of that star, you can easily come up with a cheap plan. Why should anyone care about the privileged elite complaining about their dream jobs?

But while a few names in bold have caught the attention of this strike, consider a term that’s popped up a lot in the current negotiations: “background actors.”

You probably don’t think much about the background actors. You’re not going to, hence the name. They are the wordless figures that exist in the margins of the screen, making Gotham City or Kings Landing or the beaches of Normandy feel real, substantial, and alive.

And you may have more in common with them than you think.

The low-paid actors who make up the majority of this profession are simply under threat to their livelihoods. With streaming shortening TV seasons and the syndicate model fading, they’re trying to maintain income as their balances dwindle. They want guardrails against AI encroaching on their jobs.

There are also certain chilling questions on the table. Who owns the face of the performer? Background attackers want protection and better compensation when scanning images for digital reuse.

At a press conference about the strike, trade union negotiators said Said In exchange for a day’s worth, the studio wanted the right to scan the actor’s image and use it “forever.” Studios claim they offer “groundbreaking” protection against misuse of actors’ images, and their proposal would require companies to use “digital replicas” only on specific projects where background actors were hired. I argue that it should be allowed.

Still, the long-term “Black Mirror” consequences, namely this practice the actual premise It cannot be ignored in recent episodes. Who needs you when your digital replica can do the job without the hassle of money and time to make a living?

I think you could argue that if someone isn’t important enough to be replaced by software, they’re in the wrong job. But behind-the-scenes work and bit parts are the route to one day promoting a blockbuster on the red carpet. And many talented artists build their entire careers around a series of small jobs. (Pamela Adlon’s series “Better Things” is a wonderful account of the life of a working actor.)

After all, the Hollywood battle isn’t far from a threat to many of us in today’s economy. “We will all be at risk of being replaced by machines,” said Actors Guild president Fran Drescher. announcement strike.

You and I may be the protagonists of our respective stories, but when you look at the big picture, most of us are players in the background. We face the same risks. Whenever a technological or cultural shift occurs, companies rewrite employment terms in their favor, citing financial pressure to pay management. tens of millions, billions.

It may be unfair that more attention is given to exploitation involving the union that Meryl Streep belongs to. (An imminent UPS strike might put blue-collar workers in the spotlight.) And there’s also justifiable criticism of white-collar workers who were eager to automate until AI threatened their jobs. Yes it does.

But work is work, and some dynamics are universal. Entertainment reporter and critic Maureen Ryan wrote in her Burn It Down survey of workplace abuse across Hollywood: product. “

If you don’t believe Ryan, listen to what an anonymous studio exec had to say about the writers’ strike. trade publication deadline“The final phase is to let things drag out until union members start losing apartments and homes.”

You may think of Hollywood creators as privileged, but if their employer thinks of them that way, your employer might have something different about you. See? Most of us face a common question, both in and out of Hollywood. Is it possible to live in a society without becoming a star?

If the background actors did their job properly, you might never notice. But they are the difference between a sterile landscape and a living landscape. They focus firmly on their beautiful protagonists, and it’s as if there’s a whole universe beyond, whether it’s the galaxy of the “Star Wars” series or the mundane reality you and I live in. gives a good impression.

They’re there to say that we’re here too, that we make the world the world, that at least we deserve a little spot in the corner of the screen.

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