How Does the SAG-AFTRA Strike Affect Indie Productions, Video Game Developers and More?

Update: SAG-AFTRA’s members voted in favor of covering the union’s work on video games. Read more here.

On July 13, 2023, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) declared a strike after failing to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). This move involved SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 actors joining the picket line alongside the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), who have been on strike since May 2, 2023, marking the first joint strike by the two unions since 1960.

The strike prohibits various activities, not just on-camera work like acting, singing, and dancing, but also off-camera work and promotional activities such as voice acting, trailers, interviews, and attending conventions. This has raised questions about how digital entertainment, interactive entertainment, live performances, new media, and other gray areas will be affected.

Indie projects are governed by the strike but may apply for a waiver.

SAG-AFTRA utilizes different contracts for various industries and companies. While SAG-AFTRA called a strike as a result of not being able to reach an agreement with the AMPTP, the reality is that the strike order does not strike a specific company or entity but rather specific agreements. Currently, the strike notice specifies that all members should stop services for work under SAG-AFTRA’s TV/Theatrical Contracts. These contracts are most widely used with AMPTP companies. However, several independent studios, digital media companies, and new media companies also use these agreements. During the strike, SAG-AFTRA will prepare an interim agreement, which will contain the terms of the last SAG-AFTRA counter during negotiations including an 11% wage increase to the minimum rates. The interim agreement will govern until SAG-AFTRA renegotiates the TV/Theatrical Contracts with the AMPTP at which point the renegotiated TV/Theatrical Contracts will govern once more. Independent productions can apply for a waiver that allows them to sign the interim agreement. In order to qualify for the waiver, independent productions cannot be associated with any studios, streaming services, or AMPTP companies.

Video games, anime and dubbing are currently unaffected.

Certain segments of the industry, such as video games, anime, and dubbing fall under different SAG-AFTRA agreements and will be unaffected. This means that video game developers and studios (Interactive Media Agreements), television animation (Television Animation Agreement and New Media Animation Agreements), dubbing foreign languages into English and Spanish (Dubbing Agreement), and some other forms of media are not included in the strike. Importantly, the Television Animation Agreement does not include animated films meant for theatrical exhibition and therefore such animated films are still prohibited by the strike.

Live play shows such as Dimension 20 and Critical Role are left in shades of gray.

One growing genre of entertainment called Actual Play or Live Play features a podcast or web show in which people play a Tabletop Role Playing Game (TTRPGs) for an audience. These shows seemed to have been impacted differently in part due to how they are produced. Currently, Critical Role and other Actual Play shows that stream live on Twitch and YouTube are continuing with their productions. Dimension 20, which films and produces its seasons in advance of release, is  under SAG-AFTRA’s New Media Agreement for Non-Dramatic Programming, which was left off both the struck contract list as well as the exception list of non-struck contracts. Because the struck contract list included the SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement (includes New Media) and SAG-AFTRA New Media Agreement for High Budget Original or Derivative Programs, Dimension 20  paused production initially before SAG-AFTRA confirmed that the New Media Agreement for Non-Dramatic Programming was not struck.

Influencers, digital content creators and aspiring actors should be careful.

Some influencers and content creators are already members of SAG-AFTRA. The guild has posted guidelines for these individuals, stating that, among other things, they should not promote screenings by struck companies but may fulfill the terms of any existing contracts. Unaffiliated influencers, content creators, and actors should be aware that although SAG-AFTRA does not technically govern them, the guild has taken a firm stance against those who scab – a term for someone who continues to work during a union strike.  The guild has indicated that non-members performing covered work and services for a struck company will not be granted membership in the future which may impact both influencers working on promotional activities and also any content creators who have ambitions to act or voice act in SAG-AFTRA projects in the future. 

If you or your company are working on SAG-AFTRA projects or hope to work with SAG-AFTRA projects in the future, it is important to familiarize yourself with what is prohibited and what is not. An initial list of struck contracts and exceptions can be found in SAG-AFTRA’s strike order. If you are still unclear whether a project is struck or not after reading the strike order, you should consult with your attorneys and SAG-AFTRA.

Kevin Dong

Kevin is an attorney at Odin Law and Media focused on corporate and entertainment transactions. He can be reached at kevin at odin law dot com.

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