By Rollo Ross and Danielle Broadway
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Striking Hollywood actors joined film and television writers on picket lines for the first time in 63 years on Friday, cheering and chanting outside major studios with calls for higher streaming-era pay and curbs on use of artificial intelligence.
The twin strikes will add to the economic damage from the writers’ walkout that started on May 2, increasing the pressures facing the multibillion-dollar media industry as it struggles with seismic changes to its business.
In New York City and Los Angeles, actors marched outside the offices of Netflix Inc, Paramount Global and other companies, voicing demands for higher compensation for working-class actors and other gains.
“We’re in an old contract for a new type of business and it’s just not working for most people,” actor Susan Sarandon said outside Warner Bros Discovery offices in New York.
“The corporate greed that the studios have shown has made it very difficult for people to have lives,” she said.
Although the SAG-AFTRA ranks include the most famous, and wealthiest, Hollywood movies stars, the picket lines on Friday were filled with less familiar faces that make up the majority of the union’s 160,000 members.
“Most of us are middle class actors and writers, and we just want to be able to do the things that everyone else has in life and own homes and have families and pay for our lives,” actor Caitlyn Knisely said outside the palm tree-lined Paramount Pictures lot in Los Angeles.
Across town outside Netflix headquarters, picketers chanted “Netflix pay up!”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, former star of the “The Nanny” TV show, joined the crowd and linked the actors’ fight to a broader surge in U.S. labor activity. Unions nationwide have been taking harder lines in negotiations with companies including Amazon.com and Starbucks.
“If we don’t take control of this situation from these greedy megalomaniacs, we are all going to be in threat of losing our livelihoods,” Drescher said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that negotiates on behalf of Netflix, Walt Disney Co and other studios, said it had offered significant increases in compensation to SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America (WGA) members.
Sources close to studios also argue that the companies are facing a challenging time. Many streaming services have yet to turn a profit after spending billions of dollars on programming to try and attract customers.
Disney, Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal and Paramount each lost hundreds of millions of dollars from streaming in the most recent quarter. At the same time, the rise of online video has eroded television ad revenue as traditional TV audiences shrink and movie ticket sales remain below pre-pandemic levels.
The unions are seeking assurances that their jobs will not be replaced by generative AI. SAG-AFTRA leaders said studios had proposed paying actors for one day’s work and using their digital images in perpetuity.
The AMPTP said that characterization was false and that studios had offered “groundbreaking” protections around AI use.
‘EVERYONE WANTS TO WORK’
The WGA’s work stoppage has rippled through California and beyond, hitting caterers, prop suppliers and others who rely on Hollywood productions. The economic damage is expected to spread with actors now on the picket lines.
The writers’ strike sent late-night television talk shows into endless reruns, disrupted most production for the autumn TV season and halted work on big-budget movies.
The actors’ walkout will shut down the studios’ remaining U.S.-based productions of film and scripted television and hamper many overseas shoots.
Outside the adjacent Sony and Amazon studio lots near Los Angeles, picketers said they hoped the simultaneous strikes by actors and writers would help speed a resolution.
“Everyone wants to work,” said “L.A.’s Finest” actor Jason Fielders. “I don’t want to sit out here on the picket lines and sweat and not get paid.”
(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski, Danielle Broadway Rollor Ross and Omar Younis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Bill Berkrot)