The effects of the SAG-AFTRA strike will extend beyond stopping production on films and television series. It will also shut down major Hollywood studios’ promotional efforts at SDCC 2023 and other conventions aimed at comic collectors and science-fiction and fantasy fans.
The SAG-AFTRA Strike Explained
SAG-AFTRA is a union combining the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, representing over 160,000 creative performers. Their membership includes announcers, journalists, dancers, disc-jockeys, newscasters, singers, puppeteers, recording artists, stunt performers and voiceover artists, as well as film and television actors.
The SAG-AFTRA strike comes upon the heels of a strike orchestrated by the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America), which started on May 2, 2023. While individual SAG-AFTRA members had voiced their support of the WGA strike, there was no organized effort to join them until after SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) representing the studios failed to agree upon a new three-year contract.
Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA is concerned that their members are not being fairly compensated for new works produced for streaming services like Netflix or Disney Plus, nor for older series broadcast through streaming. Creators have lost on old contracts based around reruns on cable networks, rather than how often their work was streamed or downloaded.
Another issue is the use of artificial intelligence. SAG-AFTRA demands rules against digitally reproducing an actor’s likeness or voice without their express permission and due compensation.
How The SAG-AFTRA Strike Affects SDCC
While a strike does not prohibit SAG-AFTRA members from working in their chosen fields, it does prevent them from working for studios (like Disney or Warner Bros) that are members of AMPTP. SAG-AFTRA members are also prohibited from any work that promotes any film or television projects produced for those studios, new or old.
The Wrap reported on the SAG-AFTRA ruling released 48 hours before the strike began which officially defined promotional work. The SAG-AFTRA strike specifically forbids members from participating in “press junkets, film premieres, and fan events like San Diego Comic-Con.” They are also forbidden from discussing current or upcoming work on social media.
Marvel Studios and DC Studios both pulled out of San Diego Comic-Con 2023 in anticipation of the SAG-AFTRA strike, not wanting to put up a poor showing by not having any writers or actors in attendance. Other major studios followed suit, leaving industry insiders worried about whether events like SDCC can continue to be profitable with no actor appearances, or trailer teases to engage the fans. However, the problems facing SDCC 2023 may only be the beginning.
Small Conventions Will Suffer
While SAG-AFTRA members are unofficially discouraged from attending events like SDCC, they are technically allowed to attend fan events to sign autographs or take photos with fans. They cannot, however, attend panels that promote films or television shows, or discuss any current or future work. It is feared that most members will choose to avoid convention appearances completely, rather than risk a slip-up and violate the strike. They may also wish to avoid perception of crossing the picket line by making a personal appearance.
While the major studios pulling out of SDCC 2023 has been a public relations nightmare, it could cause bigger problems for smaller fan events around the world. While these events are not used as intensively as promotional opportunities by the big studios as SDCC, they are still a major source of outreach between devoted fans and the studios, through the actors.
Unless the strike is settled soon, these small conventions may have to run without their usual line-up of celebrity guests, which are typically the biggest draw for this sort of show.