Hollywood actors went on strike on July 14, joining film and tv writers who’ve been on the picket lines since May. It’s the first time actors and writers have picketed together since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Following failed talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced the strike at a press conference on July 13.

At the center of the negotiations between the union and the guild are two key issues: residual payments within the streaming era and the ownership of an actor’s likeness if it’s reproduced by artificial intelligence. The union is asking for fairer pay splits and tighter AI regulations over these issues.

This strike is a watershed moment for the entertainment industry, marking a turning point for the longer term of labour in the humanities. But it’s going to even have widespread impacts on the film and tv industry beyond the United States, and Canada is bracing for impact.

‘Cataclysmic’ issues at stake

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists released an announcement last week in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA: “[U.S. actors’] issues are our issues and performers deserve respect and fair compensation for the worth they bring about to each production.”

These issues are “cataclysmic,” in line with Canadian actor and producer Julian De Zotti. De Zotti and I discussed these issues as a part of a greater conversation on the longer term of entertainment in the continued CTRL ALT DISRUPT series, organized by Artscape Daniels Launchpad and the City of Toronto’s Creative Technology Office.

He says the problems being negotiated are existential for creators the world over:

“We are at a seismic inflection point within the industry, as a large technological shift is changing how working and middle class artists, actors, writers, craftspeople could make a sustainable living within the entertainment industry.”

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher attends a press conference announcing a strike by The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on July, 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

To be clear, it’s not the technology itself creators are taking issue with. When it involves AI, many film industry professionals are already using tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney to assist flesh out the background for scripts or develop visual worlds and imagery for pitch decks.

De Zotti, who has won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Web Program or Series for the past two years, is already integrating AI tools into his practice. He shouldn’t be afraid of latest technology, but relatively, the way it is perhaps misused.

An existential threat

AI poses a threat for actors specifically because their livelihoods rely on their identity. There must be specific guardrails and parameters established that protect artists, their creations and their image. They should have a say in how their work and image are used and receive fair compensation for it.

Technology advances quickly, sometimes outpacing our ability to totally comprehend its repercussions before adopting it. The strike offers the chance to press pause on the otherwise unbridled adoption of disruptive AI technology.

“This can’t be like social media where the technology got here too fast and there have been no clear guidelines on its use, and now it’s completely uncontrolled,” says De Zotti.

Instead of scrambling to play regulatory catch-up after damage has been done, considerations must be made on the outset to avoid damaging consequences, intended or not.

What the strike means for Canada

During the strike, service production, which represents a majority of the $11.69 billion annual work done in Canada, will come to a halt. All American productions — from big budget blockbusters like Star Trek, which shoots in Toronto, to indie feature movies using SAG actors — might be affected.

This will, in turn, have a direct effect on the 244,000 individuals who work within the film and tv industry on this country. But it may additionally open up a unique business model, that, as De Zotti points out, “doesn’t depend on you to package your show or movie with stars to get it made.”

While the streaming issue under negotiation is centred around residuals and compensation, Canadian content creators face additional struggles.

Streaming corporations have arrange shop in Canada for a couple of years now, promising to make shows led by Canadians. However, De Zotti says this has not been the case. “It’s been a mirage. Bill C-11 is imagined to change all that, but that remains to be yet to be seen.”

However, if the strike lingers, perhaps markets outside of Canada will look to amass Canadian content, as is already the case with the CW, which turned to Canadian content to fill its fall schedule.

Is this Canada’s moment?

A protest sign that says 'SAG-AFTRA on Strike'
Striking writers and actors participate in a rally outside Netflix studio in Los Angeles on July 14.
(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Perhaps this strike is a moment for Canada to rise to the occasion; while the Canadian entertainment industry can’t compete with the sheer scale or spending power of Hollywood, it’s on this environment of massive change that we shine as scrappy, creative disruptors.

From Norman McLaren’s experimental work with the NFB, through the rise of interactive documentaries, to the explosion of game-based virtual concert events, Canada has at all times been seen as an innovator in entertainment.

As for the strike itself, its consequence will certainly set a precedent. Whatever guidelines the WGA and SAG establish with the studios might be used as a template when it’s time for Canadian unions to barter.

The reality is, AI and streaming will not be technologies of tomorrow; each are here to remain. As the dust settles south of the border, we’ve the prospect to not only sit back and wait, but to steer by example.

We have the chance to not only create unimagined recent types of storytelling, but in addition experiment with fairer business models rooted in transparent data and more equitable ways of using the powerful tools that threaten to upend the industry of yesterday.

This article was originally published at theconversation.com