Who Benefits From the Hollywood Strike?
Plus HUGE announcement about the future of Wild About Film
For those that have kept up with the news out of Hollywood over the past couple of weeks, you will know that for the first time in 63 years both the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are on strike at the same time. The writers first went on strike back in May and the actors followed suit on July 13th. At the heart of this strike are weighty issues such as data transparency, use of AI, and how actors/writers get paid for streaming shows. So far, the negotiating has been pretty ugly and it has become obvious that both the AMPTP (group that represents the studios) and the writers/actors are in completely different universes with what they are demanding of the other. For example:
The actors have proposed that performers receive 2% of the revenue generated from streaming content.
The studios have proposed that a background actor could come in and get paid for a days work to digitally scan their body and its movements. The studio would then be allowed to use AI to put that person in the background of any movie they wanted into perpetuity without the actor ever getting another dime.
I bring both of those examples up not to say that either side is wrong in what they are asking, but just to show that they both have crazy demands that the other will probably not concede to. Bargaining 101 is that you start by listing your most ludicrous proposal and outlandish suggestions with the hope that after some concessions are made, you are still happy with what you get. The key though is to not demand such outlandish things that it makes the other side incredibly angry, which is what is currently happening. The real negotiations won’t even actually begin until the two parties are in a room and start to hash these things out. That itself is going to take a good bit of time. Then, when a deal does get agreed upon, it has to be ratified and go through a weeks long process to even become official. We are nowhere close to any of that. Heck, we are still in the “I am not talking to you because your demands are so ridiculous” phase of this.
Eventually, concessions will start to be made, but no one knows exactly how long that will take. What we do know is that all of this is going to take a while to sort out. Most industry insiders think that the strike could potentially go on until the end of 2023. The longer this strike drags out, the worse things get for all parties involved. The actors/writers don’t get paid, the studios won’t have movies to put out, and the consumers don’t have content to consume. Since so much of the coverage around this strike has been from that negative point of view (and rightfully so given that actors and writers have lost their income), I thought it would be a good exercise to put on our optimistic hats and think through who actually will benefit as this strike drags on. From my perspective, there are three winners if this goes until the end of the year:
The rise of this indie movie studio over the past decade has been astronomical. A24 has somehow gone from not even existing twelve years ago to winning almost every major award at the Oscars in 2023. The rise itself is probably worth a separate post on its own, but what is important for today is that this rise may actually keep trending higher due to the strike.
Two of the main components of the Hollywood strike (specifically due to the actors strike) are that there can be no production of new films and no actors can promote new films that will be released. This has caused all of the major movie studios to stop production on their films currently in development and has made them contemplate delaying the release of the films that are already finished. For most studios having their famous movie stars doing interviews on the press trail and making appearances on the Today show or late night talk shows are the lifeblood of promoting a new film and getting the word out. None of that is possible during the strike, so most studios with big star driven movies (think Dune 2 scheduled to come out in November) are thinking about delaying the release until after the strike.
A24 benefits from all of this because those rules don’t apply to them. Since A24 is an independent studio and not part of the AMPTP (group of studios negotiating against the actors), they can still shoot some of their movies and have their stars promoting their films. Two of A24’s upcoming films (“Mother Mary,” starring Anne Hathaway and “Death of a Unicorn,” starring Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega) are on the list of the 39 independent films allowed to shoot during the strike. The longer the strike goes on, the more this will benefit A24. If most major studios delay their big stuff until next year, A24 can continue to release their films this year (including “Iron Claw” starring Zach Efron) and potentially be one some of the only films in theaters. Not to mention that A24 will have films finished and ready to be released while the other studios have to delay their 2024 projects back six months. A24 has started to define themselves as one of the best studios in Hollywood, so it will be interesting to watch if this helps their positioning even more.
2. The Streaming Services (Temporarily)
Part of the reason that the studios are not willing to find a middle ground with the actors (at least not yet) is due to the state of the streaming industry. For years, all Wall Street seemed to care about from the streaming companies was how fast their services were growing and how many subscribers were being added. That has all changed pretty drastically over the past twelve months as profitability has become the only metric that matters. At the end of the day, these studios and streaming services are beholden to what shareholders want and Wall Street demands. So when the economic winds shifted and growth went out of favor and profitability in favor, these companies had to adjust pretty rapidly. This lead streaming services such as Disney Plus, Hulu, and Max to actually remove some of its original content library so that they could get a tax write off. Across the board, studios and streaming services alike started making changes to how they were spending money and what projects got greenlit, all in the name of turning a profit sooner rather than later.
What is interesting in all of this, is that the longer this strike goes on, the less money streamers will be spending on content, which will ultimately help boost profitability (albeit temporarily). The first quarter where this will really show will be Q3, since production on almost every film will have been halted throughout the quarter. Many of these companies will potentially report record profit during this time and may just give them a taste of how investors and subscribers will respond if they don’t make as much content going forward as they have in the past. Now, this probably won’t impact the stock in any meaningful way as Wall Street will have all of these assumptions baked in prior to the Q3 earning calls, but it does allow the streamers for at least one quarter to flaunt how profitable they were and how much free cash flow they generated. That gloating though will only be short term as it will likely all be a wash when most studios double down on content when the strike ends to make up for all that couldn’t be made during the strike. For the time being though, they are enjoying the lack of spending (that is until they run out of content).
3. Past Lives
Like I referenced above, one of the benefits of being an independent studio (like A24), is that they don’t have as many handcuffs and restrictions around production and promotion of their films during the strike. For now, most are just thinking about this in the context of films slated for release later in 2023, but what if the strike goes on through say January/February of next year? The biggest winner from that tragic outcome would likely be Past Lives. Celine Song’s directorial debut has been regarded by many (including myself) as the best film of 2023 so far.
Normally, movies that are slated to be Oscar contenders are released in the back half of the year (think October-December), but 2023 may look different as most studios consider delaying films so that their stars can promote them. If that were the case, the competition that Past Lives would go up against for a Best Picture or Best Original Screenplay Oscar could potentially be whittled down by 50-75%. If that isn’t an advantage enough, since the film is an A24 movie, the cast and crew from the film would presumably be allowed to be on the Oscar campaign trail getting the word out about the film. All while any remaining competitors would not be allowed to campaign. While I think that Past Lives would be a deserving Oscar winner in a “normal year”, it is such a small indie film that you could easily see it getting lost in the shuffle during a normal Oscars season. With the strike, that may not be the case.
While the strike has been and will continue to be a devastatingly tragic thing for all of the working actors and writers, it would be beautiful to see such a remarkable piece of art like Past Lives get the recognition it deserves. For those who have yet to see the film, it is slated for an August 22nd VOD release date, and I couldn’t recommend this one enough. For some context into why I liked the film, check out my review here.
We are all hoping that this strike gets resolved sooner rather than later, but if that doesn’t happen to be reality, it is interesting to think through the parties that would benefit from the continuation. Anything I missed? I would love to hear from you all on if there are any other potential winners from a prolonged strike.
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