In light of the ongoing strikes by the unions representing actors and writers, 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger is authoring a motion meant to help the local businesses that rely on the television and film industry.
The use of artificial intelligence in future productions, streaming residuals and basic pay rates for lesser-known players who make Hollywood magic are all part of negotiations that are expected to continue for weeks, potentially months.
“This motion is about mobilizing any and all available county resources so that help is extended to the many small-business owners and workers who are behind the scenes but also greatly impacted by the strikes,” Barger wrote in a statement shared with The Signal via email. “I’ve consistently advocated to keep our local economy thriving and growing, and at times that requires directly investing in our middle- and working-class individuals and their families — not just our most indigent.”
The motion by Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley as part of her district, asks several county agencies to work together on four aims: to quantify the potential impacts of the strike; to report back in 30 days (with quarterly updates) on “implementing targeted outreach and engagement regarding programs, services and capital available to businesses who are temporarily impacted”; a report back on the feasibility of “standing up and resourcing a business interruption fund and other new or expanded solutions”; and identifying any available state and federal resources while urging the governor to declare a state of emergency.
The situation represents an existential crisis, according to the “talent” side of the industry as explained by actress Justine Bateman, a member of the Screen Actors Guild’s negotiating team.
“AI has to be (addressed) now or never,” the writer, director and former “Family Ties” actress wrote on social media. “I believe this is the last time any labor action will be effective in our business. If we don’t make strong rules now, they simply won’t notice if we strike in three years, because at that point they won’t need us.”
Meanwhile, strongly worded statements from “management,” i.e. the alliance of motion picture studios, which also includes major streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, point to a protracted battle, with claims that the other side is misrepresenting its perspective in the media.
“SAG-AFTRA continues to publicly mischaracterize AMPTP’s AI proposal,” according to a statement from the studio group issued Tuesday. “The AMPTP agrees with SAG-AFTRA that use of a performer’s likeness to generate a new performance requires consent and compensation.”
The studios’ union is claiming it offered up ”first-of-its-kind protections,” which include: advance, specific consent from the performer required both to create and use digital replicas; that no digital replica of the performer can be created without the performer’s written consent and description of the intended use in the film; and a prohibition of later use of that replica unless performer specifically consents to that new use and is paid for it, according to the statement.
The actors have repeatedly pointed out on social media that their “residuals,” i.e. money paid when a show is aired in reruns, for example, amounts to pennies on the dollar, if at all, compared to what traditional television contracts pay. With much of the medium moving in that direction, the protections are critical, actors have said.
Locally, the city of Santa Clarita takes in thousands of dollars in permits each year, but the actual local impact is estimated to be in the millions, according to a widely used industry-standard formula that looks at all the associated investments with bigger productions, such as food services and hotel stays.
In January, for example, the city reported that in the previous calendar year there were 591 film permits issued for 1,549 location film days, which generated an estimated $38.5 million, based on a formula created by FilmLA, the county permitting agency for productions.
The data from the Santa Clarita Film Office permits for the last two months indicated a slight drop-off so far, according to officials.
“What we’re permitting right now is some music videos and some commercials, including some national commercials, as well as independent productions and some student productions,” said Evan Thomason, economic development associate for the city of Santa Clarita. “I would say we’re still a busy film office — we’re not quite as busy as we were. We’re looking forward to an end to the strike just like everyone else.”
For May and June of 2022, there were a total of 100 permits issued that had an estimated impact of nearly $7.1 million, according to the numbers provided by the city. For the same two months this year, there were 76 permits valued at nearly $5.6 million in impact. City officials have noted in the past that the different types of projects permitted, i.e. an episodic TV series versus a one-off commercial, have different impacts estimated with their respective permits.
For the whole of the county, the LA Economic Development Corp. estimated that the 2007-08 writers strike led to about $981 million in revenue lost to businesses that support the industry.
This time around, the losses are expected to be much greater.
“The simultaneous strikes are anticipated to have a substantial economic fallout,” according to the agenda item for the motion authored by Barger and Supervisor Lindsay Horvath, who represents much of the San Fernando Valley, “with an expected output loss to exceed $3 billion across the state of California.”