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Hollywood strikes hit home, as Australian productions stall

Eric Bana is a long-standing union ticket holder, and has delayed the red carpet and launch until everyone can attend.

Eric Bana is a long-standing union ticket holder, and has delayed the red carpet and launch until everyone can attend. Photo: Roadshow

As tens of thousands of US actors and writers continue to hold picket lines in Los Angeles and New York, the fallout from their strike has reached Australia.

Australian actor and producer Eric Bana, who was set to walk the red carpet for the premiere of the second instalment of his sequel to the 2020 hit The Dry, has delayed the film’s release until the actors reach a deal with the studios.

Bana, whose Hollywood career spans more than 20 years after he was first noticed for Black Hawk Down in 2001, says there’s “some regret” in the delay, but a lot of “conviction” in the decision.

Hollywood’s largest union SAG-AFTRA, representing 160,000 film and television actors – and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – are demanding increases in base pay and residuals from streaming television, plus assurances their work will not be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

The writers walked out on May 2, and the actors on July 14.

The twin strikes will add to the economic damage from the writers’ walkout two months ago, delivering another blow to the multibillion-dollar industry struggling with changes to its business.

Hollywood has not faced two simultaneous strikes since 1960.

Force of Nature: The Dry 2, originally planned for release nationally in cinemas on August 24, has been postponed, with a new date yet to be announced.

“It is with some regret, but a large amount of conviction that we have decided to postpone the release of Force of Nature: The Dry 2.

“I’m incredibly proud of this much-anticipated Australian film and want to be able to do it justice by promoting it thoroughly.

“Due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, of which I am a long-standing member, it is not possible to do that at this time.”

Bana sounded hopeful of a resolution.

“I stand in support of the changes that SAG-AFTRA are fighting for on behalf of all working actors.

“I apologise for any inconvenience … see you at a cinema soon.”

Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh at the UK premiere of Oppenheimer before making a quick exit. Photo: Getty

‘Limited’ number of  Australian productions affected

It was only a matter of time before some films and projects were being shut down due to the US strike and member affiliations.

The Sam Neill and Annette Bening drama Apples Never Fall, currently in production in Queensland, is “one of the biggest shows locally to be affected by the strikes”, Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer in creative industries, Dr Ruari Elkington, told The New Daily.

It was expected to inject more than $79 million into the Australian economy and create 260 jobs for cast and crew.

“This comes on the heels of NBCUniversal completely pulling out of the $180 million series Metropolis, which had well and truly begun pre-production at Docklands Studios in Melbourne,” he said.

It isn’t clear whether the Mortal Kombat 2 actors have been cast under a dual agreement between the US and Australia, but the film has reportedly stopped production. Photo: Twitter

Martial arts sequel Mortal Kombat 2, which was filming in Australia, is also reportedly on hold.

In Victoria, there are no international VicScreen-supported projects filming in the state.

However, a spokesperson confirmed to TND there were nine local productions set to film in Victoria for the remainder of 2023.

As Variety noted, Australia is home to a vast number of “runaway productions” with “a large roster of talent who are members of local guilds as well as SAG-AFTRA”.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance is keeping a close eye on what’s going on, but has spelled out clear guidelines on its website.

“For Australian actors and crew engaged on Australian screen productions with no imported US performers/SAG-AFTRA members, there will be no change and your work will continue as normal.

“For Australian actors and crew engaged on offshore screen productions with imported US performers/SAG-AFTRA members in lead roles and engaged on SAG contracts, this production may be affected and you may be stood down without pay.”

However, it said that “where SAG-AFTRA members have been engaged on Australian productions or on standard MEAA Equity – SPA Agreements (such as the AFFCA or ATPA), then it is likely that filming can continue as normal”.

Screen Producers Australia (SPA) said the strike does not apply to non-scripted productions, including documentaries, light entertainment and reality shows.

However, it will apply to some scripted TV and feature films produced in Australia.

“SPA anticipates that a limited number of scripted “offshore” (ie non-Australian) productions will be affected by the strike, with cast and crew stood down while the strike continues”.

Just in time

As is customary, the actors and directors of new-release films make a red carpet appearance, chat and sign autographs, and many conduct Q&A sessions to a paid audience.

As the SAG-AFTRA board voted for its members to strike on July 14, the A-list team of Oppenheimer were promoting the premiere in the UK.

Then they left.

For Tom Cruise and his Mission Impossible: Dark Reckoning Part 1 cast, and for Margot Robbie and the Barbie team, they finished their promo tours in the weeks beforehand, avoiding any complicated battlegrounds between their union memberships and studio commitments.

Business as usual in the UK

Meanwhile, in the UK the rules are different for working actors.

According to Variety, the HBO series’ cast of House of the Dragon is composed primarily of UK actors who are working under contracts governed by the local union, Equity.

“As such, the series is technically allowed to continue filming because Equity members aren’t legally allowed to strike in solidarity with the US union,” it wrote on July 13.

Equity shared its actors strike guidance with its 47,000 members on Thursday, shortly before the strike was officially declared by SAG-AFTRA.

“Equity UK will support SAG-AFTRA and its members by all lawful means.

“A performer joining the strike (or refusing to cross a picket line) in the UK will have no protection against being dismissed or sued for breach of contract by the producer or the engager,” their statement read.

“Likewise, if Equity encourages anyone to join the strike or not cross a picket line, Equity itself will be acting unlawfully and hence liable for damages or an injunction.”

Variety documents several major productions grinding to a halt include the Paul Mescal and Pedro Pascal-starring Gladiator 2 movie, which was filming in Morocco.

Sky and Peacock series The Day of the Jackal starring Eddie Redmayne and Lashana Lynch, had been shooting around central and eastern Europe and is likely to take a break.

Season four of Emily in Paris is on hold, as is the Prime Video ballet drama Etoile and Apple TV+ period drama about Christian Dior, The New Look?

Let’s go to Thailand

Variety says FX’s Alien, a series adaptation of the Alien franchise written by Noah Hawley and Ridley Scott, is currently in pre-production in Thailand.

“Sources indicate the show will be a large-scale undertaking that’s reportedly booked out multiple Bangkok studios and hired vast quantities of lighting equipment,” it writes.

However, the leads are SAG-AFTRA members so the question is whether production can work around the cast.

Season 3 of HBO’s The White Lotus is also slated to shoot there.

It’s on a pause, says Variety, due to the writers’ strikes, and an actors’ strike means potentially further delays.

“Film and TV is a global business, in every crisis, and there is a crisis now the actors have joined, there is an opportunity,” Dr Elkington said.

“So certain territories will seek to increase production … but it can’t be business as usual for production when US talent, both behind and in front of the camera, are bound up in so much industrial action.”

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