Richie Moriarty, cast member of the CBS show Ghosts, should be in Montreal this month beginning the filming of the third season of the show. Instead, production has been delayed as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers failed to reach a resolution with writers and actors on strike the past two months.
Moriarty, 43, a Thomas S. Wootton High School graduate, is part of that strike, which he says comes at a critical time for those in the acting profession.
“We are on strike, in part, for increased pay and rethinking of residuals,” he said in an email. “However, residuals have fallen off a cliff since the rise of streaming services in the last 5 years in large part because these streaming services do not release any data about how often shows or movies are being streamed.”
Moriarty said he’s one of the lucky ones that’s on a network show that produces 22 episodes per season, which is something that used to be the norm.
“Now it’s much more normal that shows on streaming services have 8-10 episodes per season, you never have any idea how many people are watching those shows, and the residuals for streaming shows pay a tiny fraction of what network TV pays,” he said in the email. “As a result, fewer and fewer actors are able to make a living in a profession that is already exceedingly difficult to succeed in.”
Prior to being qualified to join a union, Moriarty said he was a non-union actor for years. During that time, he booked commercials, some of which ran for years but he was only paid a few hundred dollars for his work.
After joining Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, and booking more commercials, he said he “quickly learned that I could start to make a living with the protections and fair compensation that come along with union jobs.”
“I believe so strongly in unions and have seen first-hand how they are critical in fighting corporate greed and providing fair compensation and benefits for the working class,” Moriarty said in the email. “One of the challenges in my 10 years as a SAG-AFTRA member is to make enough money annually to qualify for health insurance through the union. Only about 13% of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members make that benchmark every year. With the way residuals have almost totally disappeared from streaming services, it has become more and more difficult for actors to qualify for health insurance. That 87% is the group that we’re fighting for in this strike.”
According to Montgomery County native and SAG-AFTRA member, Perry Jobe Smith, another concern of the strike is the uncertainty revolved around Artificial Intelligence.
“It went from CGI where an actor’s likeness could be altered and now we go to AI where an actor’s likeness can be pretty much seamlessly recreated,” he said. “Yet, the contracts don’t reflect any of that yet and that’s what SAG is really focused on.”
Smith started his acting career in the 1990s in independent films and a Showtime movie called Devlin and national commercials for brands such as Miller Lite, Mountain Dew and Burger King. Smith hasn’t really acted since and is currently a small business consultant, but he said he recently reconnected with his agent and is auditioning for roles again.
Smith has maintained his SAG-AFTRA union membership since the ‘90s and said it’s important to him for there to be transparency.
“There has to be clarity within the industry about the future of actors and acting,” he said. “I talked to one colleague yesterday and she said it very simply, she said ‘actors and performers, but they’re also storytellers.’ You can’t replace an actor with an avatar. You shouldn’t replace an actor with avatars, and we know things are in the works, it’s gone from CGI to AI. But that’s the thing, actors don’t want to be replaced by technology and no one knows what the impact of that is going to be.”
Actors within SAG-AFTRA have been on strike for about a week, adding on to the strike that started in May by the Writer’s Guild of America. According to a Washington Post article, the two guilds haven’t been on strike together since 1960.
The WGA strike, much like the actor’s strike has focused on residual pay, which writers say must change.
For example, screenwriter and producer of The Wire, George Pelecanos of Silver Spring, said writers he’s known from the hit Netflix show Orange Is the New Black have received residual checks of only $9.
“That’s just not right. Those [writers] made the network basically,” he said. “So, they have to pay up and it’s not gonna hurt them. They’re extremely profitable, it’s an equitable way of doing business.”
Although he’s walked the picket line, Pelecanos said he hasn’t been able to be part of much as most take place in New York and California.
Although the strike hasn’t affected Pelecanos financially as he’s “financially secure,” he said it’s important for younger people coming up in the industry.
“The main issue for me that I think they need to address, especially with these newer companies, the streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon and so on, they’ve cut way back on the writer rooms,” he said. “What they do now is they’ll bring in some writers to beat out scripts, meaning to plan out the scripts and they write the scripts and then they just let go of all the writers.”
When Pelecanos started on The Wire in 2002, he was employed for the entire season, first as a story editor, which he said allowed him to learn how to become a producer as he was involved in various aspects of the filmmaking process, including preparations, production and postproduction.
“These new companies especially, are not doing that anymore, and they’re shooting themselves in the foot because there’s not going to be a new crop of people coming up who know how to produce shows,” he said. “It’s not something you can just do without learning on the job and that’s the main bone of contention for me. …They need to continue to invest in these writers and let them work during the season so that they can learn how to produce television.”