James Thorton, an Atlanta-based production assistant, worked on a four-month shoot prior to the Hollywood actor strikes. Once the shoot started to wrap up, he decided to take a break after the long 12 to 16-hour days he worked.
“After the show wrapped up, I decided to take a quick little bit of time,” he said. “A couple weeks or so before I started putting myself out there again, just so I could catch up with family and stuff like that. Unfortunately, those two weeks started to turn into months.”
As the show’s production wrapped up, rumors of a strike turned into reality. As writers, directors and actors were preparing for renegotiations with the goal of agreeing to a contract, his two-week break turned into months of not working on a film or television project.
Although the actors strike ended after nearly four months, it affected actors and professionals like Thorton across the entertainment industry alike.
On May 2, 2023, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, halting production of film and television shows across the country. Not long after the writer’s strike, the Screen Actors Guild went on strike in July 2023. While no one in the industry was surprised writers went on strike, as time went on with both writers and actors on strike, the reality of a longterm wait to go back to work started to sink in for people like Thorton.
“Anytime that they’re filming, you’re bringing in tons of people as far as actors, V.I.P.s and directors,” Thorton said. “So that’s hotels, that’s rental cars, that’s food businesses and stuff like that.”
On Sept. 24, 2023, the film studios and writers reached a tentative agreement and ratified it on October 9. The agreement improves residuals, artificial intelligence guardrails, pay increases and data transparency.
On Nov. 10, 2023, the actors and film studios also came to an agreement. However, SAG members still must vote on proposed successor agreements by Dec. 5, 2023, according to SAG-AFTRA.
SAG and the studios have tentatively agreed upon higher wages, higher residuals, streaming revenue and artificial intelligence protection, according to SAG-AFTRA.
When the first strike hit, Thorton had already been out of work for about a month, but he continued to wait it out in hopes of production starting back up. Eventually, he’d gone through his savings and the strike went on.
Thorton applied to numerous jobs. Despite several interviews, no one would hire him knowing he’d be going back to the film industry once the strike ended.
“Every week I was kind of taking a tally of all of the jobs I was applying to until eventually I got a call back from Best Buy, but it wasn’t a month until a month after I had already applied to them.”
Eventually, he found a position at Best Buy. The job was not what he was looking for, but for the time being, with his wife’s income and his earnings from Best Buy, they were making ends meet, Thorton said.
Many of the crew members in the industry that Thorton knew started retail jobs again.
He saw the strikes impact Georgia’s economy in a few ways that some people may have been unaware of such as restaurants, hotels, film sights and retail stores for people on
He hoped the strikes would lead to higher pay, better working conditions and more union support, despite Thorton not being a union member himself.
The push for fairer pay support for actors and writers in the film industry may lead to higher prices for streaming services such as Netflix or HBO Max.
“They (studios) are losing more money now by not having writers, by not having actors, by not having crews creating these television shows and these movies than just paying them a fair wage,” he said.
The Hollywood strikes devastated stunt coordinators alongside crew members. Tim McAdams, actor, stuntman and stunt coordinator based out of Atlanta sees how this is impacting the entire industry.
McAdams joined SAG in 1987, but only in 2017, when Georgia’s film industry started to boom, did he go into film full-time. He sees the devastation across the industry, but through his work as a consultant in life and health insurance, he financially supported his family.
Many people in the industry work from production to production and the 100-plus day strike, the longest in history, devastated many people, according to McAdams.
“It is devastating to the community and unfortunately catastrophic to a lot of people’s personal lives,” McAdams said.
Though the film industry is a small percentage of Georgia’s economy as a whole, it is going to impact the growing industry, he added. From 2011 to 2021, Georgia gained over 15,000 new jobs in the motion picture and video industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I would like to see the end-of-year revenue numbers for Georgia without the film industry being active for six months; I guarantee you the number will be frightening,” McAdams said.
Georgia is one of the nation’s largest producers of film and TV, in part due to a tax credit incentive program put in place in 2008.
This tax incentive has led to large profits for films, every dollar in film tax incentives generates a return on investment of $6.30, according to a recent study done by Olsberg SPI.
Though there are likely downturns from the recent strikes, Kelsey Moore, the Executive Director of the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition, is still optimistic for Georgia’s film industry.
“This study proves the film tax incentive is working exactly as intended,” Moore said. “It’s created high-paying jobs for Georgians, supports thousands of new and existing small businesses, and attracts billions in production spending and investment each year. Through the vision and foresight of state leaders and the General Assembly, the film industry continues to benefit families, communities and workers throughout the state.”
Georgia’s booming film and TV production industry is still up and running. However, the production industry spent $4.1 billion during the 2023 fiscal year, down from 2022’s $4.4 billion in spending.
This slight downturn could be due in part to the continuing actor strikes as talks with studios stall. During these strikes, some behind-the-scenes, film workers have instead turned to reality TV productions for work. Out of Georgia’s 22 current productions, 15 of the productions are for reality TV. This is down from August’s 50 productions.
Many workers shifted to reality TV during the Hollywood strikes leaving them ostracized from the film industry, McAdams said.
Reality TV productions are not within any particular union or part of the film industry; some union members and workers in the film industry view it as a betrayal of the union and the industry as a whole, labeling them with derogatory terms such as a scab or someone who has broken the strike.
“If things don’t get fixed soon, we’re going to be in January of 2024,” McAdams said.
Fresh Take Georgia reached out to the Georgia Department of Economic Development for questions regarding the economic impact of the strikes on Georgia’s economy. However, the department did not provide answers to the questions.