An influencer’s guide to the writers and actors strikes

For the first time in over 60 years, the unions representing actors and Hollywood writers are staging a strike at the same time, protesting low pay and studios’ proposals for using artificial intelligence tools in production. More than 175,000 union members are out of work until a deal is made. 

But the ripple effects of the strikes are also reaching another group: influencers and digital content creators who are far from a household name but work in an industry that is, at times, synonymous with fast-track fame. Most of them are non-union influencers, leading to confusion. How can creators keep making money while their peers in Hollywood strike? What rules are they required to follow? What’s their role in all of this?

This guide will break down key points to know about the strikes and address some of the most common questions influencers have raised.

What kind of work is off-limits for striking workers?

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is a group that represents hundreds of studios, including the big ones: Disney, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Apple, Netflix, Amazon, and many others. 

Striking workers in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are prohibited from working for the companies that are on the other side of negotiations. For actors, that includes the obvious work: acting and voice acting, singing, and doing stunts, but they’re also barred from behind-the-scenes work like sitting for makeup tests, rehearsing, and auditioning. Writers, meanwhile, can’t take meetings, pitch, or polish scripts, among other work. (Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial staff is also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.)

Workers will continue to withhold their labor until the two sides have a deal. Negotiations include thorny, pressing issues in the industry, like actors’ shockingly low residual earnings in the age of streaming and studios’ ability to collect and reuse actors’ likeness through generative AI tools. 

One of the biggest points of confusion for influencers and creators is the question of promoting work by struck companies — something actors and writers do, but that is increasingly being outsourced to content creators. Striking performers and writers won’t be doing press and publicity like interviews, podcast appearances, and promoting struck work on social media.

Will studios hire other people to promote films and TV shows?

Yes, and it’s already happening. Some influencers have shared anecdotes about being offered deals to make content on behalf of struck companies. 

In a video, TikTok creator @f0r3st.witch said they were offered $5,000 to make content for a “household name movie franchise,” which they ignored.

“These studios are literally already so desperate for people to promote their stuff because of the actors’ strike,” @f0r3st.witch says in the clip. “They’re reaching out to influencers and content creators of all levels to try to get them to go against the strike.”

Promotion doesn’t necessarily mean exchanging money for content, either. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, lead negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, says the union has heard of struck companies inviting influencers to premieres, offering to pay for their travel expenses, or arranging special clothing for them to wear. Less common is trying to hire influencers to take on roles that might have gone to an actor instead.

I’m not in a union that’s on strike. Do I need to follow these rules?

Non-union influencers and content creators don’t need to follow any of these guidelines. But aside from the moral question of doing labor for struck companies — called “struck work” — it could be in their own best interest to adhere to strike rules. 

It’s no longer an anomaly for digital content creators to make a jump into TV and film later in their careers: Quinta Brunson, for example, rose from posting comedy videos online and working for BuzzFeed to writing a hit sitcom in just a few years. Brunson is now on strike. 

SAG-AFTRA represents influencers under a special agreement in addition to more traditional types of performers. And if an influencer or creator has any ambitions of branching out in the future, it’s likely they’ll either want to join a union or even be required to become a member to participate in productions. 

SAG-AFTRA has already said that influencers taking on jobs like promoting stuck work will be blocked from joining the union. It’s not an empty promise, either: SAG has investigated and banned strikebreakers in the past and asks members to report anyone they see doing this work.

How does SAG-AFTRA define “influencer”?

The union is thinking of “influencer” as a self-defining group, much like actors — someone recording themselves acting in a role and then uploading the video to Instagram might identify as an actor even if they’re not making money that way. Crabtree-Ireland says it’s not a prerequisite that someone is making money by posting online.

“If you’re somebody who thinks of yourself — or is looking to present yourself — as an influencer or a content creator, who is putting out content that’s intended to promote these projects and draw general attention to them, that’s really where the line is drawn,” Crabtree-Ireland says.

Crabtree-Ireland says SAG-AFTRA is appealing to content creators for solidarity because he believes performers’ fight will resonate with them. Influencers and actors have a shared interest in protecting creative work and making sure technology isn’t used to replace them, he says.

“Content creators and influencers are very talented people. That’s why they have the followings they have — they make some of the most interesting and engaging content on those platforms,” Crabtree-Ireland says. “This request … is really out of respect for what they are doing and accomplishing.”

If you’re still unsure where you fit in, you can email SAG-AFTRA at [email protected] with questions.

Can influencers share organic (unpaid) content about productions from struck companies?

SAG-AFTRA is asking influencers not to share unpaid content about struck productions, either. Crabtree-Ireland notes that actors are typically not paid to do promotional work, though it may be in their contract — “It’s rarely ever paid for separately,” he says.

Let’s say you’re an influencer whose content includes videos promoting upcoming movies. If you think you might want to join a union in the future or want to be in solidarity with striking workers, you will need to pivot. That even applies if you’re, say, a fashion influencer and want to do a get-ready-with-me video in connection with the debut of Barbie.

But The Verge and other news outlets are reviewing struck work.

Reviews and coverage by news organizations aren’t the same as what an influencer might post — journalists don’t work for studios and producers and don’t accept payment for coverage. 

Is there any work influencers can do during the strike?

Influencers can still make other self-produced sponsored content for non-struck companies. SAG-AFTRA also says that if a creator has an existing contract to promote struck work, they should complete it — they just can’t take on any new deals with struck companies.

I’m just a fan, not an influencer. Can I still talk about my favorite shows on TikTok or post my Barbie outfit?

SAG-AFTRA hasn’t called for a boycott — fans need not cancel subscriptions, refuse to go to movie theaters, or stop sharing their opinions online. If you’re a regular-shmegular person who is going to see a movie this weekend, by all means, tell your friends what you think.

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