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What impact might the Hollywood actors strike have on Irish film?

Actors including Cillian Murphy staged walk-outs on Thursday night.

GALWAY WAS AN unlikely candidate to be among the first cities to feel the impact of the Hollywood actors’ strike, but that’s exactly what happened on Thursday night. 

The city’s annual Film Fleadh held the world premiere screening of a film called Martini Shot, featuring Matthew Modine (star of 1987′s Full Metal Jacket) but its producers dampened spirits when they informed the audience that the actors would not be available for a Q&A afterwards as planned. 

Gráinne Humphreys, attendee of the screening and director of the Dublin International Film Festival, told The Journal of the crowd’s reaction. 

“Interestingly, there was a bunch of applause. The atmosphere was everyone understanding exactly why they would make that decision. I couldn’t see anyone asking for their money back or being upset in any way.”

Around the same time, stars such as Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh staged a walkout of the London premiere of historical epic Oppenheimer.

Actors joined writers in the first industry-wide shutdown in 63 years after last-ditch talks failed, with nearly all film and television production set to grind to a halt. It is also the first time Hollywood’s actors have gone on strike since 1980.

They are members of Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which represents 160,000 performers including A-list stars. 

The guild said negotiations had ended without a deal on their demands over dwindling pay and the threat posed by artificial intelligence.

Humphreys said the strike could have an impact in Ireland as some higher-profile actors may be members of the guild. 

“If you have five members of a cast who are in SAG, that’s the same as having everybody a member in a way.

“So for Irish films going forward, many of them often have one or two big cast members that they use to get the money, to get the PR coverage and they’re kind of leveraging their budget around that.

“Those are the ones that I’d be really worried about going forward. Because everyone’s schedule is going to be thrown out.”

Humphreys said an actor who has agreed to shoot for three weeks in Ireland next summer may find they “will now not be able to confirm that” due to the strike.

“Because the impact here is that when this gets resolved, that actor might be some shooting something else that is equally getting moved.

“The worry here is that a lot of smaller budgeted films are not going to have an opportunity to shoot around their key talent for weeks on end.”

However, she added that there may be opportunity here too.

“If say Jamie Dornan is no longer available for a job, well somebody else might be so you might see casting directors and agents running around in circles trying desperately to kind of maximise their clients in the wake of the delay.”

There is also the question of whether the strikes snowball with the UK actors union Equity - which represents more than 47,000 performers – and other unions representing other parts of the industry getting involved.

While Equity said it is prohibited by UK legislation from joining in the strike, it said it stands in solidarity with US actors and would be keeping a “very close eye” on any attempts to move productions to the UK due to the action called on Thursday evening.

Paul Fleming, who is general secretary for Equity, told PA: “We do reserve the right to use British legislation to take British industrial action in those sorts of instances and that will be on a case-by-case basis.”

The Journal contacted a number of Ireland-based studios to hear if any delays were likely but had not heard back the time of publication.  

Humphreys said there’s a “cyclical” nature to actor and writers strikes, often arising out of the emerging dominance of new mediums. 

In 1980, the last actors strike, this was due to the rise of home media by way of cassette tapes and television. The 2007 writers strike saw DVD residual payments as a major issue, in a similar way to AI and streaming is a major feature of the latest dispute.

Humphreys added she believes there is a strong possibility that the SAG will hold firm over the coming weeks as it seeks a better deal. 

“You’d find that actors, even when they get quite big, are still very connected to when they were jobbing actors and that there is a good community there. There’s also a really good opportunity for positive optics in having these stars standing with actors of all ranks on the picket line.”

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