In early May, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Union soon followed, striking in early June.
As the 2023 fall semester begins at UNM, film students are looking at their future field without regrets despite the strikes, senior Michael Madrigal – who’s in the Film Department – said.
“The people that are holding all the money and holding all the power like to grift and cut corners, and don’t like to pay the small workers like us. And yet … I haven’t really run into anyone (in the film department) that said, ‘I don’t want to do film, I’m making a mistake,” Madrigal said.
In 2022, Netflix expanded to Albuquerque and studios claimed they would bring in job opportunities, as well as millions of dollars to Albuquerque, according to a Deadline article.
Next to Netflix studios is Mesa del Sol where many of the University’s film classes are housed. The Film Department’s head count has nearly doubled since the fall 2019 enrollment, and many students and faculty are seeing the effects of the strike.
University of New Mexico film professor Matthew McDuffie is passionate about the strike after seeing how the current work environment has impacted his daughter and kids’ godfather. McDuffie cited Mandy Moore as a well known actress who is being paid pennies in residual checks from her shows on streaming platforms.
“It’s about money, in that people aren’t getting paid. And that the careers of an actor and the careers of a writer are not possible anymore,” McDuffie said.
Streaming is not the only issue. McDuffie also spoke about the impacts of artificial intelligence in the field.
“I don’t believe that AI can live the life of a human being and bring the sort of soul and humor, and the absurdity of life,” McDuffie said. “But they can certainly use it to generate ideas, which is what people are for.”
The strikers wrote in demands on May 1 that “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and [works covered by union contracts] can’t be used to train AI.”
Background actors are concerned about the companies paying them for a day’s work while scanning them to use their likeness throughout a project. McDuffie said they have a friend in the industry who was paid about $100 to be scanned and then used multiple times in a film.
UNM seniors Madrigal and Jack Justice have participated alongside strikes to show solidarity. Madrigal recreated a photo from his freshman year in front of Netflix studios, however this time he’s holding a picket sign.
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“Going into freshman year of college ... and taking a picture up at the studios thinking, ‘Wow, this is someplace I really can’t wait to work … And then going into my last year of college, taking a picture at the same exact place with the idea, ‘I would really love to maybe work here someday, but we need to see some serious change before that happens,’” Madrigal said.
Justice has been a part of SAG since he was 11, joining in 2011 after being a child actor. Justice said seeing the strike firsthand is something he can see himself looking back on in years to come.
“You want to cross that picket line and go into studios right now and help them, or what? It’s a big moment for us, and I think it’s going to be cool,” Justice said. “Years from now, when we have a great agreement and look back on this moment, where were you? What were you doing? Were you on that picket line?’”
SAG-AFTRA has not been contacted to continue negotiations, however negotiations between WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed on Friday, Aug. 11 according to TvInsider.
“There’s a large amount of people in the department that are very, very optimistic, very hopeful. They’re not naïve, they’re very aware that the industry we’re going into is tricky,” Madrigal said.
Elizabeth Secor is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @esecor2003.
Elizabeth Secor is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted on Twitter @esecor2003