It's been a tough year for theaters, with the North American box office down about 20 percent from last year. And that's when actors can promote their films.
With SAG-AFTRA, the actors' union, going down on Friday, its 160,000 members are officially barred from not only acting in projects involving major Hollywood studios but from engaging in any publicity efforts for already completed films and TV shows.
That means no appearances, either online or in person, including at the upcoming Comic-Con International in San Diego, the many fall film festivals and any film premieres or television promotional events. Earlier this week, SAG-AFTRA officials held a conference call with Hollywood's top agencies and PRs to outline strike rules for the production and promotion of the upcoming project. And on Thursday, after declaring a strike, the union released its membership rules.
“It's going to be expensive, because the only other way to compensate for the lack of publicity is to buy more noise,” said Terry Press, a prominent Hollywood marketer. “When you don't have any publicity, which is free to some extent, you have to try to make it up. In the end, it's expensive, especially in the summer, where there are very few ads you can actually buy that will appeal to a large crowd.”
It will also be awkward. That was visible even before the actors' union announced on Thursday that it had agreed to a strike. Hours earlier, Christopher Nolan's “Oppenheimer” premiered in London.
“Oppenheimer” is one of summer's most anticipated films, struggling cinema owners have pointed to – along with Greta Gerwig's “Barbie” and the latest “Mission: Impossible” chapter with Tom Cruise – as one that can pump life into in a struggling business.
But at the premiere at the Odeon Theater in Leicester Square, it was clear the strike was going to have an impact. First, it was increased by an hour, so that a cast full of bolded names — including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, and Cillian Murphy — could walk the red carpet. Then they all left before the screening started, in solidarity with the unions.
“They've gone to write their picket signs,” Mr. Nolan joked to the 800 people.
Universal Pictures said it would still have the New York premiere of “Oppenheimer” on Monday, but no actors would be attending.
The lack of exciting premieres and the usual round of publicity for films is troubling the cinema industry which is hoping business will pick up in the second half of the year.
The strike also concerns the fall series of film festivals, which rely on actors appearing in person to promote their prestige films directed at awards season. “The whole festival circuit, those films are nothing but publicity,” said Ms. press.
Usually Oscar-hunting actors make the pilgrimage to Italy for the Venice International Film Festival in late August, then head to Colorado for the Telluride Film Festival and then Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival—three initial stops on the campaign trail.
“The grammar for releasing those films requires a festival circuit,” said Ms. press. “That's when I thought you'd start to have some serious repercussions.”
Television is also affected. Although the Emmy nominations were announced on Wednesday, none of the nominated actors have been able to promote their work. Asked how the award show – which was scheduled for September but will likely be postponed if the strike is extended – would be affected by the strike, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief union negotiator, said: “Our strike rules will not allow any form of promotion for television series, or television series.” streams that have been produced under this contract. My hope is that this will put an end to any actor's participation in the Emmy campaign.