Will an Actors Strike Mean Empty Red Carpets at Venice and Toronto?
By Scott Roxborough, hollywoodreporter.com July 13, 2023 7:30am
Striking SAG-AFTRA members will likely be banned from promoting movies at the upcoming fall festivals.
What if you held a red carpet and nobody came?
For organizers of the fall film festivals — and studios planning splashy summer premieres — that nightmare scenario looks likely to come true after contract negotiations between The Screen Actors GuildSAG-AFTRA(American Federation of Television and Radio Artists)and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) ended without a deal Wednesday night.
An empty red carpet.
SAG-AFTRA’s National Board is now almost certain to officially call for a strike at its meeting in L.A. early Thursday morning (update: a strike was called). The guilds haven’t publicly announced protocols for members in the event of a walkout, but on a call on Monday with top PR firms and hundreds of agents, SAG-AFTRA leaders outlined how strike rules may impact promotion and campaigning. A source familiar with the call tells The Hollywood Reporter that the promotion and press of film and TV projects from struck companies would not be allowed, meaning top talent cannot walk the Venice and Toronto red carpets, or take part in Emmy For Your Consideration campaigns.
Toronto Film Festival organizers reacted to SAG-AFTRA calling for a history-making strike by pointing to the likely absence of Hollywood actors to promote movies at the marquee event if a deal between the U.S. union and major studios and streamers cannot be reached by opening day on Sept. 7.
“The impact of this strike on the industry and events like ours cannot be denied. We urge our partners and colleagues to resume an open dialogue. We will continue planning for this year’s festival with the hope of a swift resolution in the coming weeks,” a TIFF spokesperson said in a statement.
The strike is already having an impact. Universal moved up the red carpet for the London premiere of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer by an hour on Thursday evening, local time, apparently to allow the starry cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Florence Pugh to get their photocall and spot interviews in ahead of the official SAG-AFTRA walkout announcement.
The cast did make a brief appearance but left before the screening, leaving director Nolan to tell the London audience they were “off to write their picket signs” in preparation for the SAG-AFTRA walkout.
“You’ve seen them here earlier on the red carpet. Unfortunately, they are off to write their picket signs for what we believe to be an imminent strike by SAG, joining one of my guilds, the Writers Guild, in the struggle for fair wages for working members of their union,”Nolan said.
Future premieres, including the planned Oppenheimer red carpet in New York on July 17, will likely also be affected.
Across the Irish Sea at the Galway Film Festival, Matthew Modine was set to attend the gala premiere of Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s The Martini Shot, in which Modine stars as an ailing movie director planning to shoot his final film. THR understands Modine is already in Galway for the premiere but, given that it kicks off at 9.30 p.m. local time, a full four and a half hours after the strike vote, it seems unlikely he will be able to attend to promote the film. Modine, a candidate for the SAG-AFTRA presidency in 2021, is scheduled to give a Masterclass in Galway on Saturday, which should be unaffected by the strike as it’s not directly linked to a film or any promotional work.
But news of an impending walkout has sent publicity teams and marketing departments scrambling to figure out contingency plans for the upcoming fall festival season. The Venice Film Festival, which kicks off Aug. 30, and the Toronto Film Festival, which starts Sept. 7, are the twin fall platforms for major independent and specialty studio and streamer titles. Venice will announce its 2023 lineup July 25.
“I don’t think the strike is going to change what films go to Venice or Toronto,” notes one veteran publicity exec. “Venice has already sent out those invitations, the filmmakers have already accepted. But if the actors can’t attend and can’t do promotion, it will be a very different kind of event.”
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The ongoing writers strike had little impact on red carpet action in Cannes, and even writer-directors like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese were able to attend, promoting their studio projects in their capacity as directors. But if a SAG-AFTRA strike means top talent like Zendaya (star of Venice festival opener Challengers) is unable to wow on the Lido and take part in international promotional junkets, it changes everything.
“If there aren’t any stars, will the reporters come to cover the festival? And if they don’t come, what will that mean for coverage of your film, both now and ahead of release?” notes one PR executive who specializes in festival junkets. “A lot of films won’t get the attention, or the publicity, they were hoping for.”
The impact on a studio tentpole like Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which has built up massive buzz ahead of its premiere, may be limited. “Everyone already knows what that film is,” notes a marketer familiar with the studio’s Oppenheimer campaign. “The red carpet premieres are just the icing on the cake.”
One PR exec suggested studios could even welcome the actor ban if it means they don’t have to foot the bill to fly their stars into Venice and pay for those luxury hotel suites.
But a film like Michael Mann’s Ferarri, which is expected to premiere in Venice, could suffer if its stars, including Adam Driver and Shailene Woodley, can’t attend the festival.Neon, which earlier this month picked up the film for the U.S., was counting on a splashy Lido premiere, with the accompanying press coverage, to introduce audiences to the racing biopic and set the runway for its awards push and domestic release.
Similarly, Netflix will have to throw out its promotional plans for Bradley Cooper’s Maestro — another expected Venice premiere — if Cooper and co-stars Carey Mulligan and Maya Hawke can’t attend. Cooper could theoretically still do promotion for the film in his capacity as a director, but the SAG-AFTRA and WGA member would have a tough time complying with union rules by avoiding questions about either his performance, as legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, or his screenplay, which Cooper co-wrote with Josh Singer.
A U.S. actors strike, whatever form it takes, won’t derail the Venice or Toronto festivals.Both events have always relied on international productions for the bulk of their lineups. European, Asian, African and South American films, with talent in tow, will be out in force, regardless. But if SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP can’t quickly resolve their dispute and get Hollywood talent off the picket line and back on the red carpet, expect this year’s fall festival season to be a much duller, low-wattage affair.