Push for US studios to pay UK crew retainers during strike

"When it was busy and there was a mad gold rush for content, they [US companies] were paying [UK crew] retainers. They’ve done it before – it’s not completely alien."

By Gabriella Geisinger 8 Sep 2023

Push for US studios to pay UK crew retainers during strike
Film crew in the UK; Cr: Kashilembo Wabu/Unsplash

In the ongoing strikes, UK crew have been left without work.

Major Hollywood productions, including Wicked, How To Train Your Dragon and Speak No Evil for Universal; Disney’s Deadpool 3 and Andor series; Warner Bros and Netflix series The Sandman; and AppleTV’s Silo have all halted, and as previously reported at least three quarters of UK crew are out of work.

Amid the chaos, calls for support from the UK government have been petitioned, and SAG-AFTRA has hosted webinars with Bectu (The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) and Equity, the UK actors union. 

Recently, however, calls for US studios to provide relief for UK crew via retainers have gone either unanswered or rejected.

“I’ve had replies [from studios/streamers], but nothing positive,” said Spencer MacDonald, Bectu’s national secretary of London production and regional production division. “Some of them had said crew can resign and walk away from the job and find other employment, but we knew that anyway, and it’s a desert out there for work.

“They have [either] not replied, or it’s been a one liner.”

Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Warner Bros, Disney and Universal all declined to comment on the issue of retainer fees or financial support for crew to our sister site, Screen.

Some funding has been provided by Amazon Prime Video and Warner Bros Discovery via the UK’s Film and TV Charity stop-gap grants which provide funding in the form of one-off payments up to £750.

The charity has also received funds from UK broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, UK production company Hartswood Films and the world’s largest independent TV producer, Banijay.

The aforementioned petition launched by Laura Evans now has upwards of 28,000 signatures. At 100,000 signatures, the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.

The UK department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued a statement saying: "We are engaging with industry to understand the impact of continued US strike. We continue our support for the screen industries through competitive tax reliefs, investing in studio infrastructure and supporting innovation and promoting independent content."

While some predict a boon to the industry when the strikes are over, MacDonald cautioned: “There’s going to be a massive gold rush again when everything’s back up and running, then we’re going to hit another disaster and everyone’s going to get fed up and leave [the industry] again. We can’t have this hokey-cokey.”

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