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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Spiller

Navigating the SAG-AFTRA and WGA Strike as an Independent Filmmaker: Understanding Your Options

Updated: Dec 31

Actor striking in a picket line

In film and television, strikes by major unions such as the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) can dramatically alter the industry's landscape. These unions' recent initiation of industrial action has created an atmosphere of uncertainty, particularly impacting independent filmmakers known for operating within tighter margins and stricter timelines.

Such strikes arise from the unions' pursuit of equitable pay, improved working conditions, and better benefits for their members - a pursuit that deserves respect and understanding. The immediate effect, however, is a pause on all projects involving union talent. This article aims to guide independent filmmakers on navigating these challenging times, abide by the union rules, continue progressing on their projects, and explore the possibility of negotiating waivers with the unions.

Understanding the Direct Implications of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA Strikes

SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes activate the principle of solidarity – a strike by one is a strike by all, meaning all projects involving union writers and actors must be paused. For independent filmmakers, this can cause significant delays and potential disruption to project timelines and funding.

Steps for Navigating the Strike and the Possibility of Waivers

Despite the challenges, there are strategies that independent filmmakers can adopt to comply with the strike rules and continue advancing their projects:

  1. Learn and Respect Union Rules: It's critical to respect the rules set by the unions during a strike. Circumventing these rules could lead to future challenges with union involvement in your projects. Familiarize yourself with the specifics of the strike rules for SAG-AFTRA and WGA.

  2. Explore the Possibility of Waivers: In rare circumstances, the unions might permit specific projects to proceed under a negotiated waiver. If your project qualifies, consider contacting the respective union to discuss options.

  3. Utilize Non-Union Talent: Filmmakers could consider working with non-union talent during the strike. This could provide an opportunity for emerging actors and writers, but ensuring these individuals receive fair compensation and working conditions is critical.

  4. Focus on Pre-Production and Post-Production: As the strike primarily impacts the production phase, utilize this time to perfect pre-production activities or focus on post-production tasks, provided they do not involve union members on strike.

  5. Refine Other Aspects of Your Project: Use this period to focus on often-neglected areas during the production phase, such as honing marketing strategies, conducting audience research, and exploring distribution options.

  6. Engage with the Unions: If your project is significantly affected, consider contacting the union for advice and guidance.

Looking Toward a More Equitable Future

The current SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike presents an opportunity for reflection on the value of fair compensation and working conditions in the industry. This is a moment for independent filmmakers to demonstrate their resilience, creativity, and respect for the movement - all hallmarks of successful independent filmmaking.

Though this time may be challenging, filmmakers have an opportunity to concentrate on other aspects of the filmmaking process, discover new talent, and, when possible, negotiate for waivers. The path through a strike is rarely smooth, but it's all part of the journey toward a more equitable and sustainable industry.

Spiller Law is an advisor to startup businesses, entertainment and media companies, and artists. Feel free to schedule a free consultation.


Spiller Law is a San Francisco business, entertainment, and estate planning law firm. We serve clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and California. Feel free to arrange a free consultation using the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, call our offices at 415-991-7298.


The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their legal counsel for specific advice.


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