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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Movies in Music City: The local impacts of the SAG-AFTRA strike

SAG-AFTRA Nashville president Carla Christina Contreras explains what life has been like for the average Nashville actor amidst the strikes.
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Narenkumar Thirmiya
The SAG-AFTRA building in Nashville, as photographed on Nov. 2, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Narenkumar Thirmiya)

If you’re a casual movie and TV fan like myself, the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike has been annoying. You may have seen disappointing headlines about how big releases like “Stranger Things” season 5 and “Dune Part 2” have been delayed, or you may be missing the WATCHMOJO interviews that come out during the press cycle for a new movie. You may have also seen videos of your favorite celebrities shouting about unfair treatment and demanding better working conditions. While this strike has affected their working lives, their image and income have allowed them to keep their heads above the water. However, for the vast majority of the 160,000 performers represented by SAG-AFTRA, this strike has been life-altering. Here in Nashville, there are over 1,600 SAG-AFTRA performers, a group of mostly journeyman actors. Hearing their stories can help explain the effects of the strike for the average actor.  

It’s important to first understand who SAG-AFTRA represents and what they are fighting for. SAG-AFTRA stands for the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Contrary to popular belief, SAG-AFTRA is not just an actor’s union. Announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals are all constituents of the diverse group that makes up SAG-AFTRA. SAG-AFTRA is striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, a collection of studios, steamers and production companies like Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros-Discovery, Apple, Universal, Sony, Paramount, ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS. 

The union is striking with four main objectives: receiving residuals from streaming, having better healthcare caps, being protected from generative AI and increasing the minimum wages. SAG-AFTRA assembled a group of 43 members to negotiate with the AMPTP. One of those members at the negotiating table is Carla Christina Contreras, president of SAG-AFTRA, Nashville. She detailed the importance of this strike for Nashville actors.

One of the most important demands for actors is a higher minimum wage for union actors as wages have failed to keep up with post-pandemic inflation, leading to a decline in quality of life for actors. The union initially demanded an 11% raise, and studios countered with 5%. Contreras explained this issue in greater detail. 

“If we accepted a 5% raise, it would be 5% less in real wages compared to three years ago,” Contreras said. “For Nashville actors, an 11% raise could be life-changing, as almost every actor in Nashville works multiple jobs to earn a living wage. There’s not anyone that I know that doesn’t have a side gig, or two, or three or four.” 

Not being in major cities like New York or Los Angeles means Nashville actors also make less money at every step of the process. Contreras recalled several examples of what she calls “geographic discrimination.”  

“I may have an audition for an Atlanta film and they don’t want to pay [for] my gas. I’m just lucky my sister-in-law and brother-in-law live there,” Contreras said. 

For actors from Los Angeles, the story is much different. 

“The minute they cast someone from Los Angeles, they’ll pay them for the day they fly out and the day they fly in,” Contreras remarked. 

She remembered another example of discrimination when she was filming an episode of the ABC show ironically titled “Nashville.” She had a speaking role in a wedding scene, but once the scene was over, she was replaced by a look-alike actor who could receive lower wages. 

“They’d never do that to someone from LA or New York,” Contreras stated.

Some of these issues could be fixed through an agreement with studios, but to help combat the more specific local issues, Contreras looks to Vanderbilt students. SAG-AFTRA has a student film agreement that allows student filmmakers to work with actors for free. 

This agreement is appealing to local actors as they are eager to produce more content and play more characters in order to build a larger and more diverse body of work. When auditioning for roles, actors often send footage of their acting from film and television to casting producers. Simply having more experience can be the difference between landing a role and being rejected.    

Contreras also sees the agreement as a symbiotic relationship. Through this agreement, actors can peek into the future of filmmaking and encourage students to continue to move the medium forward. 

“We want to nurture the next generation of filmmakers…because they will be SAG-AFTRA members one day,” Contreras said. 

This agreement has allowed students from Nashville schools like Vanderbilt, Belmont and Lipscomb to work with more experienced actors. 

“It’s a small pool, but man is it talented,” Contreras said, referring to the acting scene in Nashville. 

While speaking to film students at Vanderbilt, most of them had not heard of this agreement but thought the prospect of working with experienced actors was intriguing. Deniz Orbay, a junior and cinema and media arts student, sees the agreement with SAG-AFTRA as an appealing opportunity. Orbay is a former Senior Staff Writer for The Hustler. 

“It seems to me that it’s a great opportunity for indie filmmakers to make a name for themselves while the big studios’ hands are tied,” Orbay said. “Seasoned actors are usually expensive, especially for student productions so it’s always a blessing if you can cast an actual actor instead of a student actor you find on campus.”

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About the Contributors
Nate Downey, Staff Writer
Nate Downey (‘27) is from Charlotte, N.C., and is majoring in history and economics in the College of Arts and Science. He is interested in fashion, cooking, movies and music. He can be reached at [email protected].
Narenkumar Thirmiya, Staff Photographer
Narenkumar Thirmiya ('24) is from Orlando, Fla., and is majoring in neuroscience and medicine, health, and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not shooting for The Hustler, he is streaming TV, playing the piano or guitar or exploring nature photography. You can reach him at [email protected].
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The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Anon
3 months ago

Fascinating piece

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anon
3 months ago

lowkey mid tbh