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End to actors' strike permits productions to resume in Pittsburgh

A movie shoot in Pittsburgh's South Side Flats.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
In Pittsburgh, film crews won't be active again until the new year. But film workers idled by the long industrywide shut-down are relieved all the same.

With this week’s tentative contract agreement with large entertainment companies, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and TV Artists ended a four-month strike, opening the door for resumed film and TV production.

In Pittsburgh, film crews won't be active again until the new year. But film workers — all of whom were idled by the long industrywide shut-down — are relieved all the same.

The walkout was a bitter one, with negotiations breaking down as recently as early October, only to resume two weeks later. The strike came down to what the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents entertainment companies from Disney to Netflix, called its last, best offer. At issue were things like residuals for streaming content and the studios’ ability to use artificial intelligence to replicate actors’ likenesses.

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In the end, while the union didn’t get everything it wanted, it did win increased compensation for streaming content and assurances that studios won’t employ AI to create digital replicas of actors without compensation and approval. Better health care funding is also part of the deal.

Union officials and members still must vote on the contract. But the union has given the OK for actors to return to work, and the contract was greeted as good news.

“This was an existential crisis, and I’m very glad that we’ve gotten some gains,” said Randy Kovitz, an actor who’s also vice president of SAG-AFTRA’s Ohio-Pittsburgh local.

Kovitz said he was disappointed that the union was unable to secure residuals based on a percentage of streaming service revenue, accepting instead a residual based on streaming performance metrics.

But Kovitz, whose credits range from George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” to TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” said he was relieved actors can get back on set, along with the array of behind-the-camera workers, from carpenters to makeup artists, who’d also been sat down by the strike.

More than 5,000 people living and working in the Pittsburgh region rely on the film and TV industry for all or part of their livelihoods, said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

And in fact, the industry here has been effectively idled since May 2, when the Writers Guild of America struck. In July, some 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members walked out, creating an historic double strike. And the shutdown continued after the WGA reached a contract agreement in September.

While the strikes didn’t halt any shoots in Pittsburgh, the walkouts did delay pre-production work on some series.

Keezer, whose Pittsburgh Film Office promotes and facilitates film and TV production in the region, said only productions that closed down mid-shoot would be able to pick up right where they left off. For other productions, she said, “This isn’t like starting a car, it’s more like starting a factory.”

“Right after the first of the year you really should start see a lot of things moving” in Pittsburgh, Keezer said.

“Mayor of Kingstown,” the Paramount+ series starring Jeremy Renner, will start filming its third season here in January, she said. “American Rust,” the Showtime series starring Jeff Daniels, will begin principal photography in the spring. A new production arriving sometime after Jan. 1 will be Hulu’s limited series biopic on Sammy Davis Jr.

Editor’s note: WESA reporters and editors belong to SAG-AFTRA but were not affected by the strike.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: