By ANDREW DALTON
AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES Striking actors have voted to expand their walkout to include the lucrative video game market, a step that could put new pressure on Hollywood studios to make a deal with the performers who provide voices and stunts for games.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists announced the move late Monday, saying that 98% of its members voted to go on strike against video game companies if ongoing negotiations are not successful. The announcement came ahead of more talks planned for Tuesday.
Acting in video games can include a variety of roles, from voice performances to motion capture work as well as stunts. Video game actors went on strike in 2016 in a work stoppage that lasted nearly a year.
Some of the same issues are at play in the video game negotiations as in the broader actors strike that has shut down Hollywood for months, including wages, safety measures and protections on the use of artificial intelligence. The companies involved include gaming giants Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Take 2 Productions as well as Disney and Warner Bros.′ video game divisions.
“It’s time for the video game companies to stop playing games and get serious about reaching an agreement on this contract,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said in a statement.
The threat of a video game strike emerged as Hollywood writers were on the verge of getting back to work after months on the picket lines.
Crucial steps remain for the writers, who technically remain on strike, and for other workers awaiting a return to production of new shows.
The next phase comes Tuesday, when the governing boards of the two branches of the Writers Guild of America are expected to vote on the tentative agreement reached by union negotiators with Hollywood studios.
Following approval from the union’s boards — which is likely — comes a vote from the writers themselves, although the timing is uncertain.
“I very much feel like we’ll vote in favor of it,” Writers Guild member Kyra Jones said. “I trust that the negotiating committee did not settle for a bad deal. That would have made no sense to do this far in.”
The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, streaming services and production companies in the negotiations, were still finalizing contract language Monday.
That could prompt a delay of the voting and has kept union leaders from sharing with writers the details of what nearly five months of striking and hardship has earned them. The leaders have promised to hold a series of meetings later this week to share the terms of the deal regarding pay, show staffing and artificial intelligence.
The guild’s leaders told them only that the agreement is “exceptional,” with gains for every member. A successful yes vote from the membership will finally, officially, bring the strike to an end.
Meanwhile, though their own pickets have been suspended, writers were encouraged to join actors in solidarity on their lines starting Tuesday, just as many actors did with writers in the two months before their own strike started in July.
Among the writers back out supporting the actors was “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, who picketed alongside friend and “ER” actor Noah Wyle as he has throughout the strikes.
“We would never have had the leverage we had if SAG had not gone out,” Weiner said. “They were very brave to do it.”
Among the unions on strike, the studio alliance has chosen to negotiate only with the writers so far, and has made no overtures yet toward restarting talks with SAG-AFTRA. That will presumably change soon.
SAG-AFTRA leaders have said they will look closely at the writers’ agreement, which includes many of the same issues, but it will not effect their demands.