It has already been a difficult year for movie theaters, with the North American box office down roughly 20 percent from last year. And that was when actors could promote their films.
With SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, on strike as of Friday, its 160,000 members are officially barred from not only acting in projects involving the major Hollywood studios but also from engaging in any publicity efforts for films and TV shows that have already been completed.
That means no appearances, either online or in person, including at the upcoming Comic-Con International in San Diego, many of the fall film festivals and any movie premieres or television promotional events. Earlier this week, SAG-AFTRA officials convened conference calls with Hollywood’s top agencies and publicists to explain the strike rules for both the production and the promotion of coming projects. And on Thursday, after announcing the strike, the union released its rules for its membership.
“It’s going to be expensive, because the only other way to compensate for the lack of publicity is to buy more noise,” Terry Press, a top Hollywood marketer, said. “When you don’t have any form of publicity, which is free to a certain extent, you have to try to make up that noise. Ultimately, that’s expensive, especially in the summer, where there’s very little advertising that you can actually buy that’s going to capture large groups of people.”
It’s also going to be awkward. That was apparent even before the actors’ union announced on Thursday that it had approved a strike. A few hours earlier, Christopher Nolan’s starry “Oppenheimer” was premiering in London.
“Oppenheimer” is one of the summer’s most anticipated films, a movie struggling theater owners have been pointing to — along with Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and the latest “Mission: Impossible” chapter with Tom Cruise — as one that could pump some life into a struggling business.
But at the premiere at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square, it was clear that the strike would have an impact. First it was moved up an hour, so that the cast full of boldface names — including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh and Cillian Murphy — would be able to walk the red carpet. Then they all left before the screening started, in solidarity with the union.
“They are off to write their picket signs,” Mr. Nolan quipped to the crowd of 800 people.
Universal Pictures said it would still hold its New York premiere of “Oppenheimer” on Monday but none of the actors would be in attendance.
The lack of buzzy premieres and the usual round of publicity for films is troubling for a movie theater industry that has been hoping business would increase in the second half of the year.
The strike is also concerning for the fall film festival circuit, which counts on actors appearing in person to promote their prestige films geared toward the awards season. “The whole festival circuit, those movies are nothing but publicity driven,” Ms. Press said.
Normally actors on the hunt for Oscar gold make the pilgrimage to Italy for the Venice International Film Festival at the end of August, then head to Colorado for the Telluride Film Festival and then Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival — the three early stops on the campaign trail.
“The grammar of releasing those movies requires the festival circuit,” Ms. Press said. “That is when I think you’re going to start to run into serious repercussions.”
Television is also affected. Despite the Emmy nominations announced on Wednesday, none of the actors nominated will be able to promote their work. When asked how the awards show — which is scheduled for September but likely to be postponed if the walkout is prolonged — will be affected by the strike, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator, said: “Our strike rules will not allow any form of promotion for television series, or streaming series that have been produced under these contracts. My expectation is that it will bring any actor participation in Emmy campaigning to a close.”