Strike Causes Beauty to Fade In Hollywood
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The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) joined the Writers Guild of America (WGA) on strike on July 14, marking the first time both unions have walked out on the entertainment industry. Within the last month, thousands of writers and actors have been picketing outside studios across the country, demanding higher minimum pay, increased return rates on streaming, and better working conditions. As a result, production of major upcoming TV shows and movies such as Deadpool 3, Stranger Things (2016-), and A Handmaid’s Tale (2017-) are in jeopardy. Streaming companies like HBO and Netflix are likely to face major declines in membership due to the lack of new content. Broadcasting networks are being forced to play reruns, plummeting their viewership. SAG also isn’t allowing members to participate in any premieres or promotional material, and actors have boldly obliged. Needless to say, the industry is reaching its breaking point.
While the mainstream media has expressed concern for actors and writers, the entirety of Hollywood has felt the consequences of the situation. Makeup artists, hair stylists, and costume designers now find themselves struggling to obtain employment. Since these jobs do not receive residuals or royalties, the lack of new productions leaves these workers with no source of income. Since actors are not allowed to attend promotional functions, they have not been scheduling regular salon treatments and designers cannot sell enough premium pieces to get by. These effects are exacerbated by the decline in wages for these professions over the last two decades. Since only a limited amount of makeup, hair, and costume roles exist, producers have significantly lowered the salaries of these jobs, knowing that these stage workers would have no option but to comply. The New York Times revealed that these creatives are only working to meet the minimum hours to get union benefits instead of working towards paychecks. Despite these troubles, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) has not been able to support its members adequately during the strike. While the WGA and SAG strike fund is ample, the IATSE can only afford to give their members around $11 per month. Combined with the lingering impacts of the pandemic, such as consumers wearing less makeup and relying more on fast fashion, creatives are extremely fearful about what the future holds in terms of their careers.
However, stage workers’ concerns about the direction Hollywood is gravitating towards align with those of the striking writers and actors. The current strike demands regulations on the use of AI so the industry stays protected from digital cloning and AI-generated scripts. Such developments would also affect stylists and designers. Similar to filters on social media, hair and makeup can be generated using digital likeness technology, erasing the need for makeup artists and hair stylists entirely. While the software might not be cost-effective or ready to replace humans broadly in professional use, experts are certain it will reach that point soon. Digital artists have also been experimenting with virtually generated clothing, and recent models have looked eerily realistic.
Additionally, stage artists feel unfairly compensated by producers who make them work 16-hour days in extreme temperatures for astonishingly low rates. For these reasons, many costume designers, makeup artists, and hair stylists have decided to stand in solidarity with the actors and writers. They hope that while the IATSE is not currently on strike, the controversy over the entertainment industry will help them gain awareness for stage artists in the US. In an interview with Glossy, union makeup artist Claire Alexandra Doyle said, “It’s a domino effect. The first domino, just based on the timeline, was the writers’ contract expired first. We’re going to be that next domino down the road.” The discussions concerning writers and actors today will pave the way for designers and cosmeticians to come forward with their demands if and when the IATSE decides to strike.
Many of these stage workers also feel a strong connection to the actors because they spend considerable time on their makeup, hair, and fittings and feel inclined to support them in their fight against the production industry. Unfortunately, because of the specific skill set of stage workers, there isn’t a “Plan B” for many of these professions. Some have found jobs at celebrity salons or regular parlors, but most have not been so lucky. Many have resorted to filing for unemployment just to receive funds for daily necessities. For now, these creatives are anxiously awaiting production to resume, hopefully with better contracts.
Currently, studios are waiting for writers to become financially unstable before starting negotiations in hopes that the producers will have the upper hand. Screenwriters have already reported taking minimum wage jobs, breaking into their retirement funds, and relying on food stamps. However, the WGA’s persistence is evident and SAG is unlikely to abandon their fellow creatives. One thing is certain: neither side is willing to budge. Many senior artists are recommending that makeup artists, designers, and stylists start finding other fields of work to fall back on, in case they can’t outwill the production dry spell. Luckily, initiatives such as The Industry Beauty have created programs to help beauty professionals through the strike. These programs encourage cosmetic brands to provide employment opportunities to unemployed makeup artists, hair stylists, and manicurists. Companies also have a lot to benefit from when hiring stage artists; they can give their clients better consultations and product recommendations. Able consumers are encouraged to buy more expensive pieces from designers instead of fast-fashion brands to support costume artists during this time. With strong faith in their passions and careers, makeup artists, costume designers, and hair stylists stand strong with the strike in hopes that their current struggles are temporary and will pay off in their paychecks and future working conditions.