LONDON - The cast of Oppenheimer left a London premiere prematurely to “go and write their picket signs” in preparation for the “imminent” strike by the actors’ union.

On Thursday (13 July), lead actors of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated war biographic, including Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Ramy Malek, walked out of the film’s UK premiere in solidarity with Sag-aftra.

“You’ve seen them here earlier on the red carpet,” Nolan announced to the cinema’s audience.

“Unfortunately, they’re off to write their picket signs for what we believe to be an imminent strike by Sag, joining one of my guilds, the Writers Guild, in the struggle for fair wages for working members of the unions, and we support them.”

Ahead of the screening, the actors had been walking the red carpet, posing for pictures, interacting with fans and speaking to press.

In a red-carpet interview with Variety, Damon revealed that “once the strike is officially called”, the cast is “going to walk obviously in solidarity”.

Hollywood’s actors and writers have both gone on strike for the first time since 1960, as they protest against a potentially unsettling future for the industry.

On Thursday (13 July), the leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the Hollywood union representing 160,000 television and movie actors, went on strike.

In doing so, they join the Writers Guild of America, who represent the industry’s screenwriters and have already been picketing for over 70 days.

Both unions are striking in protest against a number of decisions by major studios that include not just job cuts but also how generative artificial intelligence tools could replace their roles in the industry.

This is the first strike since 1980.

Over the last decade, AI has found several uses in the movie and television industry, from de-aging actors, analysing patterns and behaviours of viewers on streaming platforms, bringing back the voices of late actors and even helping stitch together entire movie trailers.

One of the proposals, as explained by SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, feels like it is straight out of dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror. In fact, a very similar scene

During a press conference on Thursday, Crabtree-Ireland alleged that a proposal from Hollywood studios was to use “groundbreaking AI” to scan background performers and only offer them a day’s pay while the companies get to own the scans and use them for any project they want.

“This ‘groundbreaking’ AI proposal that they gave us yesterday, they proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation,” he said.

A statement from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that represents the studios claimed the “groundbreaking” proposal “protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members”.

Writers who have already been protesting since May have also sought assurances from studios that their jobs would not be threatened by AI.

With the steady rise of online streaming services looking to rack up user subscriptions by churning out endless amounts of digital content, writers on strike have sought new pay structures, guaranteed periods of work as well as better discussions on the limits of AI use.

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) shared concerns that producers may seek to use AI to write scripts or at least use the technology to complete unfinished screenplays, and have also urged production houses to agree to safeguards around its usage.

Screenwriters fear AI could be used to churn out a rough first draft with a few simple prompts and writers may then be hired after this initial step to punch such drafts up – albeit at a lower pay rate.

Without further dialogue with studios, writers have raised concerns there could be a number of new ways that AI could be used to craft outlines for stories, fill in scenes and even come up with mock-up drafts.