TAMPA — In recent years, St. Petersburg actor Paul Wilson has been cast in the studio movie “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” cable show “The First Lady,” streaming series “The Right Stuff” and independent flick “R.A.D.A.R.: The Adventures of the Bionic Dog.”
The good times were set to continue when Wilson was cast in what he would only describe as a series on a major cable network produced by an individual who will one day be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Then came the strikes against major studios, first by the Writers Guild of America and next by the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
“The quote from the casting people was that they loved me, so stay in shape and they hope to see me soon,” Wilson said. “But who knows when production will start.”
Tampa Bay might not be a hub of major studio productions like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, but the ripples of the strikes have reached its shores.
One of the main conflicts in the strike is ensuring that artificial intelligence does not replace writers and actors, who also want better pay and higher residuals, especially for productions on streaming services.
“This is not about making rich actors richer,” Wilson said. “This is about the 90% who work gig to gig. Those residuals keep you moving financially through those lean times.”
St. Petersburg actor Eugenie Bondurant’s credits include featured roles in studio productions “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “Werewolf by Night” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.”
“I’m one of those people who can turn on the television and find work that I have done,” she said. “In the past, residuals from those projects would be coming in, even if I’m not working on a new project. But with the economics of streaming, my residuals have gone from real dollars to just pennies. And that’s true for all working actors.”
Being able to get union health insurance now concerns Bondurant, too.
“To qualify, I need to earn $26,000 each year,” she said. “In the past, you did that with the money you earned from new projects and the residuals you earned from past projects.”
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But with the strike taking away all new projects, Bondurant said that she and other regularly working actors are in a bind. “I should be able to cover my health insurance costs through residuals even when not I’m not working on new projects, but that’s not happening anymore.”
Because Florida is a right-to-work state, productions are a mix of union and nonunion, but neither is shooting in Tampa Bay now.
“We had three nonunion features that should have been shooting this summer” but were canceled to stand in solidarity with the strikers, said Tyler Martinolich, head of Film Tampa Bay, which is Hillsborough County’s film commission. “They’re now looking at September or October, but if this stretches past that, there’s a real possibility that we could lose those.”
In Pinellas, Litewave Media production company was supposed to help make a science fiction movie with a $750,000 budget.
“Without the ability to lock any name talent, it came to a halt,” studio owner Christian Cashmir said.
Tampa actor Joe Davison, whose credits include “Stranger Things,” was set to star in a crime drama filmed throughout the area.
“That looks like it might be off for now,” he said.
Since 2021 in Tampa Bay, Palm Harbor’s David Yates has produced more than a dozen made-for-television movies, three of which were union. He could make another 10 films here next year but said he likely will not plan anything until the strike is settled.
Still, while it hurts to lose business, Martinolich said, Florida doesn’t have a statewide production tax incentive program that blockbusters want, so local productions are considered low budget and typically spend six figures here.
“The actual economy is not going to be very hurt by this,” he said. “The strike does not impact commercials and that is the bulk of our work.”
Last year, according to Martinolich, of the $15 million spent by productions in Hillsborough, $11 million of that was by commercials. Of the $4 million in film productions, $1 million was union work.
Those who work behind the camera are not on strike but are impacted by it.
“The strike is about residuals, and they don’t make residuals,” Martinolich said. “They get paid by the day but they are out in the cold, too.”
While local crew make the bulk of their income off commercials, many also travel out-of-state for high paying work on studio and big budget independent movies.
“I know some who travel to Atlanta or the Carolinas or Texas for six weeks of work,” said Chris Ranung, head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 477, which represents around 700 crewmembers throughout the state. “Any kind of work that is significant is off due to the strike. But we are 100% in solidarity with” the strikers.
The actors union is providing waivers to some independent productions to employ member actors. Yates will consider applying for a waiver or shooting nonunion if the strike drags on and local crew struggle to pay their bills.
“That’s the only way,” he said. “I support the writers and the actors.”
Movies and television shows finished before the strike can still premiere, but the actors cannot support those.
“They cannot promote anything coming out and cannot promote anything that has been out,” said Kelly Paige, owner of Level Talent in Tampa.
She has a client who skipped a big premiere and turned down a major magazine interview to promote the project.
“They stand in solidarity,” Paige said. “But it’s also sad that they cannot enjoy their success. You never know when it will come again.”