Labour trouble in U.S. affecting film, TV production in Canada, northern Ontario

By Hugh Kruzel
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Sudbury Star

Isn’t going to the movies an escape? We drop out for 96-plus minutes into a world of adventure, thrills, car chases, and heroism. Knock’ em down and they come right back. Indiana Jones just can’t be stopped. 

Tough day? Turn on the TV and put up your feet for the latest laugh lines. 

Unseen is the machinery, planning, and vast dollars that make it all happen. Hollywood is home to the big budget, high-impact films, but there are productions being done elsewhere; out of America. You may even be aware that Northern Ontario has a robust film and television industry.

Then there are all the mini-series, the rapid turn-around streaming subscription channels, plus the Network TV sitcoms. They don’t happen without a vast cast of people who are always behind the scenes and behind the camera. Set designers, lighting, audio, and post-production, all only materialize when someone conceived a storyline, a plot, and, of course, dialogue. 

In May, 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WAG) walked off the job. In solidarity, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) followed. 

Even if the movie was finished before the strike, there are few if any red carpet events now. The pandemic, the shuttering of cinemas, and streaming have all been disruptive forces. Now this. Work is at a standstill.

Michael Scherzinger, managing director Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival, and associate managing director of Cultural Industries Ontario North (CION), was asked if the strike is affecting any of its plans. 

“At the moment, no,” he said. We are monitoring it, but at the moment, we are proceeding as normal.” 

Cinefest screens many international and Canadian films; however, the films for the 2023 lineup had already completed post-production and final editing before being selected for the audience here.

Scott Thom, a film construction coordinator and union representative with IATSE Local 634, said the Hollywood strike will cause a staffing shortage for Canadian productions with U.S. crew members. IATSE is the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories and Canada. 

Canadians are sympathetic and aware of the action, he said. 

“It is not a Canadian strike and neither ACTRA nor the Canadian writers are involved,” Thom said.

He said the strike its impacting local and Canadian productions. “Absolutely, there is a marked percentage of work that is just not happening this year because of concerns over the strike. It is hard to confirm the structure of your film without actors or writers. 

“If the production has one American involved, it stops dead. Larger network-backed projects in southern Ontario have shuttered. For smaller productions that have no American involvement, it is not a problem. 

“There is a great amount of domestic Canadian production going on. We feel confident some fall projects will proceed. Murdock Mysteries is a good example of a fully Canadian production. It employs members of ACTRA.” 

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists is a national union of 28,000 members.

Summer blockbusters seem to define years, spirit and mood. This year is no different. By the absence of studio audiences, silent studio lots, and 2023 is turning into a new challenge.

The world premiere of the much anticipated Oppenheimer was upstaged by the actors walking en masse out of the screening. Stars are prohibited from doing interviews, making promo material, attending cross-country promo tours, and attending the grand openings. 

The strike, when condensed to its primary elements, is about not just about better wages and residuals, but also the impact of Artificial Intelligence and computer-generated images. 

Attend one day of filming and they capture your unique movements and expressions. 

“They use it over and over again with no compensation to you as a performer,” Thom said. “Actors make a living by acting. Both sides of the negotiating table are struggling to understand the ramifications and the correct language to describe now and the future.”