The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Film union strikes impact student opportunities

Yu Yu Blue

As sophomore Alexander Eberhage wrapped up the production of his short film “Defunction,”— a science fiction drama about the unpredictability of time travel — he could not predict his uncertain future amid film industry strikes. The film was a class assignment for Film 101 during the spring quarter, and it seemed to bring him one step closer to his goal as a film major to pursue a career creating movies and sharing his ideas. Now, he struggles to find where he stands as a student filmmaker looking for opportunities in the halted industry.

“I’m a filmmaker who wants to get my ideas out there, and right now these industry executives are preventing me from doing that,” Eberhage said. 

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are currently striking against industry executives due to issues with streaming residuals, working conditions and the possibility of replacing industry creatives with artificial intelligence (AI). 

The WGA began striking May 2, and SAG-AFTRA joined the picket line on July 14 against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)

“Executives can already see their own profits, yet they’re literally destroying the lives of screenwriters,” said Christopher Parrish, a film professor and WGA member. “A generation ago, people working in film and television could look at residuals as a way to supplement their retirement, their second job or even their Social Security checks. That’s just no longer the case.”

Screenwriting professor Ilisa Aaron said student media is exempt from the strike rules, which do not allow union members in the WGA or SAG-AFTRA to work on or promote their current film or TV projects.

For Eberhage, this meant “Defunction” could premiere at the 2023 Milwaukee International Short Film Festival. As a student, he is neither WGA nor SAG-AFTRA affiliated, nor were the student actors he used in the short film. 

“I know there’s a lot of work that goes into making these shows and films that are really only successful because of the human writers coming up with these ideas,” Eberhage said. “I want film production and all of these halted TV shows to be greenlit again so they can continue, but I want them to be content created by humans, not AI.”

Aaron said she hears student concerns about study away opportunities during the strikes but still encourages them to pursue opportunities the university offers. The College of Computing and Digital Media offers a study away quarter in Los Angeles for students to experience an internship in Hollywood for college credit. 

“We’re only in the second week of school, and that concern has already come up quite frequently,” Aaron said. “Getting acclimated in LA is good because ultimately a lot of students do want to wind up there. In terms of looking for production work in Chicago though, there’s really nothing I can tell them.” 

Chicago is a growing hub for film production, helping bring in nearly $700 million in expenditures to Illinois. 

Parrish said this development means students should not worry about job opportunities in the film industry after graduation, even with the current strikes.

“The good news is that this strike is a temporary thing,” Parrish said. “Once it’s over, there is going to be a mad rush to get projects into production. For the students who are based here, I think they’re going to be very happily surprised by the opportunities that present themselves.”

Eberhage said the atmosphere of his film classes at Cinespace, a feature film and television production studio that shares sound stages with DePaul, became quieter since the strikes started. Shows like “Chicago PD” and “The Bear,” which film at Cinespace, halted production amid the strikes, meaning students can no longer see the film industry in action as they walk to class.

Rebecca Rhodes, a junior and film major specializing in creative producing, sees the lack of activity in the Cinespace studios during the strikes. She said the DePaul sound stages are still active with student work, but she can no longer see or interact with industry professionals on her way to class. 

“I can speak for a lot of film students in saying we love working on DePaul sets and on student projects in Cinespace, but there’s also a lot of value from learning in that professional environment,” Rhodes said. “That’s something students are missing right now, especially for those of us who have already experienced that activity.”

There are still no predictions for when the strikes will end. Neither side appears to be backing down as streaming platforms rely on backlogs of content to continue releasing and union members continue rallying at picket lines. According to a Sept. 8 update from the WGA, there is currently a negotiation standstill.  

In the meantime, Aaron advises students to continue supporting the strike while producing their media. 

“Striking is never something people want to do but in this instance, it’s something we have to do,” Aaron said. “The industry is changing in ways that if we don’t get our fair share now, we may be marginalized to the point that we can’t do this. We have to wait it out.”

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