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Growing film community in New York state reacts to SAG, WGA strikes

 JULY 2013: The State University of New York at New Paltz was turned into a film set for a day. The HBO series Girls chose the campus as a setting to mimic a different university.
Suny New Paltz
JULY 2013: The State University of New York at New Paltz was turned into a film set for a day. The HBO series Girls chose the campus as a setting to mimic a different university.

The strikes shutting down the movie industry are being closely watched 3,000 miles from Hollywood.

It may be the largest strike to hit Hollywood in decades: the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, SAG-AFTRA, voted Thursday to strike, joining the Writers Guild of America, on strike since May 2. The double strike action has paused productions in Los Angeles, New York and just about everywhere in between.

Michelle Polacinski is Executive Director and Co-Founder of 518 Film Network.

"There's a lot of tension in the film industry for better working conditions, a lot of us are working over 12 hours a day with little to sometimes no pay for overtime," said Polacinski . "People are in very dangerous working conditions. However, I am also one of the people who lost my job because of the strikes, which I'm still in full support of."

Issues that unions say need addressing include inflation adjustments to benefits and pay, along with proper compensation for streaming content. Concerns also have been mounting over a perceived need for regulation of artificial intelligence in moviemaking.

Albany County Film Commissioner Deb Goedeke says area production and film crews aren't feeling the effects yet.

"So right now the projects that we have here in the Capital Region are mostly non-union, they're smaller projects," said Goedeke. " It's a commercial project. It's a docuseries. It's a TV series. But I do not believe that most of them will be impacted by this strike. But we're certainly empathetic with the writers and SAG-AFTRA with regard to what they're trying to accomplish. And, you know, it's just equity for everyone, for everyone involved with a project."

Heading down the Hudson it's a different scenario for actors and crews. Hudson Valley Film Commission Executive Director Laurent Rejto:

"The impact is immediate. We've already heard that all the local production crews have received layoff notices. And it's kind of devastating because it doesn't just impact local crews. It also impacts local actors, background actors, vendors, qualified production facilities that are hosting these films," Rejto said. "We had a wonderful second quarter, we had about eight films in the region, including ‘Life and Beth,’ ‘Severance,’ ‘Pretty Little Liars.’ And we were hoping that we would escape all this damage. But unfortunately, yesterday the reverse was true. And strike is I guess, in its first official day, and we're hoping that somehow AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA will come to terms quickly so that people can get back to work.

Polacinski says the sooner the better: "Throughout New York state and upstate New York, like not even just the Capital Region, a ton of people are out of work right now and freaking out because some people have been out of work for months," Polacinski said.

Rejto agrees the strikes have dealt the local film community a tremendous setback.

"This is like a second pandemic," said Rejto. "We just came out of a pandemic. It's literally, the pandemic rules were dropped in May, things were beginning to get better. We are working on about 12 potential productions, and then the bottom just fell out because of the strikes, and we just hope that that they'll come to terms."

Rejto hopes for a quick resolution:

"We do have a like I said several productions going right now. Some of them are independent productions. It's possible that SAG will be giving waivers to independent productions. So we do continue to work. We're working with some documentaries. Right now, we're working with a non-union film. But in terms of some of the union independent films, we're waiting to see if they'll get the waivers and just hoping that things will get settled with the streamers so that the big productions like the HBO productions can continue," Rejto said.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.