William Shatner speaks on writers and actors strikes

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William Shatner spoke on the WGA (screenwriters) and SAG-AFTRA (actors) strikes ongoing in America and how they affected his convention appearance at Fan Expo Boston on Saturday, August 5, 2023.

The convention organizers reassured fans that the the celebrity talks, meet-and-greets, autograph signings, photo ops and panels would still occur with this official statement:

“As the guidelines of the SAG-AFTRA strike come to light, it is understood that individual performers have permission to participate in pop culture conventions if they are not promoting major studio/streamer projects. Given the majority of our celebrities fall into this category, we don’t expect it to impact FAN EXPO HQ events. We look forward to an exciting FAN EXPO season and as always will update fans on any changes and additions. We hope this comes to a quick resolution for all parties involved.”

According to SAG/AFTRA guidelines, celebrity guests can participate at convention panels, photos with fans and fan meet-and-greets. During panels, they won’t be able to talk about struck work, but general topics are fine to discuss. Celebrity guests will only be able to provide their headshots to be signed at their table, but if a fan brings an image or collectible with them depicted in struck work, they are able to sign it.

William Shatner described the challenges and constraints of the strike during his panel.

“It probably isn’t in your consciousness but, three thousand miles from here in Los Angeles, there’s a large group of people striking, walking the lines because — everything has changed. I know we’re all aware everything around us is change. I mean the storms, the drugs — global warming is changing rapidly. But then, on the other side of that, is technology. And technology is changing our world as well.”

Shatner went on to mention artificial intelligence, streaming and where you can now access the work of writers and actors.

“And they don’t pay or they pay very little to people who make the show. So things are changing technologically in Los Angeles — in the movie industry as well. So, our industry, the writers and the actors, have stopped work and said, ‘We’ve got to look at this new technology and make a whole new payment rate — and we’ve got to do it now before the final tide of this technology overtakes us.’”

He went on to describe what it means for actor appearances at conventions.

“So, what they’ve done, “they” meaning the unions, have told the actors that you can’t do certain things. You can’t plug a show. You can’t work on a show but you also can’t advertise it. So a kind of fuzzy line that no-one has really defined about what is plugging a show, So, being a union member and not wanting to cross the union rules, I’ve got to be very careful about what I talk about and all I can say about certain shows that I can’t mention,” he said to the laughter of the audience.

Most famous for the role of Captain James T. Kirk on television and in movies, the actor was unable to mention Star Trek to the assembled audience, choosing instead to speak about his work with a hologram company and adventures in Australia while filming Stars on Mars, another show he cautiously declined to mention by name.

Shatner’s convention appearance was booked before, and followed soon after, the SAG-AFTRA strike which commenced on July 14, 2023. His comments are a glimpse of what is to come for actors appearances at all conventions going forward.

Since writers and actors around the world have expressed solidarity with the American unions and many shows and movies have a talent, production and distribution connection with American actors, writers and studios, the strikes have repercussions for actor appearances at conventions internationally.

Fortunately for actors, convention appearances are a work opportunity for the duration of the strikes. Unfortunately for screenwriters, who would attend to talk about their work, convention appearances are all but impossible.

Most are hoping that the conflict between the labour unions and the studios is resolved quickly and equitably. The ultimate resolution has consequences for all labour unions, not just the ones in the entertainment industry.

Fan Expo Boston is a three-day pop-culture convention which takes place annually in early August in Boston, Massachusetts.