Last week, the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival opened amid the actors’ strike that has Hollywood at a standstill, rendering the usually glitzy red carpet a more muted affair.
Venice is one of the biggest events of the film festival circuit. Often seen as the launchpad to the Oscars, it’s also a platform for some of fashion’s most memorable moments — think Lady Gaga’s iconic entrance in 2018 to promote “A Star is Born” in a voluminous pink feathered gown by Valentino Haute Couture and Zendaya’s bombshell appearance in 2021 wearing nude, body-hugging Balmain.
The strikes (by WGA — the Writers Guild of America — and SAG-AFRA, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists over issues around residuals, higher wages, use of artificial intelligence and more) prohibit actors from promoting their films, and Venice is the first major festival to see a reduction in both film premieres and celebrity attendees — Zendaya’s film “Challengers,” for example, was slated to open the festival but was pulled at the last minute, favoring an opening in spring instead.
The impact of these reduced red carpets extends far beyond the movie business. Film festivals are where movies combine with celebrities and luxury brands to create huge marketing opportunities. Many top celebrities have brand ambassador roles with labels for promotional work, often at high-profile and highly visible events like film premieres and red carpets of which there are — right now — far less.
Effects of strikes echo the pandemic
Celebrity hair and makeup teams are feeling the pinch too with bookings for red carpet appearances and film festivals — usually an essential part of their revenue stream — cancelled. While hair and makeup artists are supportive of the strike, a significant percentage cannot afford to have large gaps in their calendar or find themselves out of work. Some even liken the situation to the days of the Covid shutdowns.
Veteran Hollywood makeup artist Rachel Goodwin regularly works with actors on the film festival and red carpet circuit, and was slated to accompany actor Emma Stone to Venice to promote the movie “Poor Things.” Since the strike was announced, celebrities haven’t needed her services.
“We just went through the pandemic, that’s why it (the strike) feels like a particularly harsh blow,” she told CNN in a phone interview. “We live in a feast or famine (reality) and people are very scared.”
Likewise, hairstylist Nai’vasha — who covers red carpets as well as working with artists such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Lupita Nyong’o and Nicole Ari Parker — has been left wondering how long this period of uncertainty will last. Scheduled to work at the Venice Film Festival this season, her plans changed when the strike was announced.
“I didn’t think it would make sense (to travel to Venice) while the strike was happening,” she told CNN. “I would be interested in seeing how festivals manage this during the strike. My heart breaks for us all right now.”
For many, the effects of the strike were immediate. Groomer and makeup artist Kerrie Urban who usually travels the world with celebrities to work on high-profile events told CNN that a whole month of work was wiped off her calendar by the end of the first day of the strike on July 14.
“My career is about 90% celebrity or actor based —mainly red carpets, press, premieres and promotions — and since the strike says writers and actors can’t promote their work, it’s been a complete standstill,” Urban said.
Embracing the pivot
Despite the cancellations, Urban fully supports the strikes, saying that everyone deserves to be paid fairly but adds, “People on my side of things were just collateral damage, unfortunately.” Nevertheless, she is feeling optimistic, and said that the pandemic taught her patience.
“We can see with “Barbie” (distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures which is owned by CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery) and “Oppenheimer” how much people want to be entertained and want to be excited. (The entertainment industry) will come back — it’s just a matter of time,” she told CNN in a phone interview.
Indeed, with no end date in sight, some artists have pivoted away from entertainment to parallel industries from music and fashion to social media.
Ro Morgan, hairstylist to Naomi Campbell, Venus Williams and Ayo Edebiri says he’s not worried but added, “I’m not working because I do red carpets, and no red carpets, no work.” Morgan cut his teeth in the fashion industry and with little work in entertainment right now, Morgan is preparing to head to Milan and Paris fashion weeks where actresses and those in the fashion industry promise more work.
“When I saw the strike, I was like I got to get ahead and pivot back to fashion where I still have clients,” Morgan told CNN in a phone interview.
Nai’vasha also has plans to attend fashion month as well as work on editorials to fill her fall calendar. She noted that “a lot of focus will be on fashion and beauty during this time. It’s a great time to shoot campaigns and commercials” where celebrities can still interact with brands with which they work.
While strike guidelines don’t allow for commercial promotional work for film or TV projects, they do not prohibit other opportunities such as fashion week appearances, campaign work for brands and sporting events. With many actors in need of new outlets to fulfil any brand commitments during the strike, we can expect the upcoming fashion month (which starts tomorrow in New York) to offer actors a useful alternative to film festival red carpets. The four weeks of non-stop shows, events and parties will be important for brands and celebrities to keep their relationships strong, stay visible and relevant.
But the high visibility of the strikes has shone a spotlight on wage discrepancies and the unfair treatment of a large percentage of the creative workforce in America. With no clear resolution in sight, as a pared-back Venice festival prepares to close, and Toronto International Film Festival prepares to kick off, we can expect little change to the situation for the time being.
“Ultimately, this is a business, so the money will go wherever the people’s attention goes,” Goodwin told CNN. “I hope people still want to see their favorite stars on the red carpet talking about their project — based on the recent “Barbie” press tour, people still want that. We still want to dream and that’s my job – to help people dream a little.”