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Mason Gross students weigh in on SAG-AFTRA, WGA strike, future industry careers

Demonstrators picket in solidarity with the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) in New York City. – Photo by @sagaftra / Twitter

As the Writers Guild Association (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strikes continue into their fourth and second months, respectively, many undergraduate arts and film students feel uncertain about their future.

Three Rutgers digital filmmaking and cinema studies students weighed in on their opinions about the strike, the future of the entertainment industry and what they love about being in the arts.

Vaughn Battista, a rising senior at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, has been interested in cinema and film production since high school and has written, directed and submitted student films to various festivals to showcase his work.

Now in college, majoring in digital filmmaking, he said he is more intimately involved in the filmmaking process, having created better-funded short films, worked in professional settings and been paid to participate in the production of various commercials.

Battista said that he has been observing the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes and that while they vary in specifics, some of the organizations' concerns overlap.

"(The organizations) share key issues: restricting the use of AI, actors and writers getting residuals for streaming profits and getting better, fairer pay raises," he said. "The studios have given unsatisfactory responses, often outright dismissing the requests of the unions, and this has led to a stalling of negotiations, thus the ensuing strike."

Battista said that while the strike has not changed how he views his schooling at Rutgers, it did change his mindset on employment within the entertainment industry and how he will enter the workforce after a massive shift in the landscape, which depends on the outcome of these strikes.

Jamilli Pacheco-Urquiza, a recent Rutgers alum from Mason Gross, said they have been involved in the arts since 2014 during their first year of high school.

They said their broadcasting classes led them to discover their love for cinema and eventually pursue a master's degree in documentary. 

Pacheco-Urquiza said they hope the strikes will lead more people in the entertainment industry to speak out about unfair labor conditions.

"I think many times there's a (mis)conception that people who work in the industry are all super rich and lead luxurious lifestyles — that is not the case," they said. "We work in the same way that everyone else does and deserve to be treated with safety and respect."

Jennifer Buritica-Lopez, a cinema studies alum of Mason Gross, said the strike has affirmed her belief in the value of art and artistry.

"Art is the beauty of life, and we as humans exist to create and engage with art whether we dub ourselves artists or not," she said.

Additionally, she said she hopes the strikes and their eventual outcomes will set a precedent for the rights of future generations of entertainers and artists. Buritica-Lopez added that everyone who works in the arts has the right to earn a living wage and have better working conditions and benefits for the work they contribute.

Buritica-Lopez said that the future of entertainment might "face a reckoning" if agreements are not amended, as the industry is facing unprecedented changes in the wake of streaming services and AI usage for the work of writers and staff.

"Without new methods of compensation and rules set for the well-being and protection of writers and actors, the entertainment industry will fall apart and be left lifeless without the breath of the artists in it," she said.

Battista said the current strike mirrors the removal of the old Hollywood studio system in the 1960s. He believes these strikes represent a significant shift in the entertainment industry and hopes that this shift will foster more creativity, much like the films from the 1970s after old Hollywood was dismantled.

All students cited the filmmaking community as one of their favorite things about being involved in the arts, as it allows them to connect with fellow artists and the audiences they aim to please. They also all stated that the ability to connect with audiences and change how they view the world is a significant factor in why they find joy in the arts. 

"Creating and being a part of any form of art satisfies an itch in the soul of creating something bigger than oneself and having a potential impact that can't even be fathomed or predicted. Whether you are a writer or work in film, theater or practice fine arts, you are surrounded by a community that you can support, learn from and grow with," Buritica-Lopez said.

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