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SAG-AFTRA Clarifies Cosplay Guidelines for Comic Cons – The Hollywood Reporter



Underneath the towering inexperienced Gaslamp District signal on Fifth Ave. throughout the Friday of San Diego Comedian-Con, a giddy group of cosplayers and SAG-AFTRA members stood collectively holding strike solidarity indicators.

Organized by the actors union’s San Diego membership president Larry Poole, the photo-op and gathering was authorised by the nationwide actors union and shared with native members via an e mail blast a handful of days earlier than. Placing SAG-AFTRA and WGA members, in addition to cosplayers — each of the fan selection and a few who’re themselves in IATSE — joined the 30-minute meet-up for native expertise, one of many first within the metropolis because the performers guild introduced it might strike starting July 14.

“The gathering was actually a possibility to get collectively and say, ‘Hey, we are with our brothers and sisters in L.A. and New York, and it was a great opportunity, because Comic-Con is one of the most visible media events,” SAG-AFTRA union member Victor Chan, who has worked on commercials and in theater, told The Hollywood Reporter. “As far as I know, this was the real first local event to show solidarity because there aren’t any studios right here to picket, to protest.”

Whereas not formally tied to Comedian-Con like panels “Inside the Writers’ Room: Building a Better Future for Writers” and “AI in Entertainment: The Performer’s Perspective,” the photo-op was within the vein of the fan-organized gatherings which have turn out to be commonplace at popular culture conventions. It was additionally a comparatively constructive affair in gentle of the week main as much as Comedian-Con, which resulted in cosplay hobbyist Sam Oester making a graphic to assist cosplayers navigate the strike pointers after a wave of interactions she describes as going from disagreement to bullying amongst cosplayers.

The net squabbling got here after SAG-AFTRA launched a set of pointers, which inspired cosplay influencers to face in solidarity with the union and abstain from portraying characters from struck firms. For Gillian Foxglove, who has cosplayed for a decade with 4 years {of professional} expertise, a part of the difficulty was about individuals who genuinely “worried that just cosplaying the superhero from the movie you love consists of scabbing.”

However there have been others “using this as an opportunity to make themselves look good, to talk about something that is in the zeitgeist,” Foxglove shares throughout a cellphone name. For Tegan Feehery, who’s recognized professionally as Sayakat Cosplay, the drama — which included telling followers to cease watching exhibits and movies, cease studying fanfic and making fanart — was fueled by individuals who have been participating in “social hierarchy climbing” throughout the group.

“I know that it’s because the strike officially began with SAG right before the biggest Comic-Con, but what started happening is the message was really getting derailed from the actual importance of the strike,” Oester tells THR in a Zoom interview throughout Comedian-Con weekend. “It turned this bizarre on-line drama when the SAG strike is what ought to have had the area, particularly when it got here to folks bullying different folks. That was taking over a variety of area.

“They’re not going to put out official communication with us while they’re trying to make a living wage, not get kicked out of their apartments, have medical insurance,” she provides. “This is not a priority, nor should it be a priority.”

These pointers — aimed primarily at influencers who could also be looking for union membership underneath SAG-AFTRA’s comparatively new influencer contract — cowl characters from presently struck TV and movie productions in addition to previous productions that, in the event that they have been airing now, would have in any other case been struck. Cosplay influencers are inspired to finish any work that was contracted or agreed upon earlier than the July 14 strike begin and to say no work of each the paid and “organic” (e.g. unpaid) selection after that date.

Mario Kart cosplayers outdoors San Diego Comedian-Con 2023.

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Pictures

However what constitutes as struck has been considerably tough to discern amongst cosplayers, even for people who know the AMPTP doesn’t signify each Hollywood studio. “Streaming has made it incredibly difficult to know what’s struck and what isn’t,” Oester says. “It’s like, ‘Well, wait a second. Did Netflix pay this production company to produce it for them? Or was this organically produced by this production company and then it just happened to go on Netflix?’”

Mergers have additionally performed an element within the complicated nature of struck work for cosplayers, with a number of AMPTP studios being hooked up to bigger firms which have partial possession of or share their IP with comics and online game publishers. It’s an essential delineation for some who wish to help SAG-AFTRA however nonetheless need the possibility to proceed to cosplay — or make cosplays for others — past unstruck work.

“We’re in a world where the producer isn’t necessarily the exhibitor, but sometimes the producer is the exhibitor,” Shaan Sharma, who sits on the SAG-AFTRA Board of Administrators and serves on its TV and Theatrical Negotiating Committee, tells THR in a Zoom interview throughout SDCC weekend. “These companies have also become such big conglomerates that control so many things, I don’t even know where some of the big companies may be wrapped up under the same umbrella, like NBCUniversal or Warner Bros. Discovery.”

But, amid the crossed wires of manufacturing, distribution and multi-medium characters, the “organic” stipulation in SAG-AFTRA’s pointers arguably prompted essentially the most backlash, inadvertently blurring the road of fan and influencer for some. It additionally made “it sound like any cosplay of any movie, or even going to conventions at all, would be a scab, which is just not true,” says Foxglove.

It was language that additionally tripped up a few of SAG-AFTRA’s membership, says Sharma, who reached out to the union about the best way to attend festivals and cons, equally to how Jamie Lee Curtis and David Dastmalchian appeared at SDCC — on highlight panels discussing their careers and new work outdoors TV and movie.

“I think what they wrote makes complete sense for their members that understand what those words mean, but from the outside looking in, there are a lot of cosplayers that want to be supportive of the strike and make sure that they aren’t crossing the picket lines and scabbing that [because of that language] jumped to conclusions,” she continues.

Cosplayer as Dr Robotnik dines outside the Sonic Speed Cafe at Comic-Con on July 22, 2023 in San Diego

Cosplayer as Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik dines outdoors the Sonic Pace Cafe at Comedian-Con in San Diego.

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Pictures

That lack of readability initially resulted within the unfold of misinformation in a group the place influencer has turn out to be a time period with a variety of meanings, cosplayers inform THR. “This was accomplished in a time the place mainly anyone who has social media is a quote-unquote ‘influencer,’” says Feehery, who — after cosplaying for a decade — earns 100 percent of her living off of it like many do, primarily as a costume maker versus performer. “There’s a variety of strain to ‘perform’ and monetize every little thing that you simply do.”

“I’m not saying the union leadership of SAG wasn’t aware of the potential complications for people who are influencers, but I think they were rightly focused on their contract negotiations, called for the strike, voted for the strike, and it was a scramble to put into place all these guidelines,” she provides. “The last time they were on strike, none of this ecosystem existed. The internet was three people’s computers that worked on an intranet. As an ecosystem, people influencing on the internet has only been viable for 15-ish years. It’s such a new avenue of employment.”

Sharma acknowledges that the rollout wasn’t utterly clean. “There was some confusion because all of this has happened so quickly,” he says. “We have 450-ish staff, but that’s down from the 600 we had before the pandemic. We’re still rebuilding, so we’ve all been working really hard to try to staff up, but a lot of responsibility is on very few people’s hands. So I think that we didn’t have every single answer to every single question right away.”

However whereas the cosplay group would possibly take into consideration “influencer” extra broadly, for SAG-AFTRA, the time period has a really particular definition underneath the union’s Influencer-Produced Sponsored Content material Settlement, which Sharma describes as “basically commercials agreements.”

It solely covers advertiser-sponsored content material that straight options that influencer; is self-produced by that influencer via the contracted producer (so the corporate managed and operated by or on behalf of the named Influencer); and launched, exhibited and/or digitally distributed via the influencer’s or advertiser’s personal web sites, social media channels (Fb, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Tumblr, Twitter and LinkedIn), and/or YouTube channels.

Content material that’s written, filmed or produced for the advertiser by any celebration aside from the influencer — equivalent to a manufacturing firm, advert company or PR company — shouldn’t be lined by the settlement. There are additionally a variety of issues that fall out of the settlement’s scope and are thought of “excluded services.” That features “streamed or recorded on-camera or voiceover content that is not self-produced and/or that falls under the jurisdiction of any other SAG-AFTRA contract,” “creative, editing, distribution and print work” in addition to work, like tweets, that’s with an advertiser and unrelated to the “influencing” tied to the SAG-AFTRA settlement.

A large group of Marvel cosplayers pose for a group photo on Day 3 of Comic-Con International 2023

A big group of Marvel cosplayers pose for a bunch picture on Day 3 of Comedian-Con Worldwide 2023.

Daniel Knighton/Getty Pictures

That ought to provide aid to round “90 to 95 percent” of the cosplay group, who Feehery says has no “monetary involvement” with struck firms, and who makes a dwelling off of commissions in addition to cosplay lessons, books, Patreons, Etsy outlets and extra. “The vast majority of cosplayers, they don’t even have to think about, ‘Should I do this?’ They’re not under contract with anybody. They are not members of SAG-AFTRA. They are fans being fans,” she continues. “I think that’s what a lot of people [were] doing — making people feel bad for being a fan of something while it’s being struck. But SAG has not said, ‘Don’t be a fan.’ They have actually said, ‘Continue being a fan.’”

Sharma stresses that what the union places forth shouldn’t be a requirement for anybody who falls outdoors its hyper-specific definition of influencer and isn’t both already within the union or might wish to be.

“Our strike rules only apply to our members, so if you’re not a member of SAG-AFTRA, it’s a free country,” he tells THR. “We have said that if any social media influencers who have bonafide brand deals from companies do try to undermine our strike, they will never be admitted to SAG-AFTRA in the future. So for anybody who’s hoping to make a transition to on-camera performance or wants to be covered by the union [under the influencer agreement], they will find that their actions right now could get in the way of those future aspirations.”

The natural stipulation permits cosplayers to attend festivals, premieres or different occasions like comedian conventions “as an individual” however not as somebody there to advertise struck work by serving on a Q&A panel or collaborating in pink carpets, together with picture step-and-repeats sponsored by struck firms and that characteristic their logos or different promotional indicators.

Meaning cosplay influencers who wish to be within the union, already are or wish to stand in solidarity can proceed to discipline picture requests from common folks, at fan-organized photo-ops and probably cosplay meet-ups just like the one for The Final of Us at SDCC hosted by the Costume Designers Guild, as long as none of it straight promotes struck studios.

For a number of cosplayers THR spoke to, it’s a simple concession to make. “It’s very low stakes here in the middle of the east coast where I am [in the D.C. metro area],” says Foxglove. “I have to think maybe once or twice what I’m cosplaying and what I’m putting up, but it is so easy for me to just shift gears and go, ‘Got it, all right. I’m cosplaying from anime, and I’m cosplaying from video games and comics.’”

Cosplayers are additionally encouraging one another to essentially “pay attention” in terms of “cosplay websites that only do the movie and TV show version of the outfit” and even the movie versus comics stylization of a personality like Spider-Man, says Evan Cowdrey, who cosplays professionally underneath Eavnscosplays.

“The main reaction was we can still do our cosplay stuff, but we’re not going to do it at cons, and we got to figure some different stuff out,” says Cowdrey, who has been working professionally for 2 years. “Until this is finally said and done and WGA and SAG get what they deserve, everything they’ve had coming towards them, then just put it in your drafts.”

An attendee holds a sign supporting the Writers Guild of America strike at Comic-Con International 2023.

An attendee holds an indication supporting the Writers Guild of America strike at Comedian-Con Worldwide 2023.

Daniel Knighton/Getty Pictures

For others, the temptation would possibly show tough. Cowdrey says some — together with these on “scab TikTok” — are being provided larger charges to indicate as much as occasions amid the strike.

“People that I know have been talking to their managers, like, ‘If there’s anything to do with movie promotion, cut me out,’ because companies are trying to pay content creators right now to come to these premieres more than we’ve ever been paid,” he says. “It’s usually like $2,000, [but] people have been sent emails: ‘Here’s $7,000. Here’s $5,000. Here’s $9,000. Come to the premiere.’ For most people, they don’t get paid to go to the premiere. They just get invited to the premieres, but now it’s desperation.”

Oester provides that firms providing cosplayers offers may not be instantly clear or totally clear when it comes to their relationship with a studio and what’s thought of fee.

“Sometimes they want to emphasize that it’s unpaid work, but you’re still getting compensated in some way. If they’re paying for anything for you — your travel, your badge at Comic-Con — that’s compensation,” she says. “With these brand deals, you might find out that something that seems like it’s not for a studio actually turns out to be for a studio. It’s like, ‘We want to offer you this influencer brand deal for these vitamins,’ and then it turns out that they’re actually doing this because they have this weird cross-promotion with a superhero studio — and you wouldn’t expect that.”

This, Sharma says, is a part of why SAG-AFTRA has requested its personal membership — and allied cosplayers — to not carry out work in relation to previous AMPTP titles. “The reason past is so important is because as we starve the AMPTP of content by our work stoppage, they’re going to go back in their libraries and try to pull things out from the past that they can use to plug those gaps,” he explains. “So that’s why it’s just as important for us to protect ourselves from the promotion of past work.”

Cosplayers dressed as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story characters attend the 2023 Comic-Con International.

Cosplayers dressed as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story characters attend the 2023 Comedian-Con Worldwide.

Araya Doheny/Getty Pictures

Cowdrey says he’s already seen “a very small group of creators that are almost trying to make excuses for why they should be able to do some things,” together with one who mentioned that actors occurring strike would possibly give them “an in” when it comes to alternatives. However Foxglove says that when provides come, it’s essential “to think about what they’re doing.”

“It’s like, my guy, why do you think they’re approaching you now?” she says. “They’re not paying their union members well. What makes you think they’re going to pay you well and be fair to you? Why do you think they want your content and your ideas and your skills now?”

Sharma emphasizes that whereas SAG-AFTRA can withhold future membership for cosplayer influencers, the union can’t management particular person actions in the meanwhile. Nonetheless, he asks that “if you do choose to post something that is representative of some AMPTP past, present or future project, at least try to use that to draw people’s attention to the strike and what we’re fighting for, the resources that could help our community survive during this work stoppage like The Entertainment Community Fund.” 

“There are things that could actually prolong and undermine the strike,” he says, “including things like influencing and the cosplayers who fit under that category.”

For Oester, now’s a time to “not just do free PR for studios while their stars aren’t here,” with Cowdrey including that influencers {and professional} cosplayers “influence more than we think.”

“This is so historical and so important,” provides Foxglove. “I don’t care about my content when it is thousands and thousands of people’s lives on the line.”

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