With Air, his feel-good account of Nike’s wooing of a young Michael Jordan, out this week on Prime Video, it’s worth remembering that Affleck is also a filmmaker with a sneakily great shooting percentage. He’s won two Oscars: one for Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, which he shared with Matt Damon, and one for Best Picture for Argo, which he also directed and starred in. (And which, ahem, was based on a WIRED story.)
And with his new production company, Artists Equity, Affleck is something else too: a self-styled challenger to Hollywood capitalism. At Artists Equity, it’s not just the producers of a movie but also the cast and crew who get points on the package through profit sharing. If the movie does well, everyone does well.
It’s a bold vision, one that seems even more urgent with the Writers Guild of America on strike over things like the residuals paid by studios and streaming services. In a recent interview, Affleck spoke to WIRED about his plans.
WIRED: How did the idea behind Artists Equity first come to you?
Ben Affleck: It came to mind, slowly, through my experience producing and directing movies and looking at how the resources were spent. Also recognizing that the evolution of streaming services was putting a cap on people's abilities to benefit in the long term on an annuity basis.
Say more about that. There’s been a lot of talk recently about residuals shrinking as streamers got bigger, but you were also able to produce Air with Amazon Studios.
One of my fondest memories is of discovering a $400 residual check in the mailbox when I was on the verge of bankruptcy—if you can call it that when you don’t own anything. If you're an actor and you did a week on a TV show that was very successful, you would expect to be able to make some [annuity] money because of the success of the collective effort. Now, that’s not the case. So I constructed this model.
Obviously now with the WGA strike, there’s a feeling in Hollywood that things have to change.
The work stoppage is the same effort by other means—to fairly compensate people and to adjust the market for the reality of streaming. I don’t pretend to speak for the WGA. They're better at messaging what their goals are. But it’s no secret that the streaming model has capped a lot of the historic gains made by labor in terms of residuals, in terms of actually making the work more equitable, in terms of pay.
People forget that residuals are what pay the artists’ bills in between gigs.
Historically, if you’re an actor or a writer, those annuities were really meaningful to keep people stable. There’s no tenure. The phone stops ringing for everybody sometimes. It’s fickle. It’s capricious. It’s not just the high end of the very few who manage to become extremely successful. It’s the workaday artists who show up and make it happen.