This is the rationale behind the lack of an agreement between SAG-AFTRA and the actors, as well as the implications for Hollywood’s film and television production industry.
Screenwriters are hard at work again, while performers in movies and television shows continue to picket; the longest strike in their history reached its 100th day on Saturday following the end of negotiations with studios. The same day, a coalition of major studios and the actors’ union released a statement announcing that talks will go back up on Tuesday of next week, with the participation of a number of studio executives. Here’s an update on the situation, a comparison of their protracted impasse to previous strikes, and what is expected to happen next.
Inside the talks that failed
When discussions between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists reopened on October 2, for the first time since the strike started two and a half months earlier, expectations were high and leaders of the union were cautiously optimistic.
Just over a week prior, a significant agreement was reached between striking writers and a group of top executives from the largest studios. The writers’ leaders celebrated their victories on numerous issues that actors are also fighting for, such as consistent pay, long-term employment, and control over the use of artificial intelligence.
However, the actors’ discussions were bland, with days off in between workshops and no updates on their progress. On October 11, the players’ demands were abruptly terminated by the studios, citing their excessive costs and the extreme distance between them as reasons for the abrupt termination of talks.
We had only a few meetings with them: on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for half days each. Shortly after the talks fell off, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher told The Associated Press, “That was what they were available for.” Then, on Wednesday of last week, it was Monday and a half a day. Then it was “Bye-bye.” It’s rare that I’ve seen someone who truly doesn’t comprehend the meaning of negotiations. What is causing you to leave the table?”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers stated that one of the causes was a union demand for a charge for each streaming service subscriber.
The AMPTP issued a statement to the AP stating that “SAG-AFTRA gave the member companies an ultimatum: either agree to a proposal for a tax on subscribers as well as all other open items, or else the strike would continue.” In response to SAG-AFTRA’s ultimatum, “the member companies responded by stating that, regrettably, the tax on subscribers poses an untenable economic burden.”
One of the executives present at the negotiating sessions, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, stated to investors on a Wednesday earnings call, “Unfortunately, this really broke our momentum.”
Leaders of SAG-AFTRA argued that it was absurd to characterize this demand as a tax on viewers, pointing out that the executives themselves desired to move away from a subscription-based model that was predicated on a show’s popularity.
Chief negotiator and national executive director of SAG-AFTRA Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told the AP, “We made big moves in their direction that have just been ignored and not responded to.” “We revised our AI suggestion. “We significantly modified our previous streaming revenue share proposal,” Crabtree-Ireland stated.
The studios claimed that the per-subscriber fee would cost them $800 million a year shortly after the talks broke off, a claim that SAG-AFTRA argued was significantly overstated.
Later, the AMPTP stated that the figure was based on a union request for $1 per customer annually, which was reduced to 57 cents when SAG-AFTRA modified its assessment to eliminate irrelevant content such as sports and news.
What happens next in the actor’s strike?
It’s unscripted territory for the actors. This is the longest strike their union has ever had, and it began before many of its members were even born. Not even its seasoned leaders, such as Crabtree-Ireland, who has been with the union for twenty years, have encountered such situations.
SAG-AFTRA states that while it is ready to continue at any moment, its demands will not alter. “I believe they believe we will cower,” Drescher remarked. “But that isn’t going to happen because we need to stay on course as we approach this crossroads.”
There may be some cause for hope because the writers did experience their own failed beginnings with studios. More than three months into their strike, in mid-August, the union made an attempt to reopen talks with the studios. The discussions stalled and ended a few days later. The studio alliance called once more a month later. After five long days of intense negotiations, most of their demands were met, and the outcome was a tentative agreement that its members would virtually unanimously vote to accept.
How did previous actors’ strikes play out?
Compared to writer strikes, Hollywood actors’ strikes have been shorter and less common. Only three times in its existence has the Screen Actors Guild—to which they added “AFTRA” in a 2011 merger—gone on strike against motion picture and television studios.
Emerging technology fueled the argument in each instance. The main problem in 1960, the only other strike by authors and performers at the same time, was that the actors wanted residuals, or money they would get from the industry after their film work was shown on television. The union was a considerably smaller, less official organization back then, led by future US President Ronald Reagan. Actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who are the parents of vocal striker Jamie Lee Curtis, a current member of SAG-AFTRA, hosted the vote to go on strike.
Actors and studios agreed to a cease-fire in the middle of the strike to allow everyone to attend the Academy Awards, which is against current union regulations. The event was dubbed “Hollywood’s most glamorous strike meeting” by host Bob Hope.
Ultimately, an agreement was made whereby SAG withdrew its demands for past film residuals in return for a contribution to their pension fund and a payment schedule for TV film releases in the future. Their far longer authors’ strike coincided with the start and conclusion of their 42-day work stoppage.
Up to this year, the actors’ longest strike for movies and television would have been in 1980. At the time, they demanded large increases in the minimum pay for roles as well as recompense for their labor when it was shown on cable TV and home video cassettes. A provisional agreement was achieved with notable advancements but substantial concessions in both domains. After 67 days, the union leadership declared the strike to be over, but many members refused to go back to work because they were unsatisfied. Before leaders could muster enough votes to ratify the agreement, it took almost a month.
The Emmy Awards were the event that took place during the current strike. After a demand for a boycott, the Television Academy hosted a ceremony, but only one acting winner—Powers Boothe—showed up to collect his trophy.
There have been multiple protracted strikes by other actors’ union branches, notably ones over the TV commercial contract. The union’s video game voice actors went on strike for an incredible 11 months in 2016–2017. If a new contract agreement is not achieved, that section of the union may go on strike once more soon.
What’s happening to movies and TV shows?
With writers returning, Hollywood’s production machinery is operating at full tilt once more. Film writers are finishing scripts, and writers for television are wrapping up new seasons of shows that had been put on hold. However, the completed work will have to wait until the actors’ strike ends. In the meantime, numerous TV series and numerous movies, such as Wicked, Deadpool 3, and Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 2, will continue to be in production.
The Emmys decided to wait for the stars this time and rescheduled their event from September to January, albeit that date could also be threatened. The Emmys’ nominations were revealed the day before the request for an actors’ strike was made.
March may be a long way off, but campaigns to win the Oscars are typically well underway by then. Performers are not allowed to promote their films during press junkets or on red carpets, with a few exceptions (non-studio productions authorized by the union). Director Martin Scorsese has been appearing in interviews discussing “Killers of the Flower Moon,” his next Oscar candidate. Stars Robert DeNiro, Lily Gladstone, and Leonardo DiCaprio have not; neither have SAG-AFTRA members.