Actors Strike Update: SAG-AFTRA and Studios to Resume Talks After Writers’ Deal

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SAG-AFTRA announces new negotiations with AMPTP

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union that represents about 160,000 actors, voice artists, singers, and other performers, announced on Wednesday that it will resume negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade association that represents the major studios and streaming services, on a new labor contract on Monday, October 2, 2023. The union has been on strike since July 14, 2023, after failing to reach an agreement with the AMPTP on several key issues, such as compensation, residuals, health and pension benefits, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create or manipulate performers’ likenesses.

The announcement came on the same day that the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the union that represents about 12,000 screenwriters, ended its own strike that began on May 1, 2023, after reaching a tentative deal with the AMPTP on Sunday. The WGA’s deal includes significant gains in the areas of AI, streaming data transparency, and minimum room sizes, as well as increases in minimum pay rates, script fees, and residuals. The WGA’s leadership unanimously voted to accept the new three-year contract, which will be sent to the members for ratification.

The impact of the twin strikes on the entertainment industry

The twin strikes by the writers and actors have had a devastating impact on the entertainment industry, which was already struggling to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hundreds of film and TV projects have been halted or delayed, forcing networks to reschedule their fall TV lineups and studios to postpone the release dates of major Hollywood films. Some of the affected projects include the sequel to The Last of Us, the fourth season of Stranger Things, the biopic of Madonna, and the remake of The Princess Bride.

SAG-AFTRA and Studios to Resume Talks

The strikes have also affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers in the industry, such as directors, producers, editors, cinematographers, sound engineers, and others, who have been out of work or working reduced hours. According to some estimates, the economic cost of the strikes could be between $5 billion and $7 billion.

The main issues at stake for the actors

The actors’ union has been demanding a fair and just deal that reflects the changing landscape of the entertainment industry, especially the rise of streaming services and the emergence of AI technologies. Some of the main issues at stake for the actors are:

  • Compensation: The union wants to increase the base pay and residual payments for performers who work on streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and HBO Max, which have become the dominant players in the industry. The union argues that the current pay structure is outdated and unfair, as it does not reflect the popularity and profitability of streaming shows and films, which often have longer lifespans and wider audiences than traditional media. The union also wants to eliminate the so-called “grandfather clause”, which allows some streaming services to pay lower rates to performers who signed contracts before 2017.
  • Health and pension benefits: The union wants to secure the long-term viability of its health and pension plans, which have been underfunded and threatened by the pandemic and the strikes. The union wants to increase the employer contributions to the plans, as well as to lower the eligibility thresholds for performers to qualify for the benefits.
  • Artificial intelligence: The union wants to protect the rights and interests of performers whose likenesses are used or created by AI technologies, such as deepfakes, de-aging, and digital doubles. The union wants to ensure that performers have consent and control over the use of their images, voices, and performances, as well as to receive fair compensation and residuals for such use. The union also wants to prevent the exploitation and discrimination of performers by AI technologies, such as the replacement of human actors by synthetic ones, or the alteration of their appearance, ethnicity, or gender.

The hopes and challenges for a resolution

The actors and the studios have agreed to resume talks on Monday, with several executives from the AMPTP member companies attending the meetings, according to the joint statement. The statement also said that the parties “remain committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement that will benefit both the performers and the industry.”

The actors’ union has expressed optimism and hope for a resolution, citing the writers’ deal as a positive sign and a possible model. The union’s president, Gabrielle Carteris, said in a statement that the union is “reviewing the WGA’s tentative agreement and are committed to achieving a fair and just deal for our members.” She also thanked the writers for their solidarity and support during the strike.

However, there are also challenges and uncertainties for the negotiations, as the actors and the studios may have different positions and expectations on some of the issues, such as compensation, residuals, and AI. The actors may also face pressure from the industry and the public to end the strike as soon as possible, as the entertainment sector is eager to resume normal operations and to meet the high demand for content from the audiences.

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