What SAG-AFTRA’s Contract Gives — And Doesn’t Give — on AI Protection and Streaming Pay

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The actors guild released an 18-page summary of the $1 billion deal it negotiated with studios to end the 118-day strike

SAG President Fran Drescher speaks at SAG-AFTRA rally on Sept. 13, 2023
Fran Drescher gives an impassioned speech outside Paramount Studios Wednesday (Sharon Knolle for TheWrap)

SAG-AFTRA released an 18-page summary of its deal with Hollywood studios estimated to be worth just over $1 billion. While the summary is sprinkled with details about gains in areas such as auditions, diversity and intimacy coordinators, the key matters of streaming and artificial intelligence will draw the most attention.

Those two issues were front and center with members on the picket lines. Top SAG-AFTRA officials demanded in speeches that studios agree to protect actors’ right to consent to their faces and performances being used to train AI to create replicas. The guild was also pushing for a change in the status quo compensation model, as thousands of actors are losing TV residuals without getting no new compensation from streaming.

On both fronts, actors get a lot of things from this new deal, but they don’t get everything. Let’s break it down:

A new streaming fund

SAG-AFTRA pushed for a model in which studios would share a portion of revenue from their streaming services and place it into a new fund that would share that revenue among actors who perform in films and television shows made for streaming. The studios, which are still struggling to get their streamers to turn a profit, flatly refused such an offer.

Looking for a compromise, SAG-AFTRA agreed to give up the revenue sharing model and replace it with what the studios wanted: a performance-based model that rewards shows and films watched by at least 20% of a streamer’s subscribers, as agreed to by the Writers Guild of America in its deal back in September. The big difference is that while WGA members will get a bonus equivalent to 50% of their fixed residual, SAG-AFTRA members will get a 100% bonus.

But the fund that SAG-AFTRA fought to maintain will also be included in the contract, with a portion of the actors’ bonus getting sent to the fund to be shared with all actors who work on streaming shows. SAG-AFTRA agreed in principle with the studios that 25% of the bonus will go to the fund, but that percentage, along with how the fund’s money is disseminated, will be fully determined by a board of trustees that have yet to be selected and will consist of both SAG-AFTRA officials and studio representatives.

Artificial Intelligence

Along with the summary, SAG-AFTRA released a side pamphlet breaking down the key gains on artificial intelligence protections. First and foremost, studios must provide actors with a full description of how they plan to use an AI-generated “digital replica” on a project, and must gain their consent based on that information. This process must be repeated if the studio wishes to create a replica of a performer beyond the project the performer was initially employed on.

Performers whose digital replicas are used must be compensated according to their “pro rata daily rate or the minimum rate, whichever is higher,” along with residuals based on that replica’s performance. Productions must also compensate performers for the number of days that a project’s producer, with “good faith effort,” determines the performer would have needed to work if those scenes were filmed in person.

Some of the protections have caveats, however. While studios are required to gain the consent of an actor if they wish to significantly change their performance in post-production, that consent is not required if it is for standard post-production processes, which the contract lists as “editing, arranging, rearranging, revising or manipulating of photography and/or sound track for purposes of cosmetics, wardrobe, noise reduction, timing or speed, continuity, pitch or tone, clarity, addition of visual/sound effects or filters, standards and practices, ratings, an adjustment in dialogue or narration or other similar purposes.”

Another issue that will likely prompt many questions and discussions during the ratification vote period is that of “synthetic performers,” or AI-generated digital characters created by training AI software with the performances of real-life actors.

SAG-AFTRA negotiated a clause requiring a studio to give them notice and the chance to “bargain in good faith” if a synthetic performer is “used in place of a performer who would have been engaged under this Agreement in a human role,” but was not able to secure the right to veto such use of performers. Actors also will only be able to require consent and compensation from a studio if the synthetic performer includes a distinctive facial feature recognized as belonging to that actor.


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