History was made on Thursday morning when talks between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ended Wednesday night without an agreement on a new contract.
Now members of SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee have unanimously voted to recommend the guild go on strike, and a formal vote will be put to SAG-AFTRA’s national board Thursday morning.
If the vote passes, as it is expected to unanimously, SAG-AFTRA will order its 160,000 members to go on strike from all television and film productions, joining members of the Writers Guild of America who have been on strike since May 2.
“SAG-AFTRA negotiated in good faith and was eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer needs, but the AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry. The companies have refused to meaningfully engage on some topics and on others completely stonewalled us,” said guild president Fran Drescher in a statement.
“Until they do negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach a deal. We have no choice but to move forward in unity, and on behalf of our membership, with a strike recommendation to our National Board. The board will discuss the issue this morning and will make its decision,” Drescher continued.
“The studios and streamers have implemented massive unilateral changes in our industry’s business model, while at the same time insisting on keeping our contracts frozen in amber. That’s not how you treat a valued, respected partner and essential contributor,” added chief negotiator and national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.
“Their refusal to meaningfully engage with our key proposals and the fundamental disrespect shown to our members is what has brought us to this point. The studios and streamers have underestimated our members’ resolve, as they are about to fully discover,” he continued.
In its own statement, the AMPTP said it was “deeply disappointed” that SAG-AFTRA ended talks without a deal.
“This is the Union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more,” the statement read. “Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
“AMPTP Has Abused Our Trust”
SAG-AFTRA negotiators entered talks with the AMPTP in early June with a strike authorization given to them by the votes of over 63,000 members. Among the key issues include stricter regulations on self-taped auditions, rules regarding consent and compensation for AI recreations of performers’ work and likeness, and increases in residuals for streaming films and TV shows.
While there was some optimism for a deal after guild leaders released a video on the progress of negotiations and the contract deadline was extended from June 30 to July 12, individuals with knowledge of the talks said that both sides were unable to overcome sticking points on several key issues.
On Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP both agreed to inviting a neutral mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for the final day of talks, but SAG-AFTRA voiced its frustration with AMPTP after the studio reps’ request for mediation was reported in the press before the guild’s negotiating committee was notified.
“The AMPTP has abused our trust and damaged the respect we have for them in this process. We will not be manipulated by this cynical ploy to engineer an extension when the companies have had more than enough time to make a fair deal,” the guild said in a statement.
The strike immediately shuts down any lingering film and TV productions that were still pressing forward despite the ongoing writers’ strike, including Tom Cruise’s eighth “Mission: Impossible” film, which was on a scheduled production pause to allow Cruise and the film’s cast to promote the freshly released “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.”
Actors will also strike from any promotional events for films and TV shows, including movie premieres, press junkets, fan events like San Diego Comic-Con, and awards ceremonies like the upcoming Emmys, which are supposed to begin preparations after nominees were announced on Wednesday and may be postponed.
With no cameras rolling and no press events to promote the newest films hitting theaters, Hollywood would be locked into a standoff between the studios and its most prominent creative minds to see which side can withstand the financial strain of a strike, which has already lasted ten weeks for the WGA. Along with the lack of income for the striking union members, countless below-the-line workers and third-party businesses that support the entertainment industry are also affected.
It’s Been 63 Years
The only other double strike in Hollywood history took place in 1960, when the Screen Actors Guild, led by Ronald Reagan, went on a strike that lasted six weeks in March and April.
When SAG took to the picket lines then, they shared a common cause with the WGA, who had already been on strike since January. With television continuing its rise in the postwar era, networks were now broadcasting feature films, and neither screenwriters nor actors were seeing any compensation for it.
The WGA would have to stay on the picket lines for 148 days before a deal was made, but the result of the strike was the first ever structure for residual payments on motion pictures, as well as the creation of an independent pension plan.
20 years later, The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists both staged what until now was the last film and television strike by actors, this time over residuals for the then-growing VHS format. Like today, the Emmys were affected by the strike as nominated actors boycotted the event with the exception of Powers Boothe, who attended to accept his award for his work in the miniseries “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones”
“This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest,” Boothe said in his acceptance speech. “I also thought long and hard whether or not I would attend, but I came here because this is America and one must do what one believes. I believe in the academy. I also believe in my fellow actors in their stand.”
Now, like television and home video before it, streaming and artificial intelligence have created a new labor revolt in Hollywood, as writers and actors look to change the status quo away from what they fear will be an exploitative future.