Studios Intensify Efforts to Find a Path Back to Strike Bargaining Table ‘Soon’

“There’s more activity. The studios are looking to get back – soon”

Studios vs Unions
Studios have to resolve their own differences before returning to guild negotiations. (Getty, Christopher Smith/TheWrap)

Sharon Waxman

Sharon Waxman On the Business of Entertainment

The founder and editor of TheWrap’s take on life on the left coast, high culture, low culture and the business of entertainment and media. Waxman writes frequently on the inside doings of Hollywood, and is is also the author of two books, Rebels on the Back Lot and Loot

After Hollywood studio CEOs met on Friday to recommit to finding a path back to the negotiations with the striking actor and writer guilds, their labor executives redoubled efforts on Monday to come to mutual agreement among themselves. 

 “Talks have intensified,” acknowledged an individual with knowledge of the conversations. “There’s more activity. The studios are looking to get back – soon.” 

Whether “soon” means days or weeks is not yet clear, but it can’t be soon enough for an industry stalled at a full work stoppage as the historic double strike by SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America stretched into its third week. 

After a punishing two weeks of public shaming by well-known actors from Bryan Cranston to Jane Fonda to Rosario Dawson — who each scolded Hollywood leaders from the picket lines — the studio chiefs seem to have determined they need to find a way back to negotiations.  

But before the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers can invite the guilds back to the table, they have to agree among themselves. And considering the companies have distinctly different business models, with one huge streamer in Netflix and many legacy major studios involved, it has been challenging to align on priorities, several insiders said. 

“This has never been a united group. It’s wrong to even think of them as a group,” said one top Hollywood executive who’s a veteran of other labor actions. “This is a very fractured group of people. The union is one. The studios are many and they are trying to delicately align agendas. But they have to be very careful with competitive information. What are you saying about coming trends, that you’re addressing in front of Max and Disney?” 

On top of that, there are not-insignificant personality clashes in a small group of big egos. 

Disney CEO Bob Iger made himself unwelcome in the room after giving a CNBC interview in which he dismissed the strikers as being out of touch with reality. Warner CEO David Zaslav has also not been considered a popular presence given his rough relations with talent, another insider told TheWrap.  

To wit, Iger sent his top executives Dana Walden and Alan Bergman on Friday, while Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos represented the streamer. The mandate was clear: Let’s get moving. 

By Monday, the labor executives were back at it, with a mandate to get closer to intra-studio agreement. 

The insider said that of the issues that required mutual agreement among the producers, they were “really, really close” on the question of artificial intelligence and how to protect the rights of actors to their digital likenesses.  

Another issue on which progress was made was residuals, and the actors’ demand that the producer pay 2% of the revenue on a streaming platform as a residual. But a thorny issue remains that the guild is demanding a third-party data source to determine how successful a show has been — something the streamers have been reluctant (to put it mildly) to grant. 

Regarding the writers, the studio insider said that of two burning issues before the group, the question of mandatory staffing “will be tough to overcome.” The other issue involving the length of employment for writers is less thorny, the insider said. 

At the same time, the pressure continues to mount on the studios to crack the standoff. The message from politicans like California Governor Gavin Newsom or L.A. Mayor Karen Bass has been: “‘We’re here if you need us,’” the studio insider said. 

An AMPTP spokesperson declined to comment for this story.