Actors vs. Studios: What the 2 Sides Say Were the Sticking Points That Led to the Strike

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“If you think this is a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again,” said SAG-AFTRA lead negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland

Members of SAG-AFTRA have been joining WGA picket lines in solidarity. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Members of SAG-AFTRA have been joining WGA picket lines in solidarity. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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UPDATE: 7 PM — Updated to include statement from AMPTP regarding its proposal to SAG-AFTRA on AI usage and consent.

SAG-AFTRA’s intense press conference announcing a film and television actors strike offered a first glimpse at the sticking points that led the actors guild to walk away from talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers without a deal.

When speaking to reporters, guild president Fran Drescher and national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland accused the AMPTP of not taking its key demands seriously and not using all of the extra 12 days of negotiations the two sides agreed to on June 30 to reach a fair deal.

“I have zero doubt that these companies could agree to every single item in this contract without any damage to their bottom line whatsoever,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “We told them that we would be flexible on these terms, but there has to be a change in the structure that reflects how the industry has changed. Despite that indication, there was unwillingness to move in our direction. This strike could have been avoided by the studios being reasonable.”

Drescher also commented on the video sent to members on June 24 expressing optimism on the progress of talks up to that point.

“We started on the outside issues. We were encouraged when we sent the video, but when we got to the core ingredients, we were stonewalled,” Drescher said. “We gave them a 12-day extension that they absolutely wasted. We felt duped. We felt that they just wanted to give studios extra time to promote their summer movies.”

During the press conference, the AMPTP sent out its own statement with a bullet point outline of the terms in its proposal to SAG-AFTRA, terms that the studio reps said “offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”

Among the points in the AMPTP’s proposal, which can be read in full here, include the following:

● The highest percentage increase in minimums in 35 years
● 76% increase in High Budget subscription video on demand (SVOD) foreign residuals
● Substantial increases in pension and health contribution caps
● Groundbreaking AI proposal which protects performers’ digital likenesses,
including a requirement for performer’s consent for the creation and use of digital
replicas or for digital alterations of a performance.
● 58% increase in salaries for major role (guest star) performers wages on High
Budget SVOD Programs.
● Limitation of self-tape requests, including page, time and tech requirements.
Options for virtual or in-person auditions.
● 11% pay increase in year 1 for background actors, stand-ins and photo doubles,
an additional 17% increase for background actors required to do extensive
self-styling, and an additional 62% increase for stand-ins required to deliver lines
during a run-through and photo doubles required to memorize and deliver lines
on camera.
● First-time-ever fixed residuals for Stunt Coordinators on television and High
Budget SVOD programs.

Artificial Intelligence

When asked about the AMPTP’s statement by reporters, Crabtree-Ireland said that he couldn’t comment on the full statement as he hadn’t seen it yet, but he did dispute AMPTP’s claim that their AI proposal was “groundbreaking,” saying that the AMPTP’s proposal allowed for perpetual use of a background actor’s performance for AI recreation and data sets in exchange for a single day’s pay.

“If you think this is a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again,” he said.

In a statement provided by a studio source to TheWrap on Thursday evening, the AMPTP disputed Crabtree-Ireland’s claim, saying that their current proposal to the guild “only permits a company to use the digital replica of a background actor in the motion picture for which the background actor is employed. Any other use requires the background actor’s consent and bargaining for the use, subject to a minimum payment.”

Pattern bargaining

Crabtree-Ireland also confirmed that the AMPTP used the recently ratified contract with the Directors Guild of America as a firm baseline for several elements of its proposal to SAG-AFTRA. This includes the 76% increase in foreign residuals, which was the same increase negotiated with the DGA.

But Crabtree-Ireland said that the minimum rates offered didn’t keep up with the rate of inflation and cost of living in Los Angeles and other major cities, and that the real income working class actors take in 2023 and would take over the next three years under that contract would not exceed what they were earning in 2020.

“The companies insisted that we limit the minimum increases to a pattern deal, and our negotiating commitee rejected that our idea,” he said. “That’s wrong, unfair and unacceptable.”

Streaming residuals

But the biggest nonstarter in talks was regarding streaming residuals, as the AMPTP didn’t make any counterproposal to SAG-AFTRA’s offer to create a residual structure tied to viewership data.

Crabtree-Ireland said that the guild sent a proposal inspired by Drescher in which the guild would receive a percentage of streaming revenue that would be divided up by project based on that project’s contribution to the overall revenue earned by the streaming service it is hosted on.

“Since we knew that the streamers would not want to share any kind of viewership data, we went and found another source for that data from a particular analytics company,” he said.

“Instead of engaging with the proposal… what they did was launch an attack on that company, claiming that company doesn’t have good quality data,” Crabtree-Ireland continued. “This was a distraction tactic to avoid engaging on a legitimate proposal, and from day 1 to day 35 of these talks we never got a substantive response to that proposal, and it is just a part of the larger story of the companies refusing to engage with legitimate proposals and refusing to do what it takes to get a deal.”

What now?

A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA says that more details will be coming on what was proposed by the negotiating committee to the AMPTP. In the meantime, the guild is sending out strike schedules and information to members on the first day of picket lines, which will be held on Friday.

Drescher, Crabtree-Ireland and the negotiating committee are scheduled to appear at picket lines at the Netflix headquarters and the backlots of Paramount, Warner Bros. and Disney, which are all scheduled to begin at 9 AM.