Relief is rolling through Hollywood as the Writers Guild of America reached a tentative deal with studios Sunday after 146 days on strike. Now the question is how long will it take for a similar deal to be made with SAG-AFTRA, still on the picket lines as the actors’ strike approaches its 80th day.
With the awards season about to ramp up and motion picture groups itching to get films rolling again in January, and bring stability to their 2024 release slates, there’s a lot of desire at the studios to get talks with the actors’ union started as soon as possible. But they’re still approaching these negotiations with caution.
Two studio insiders tell TheWrap they believe that the start of talks on the actors’ deal, while close, is not imminent. One of those insiders believes that it will be at least two weeks before talks with SAG-AFTRA begin.
A second insider agreed with this timeframe, believing that the studios will first want to make sure that the WGA deal is officially ratified by its members in a process expected to start on Tuesday after the tentative agreement is approved by the Writers Guild’s board.
Once the actors and studios agree to return to the table, talks on a contract are expected to take considerably longer than the five days of renewed talks it took for the WGA to reach a deal. This is both because the two sides haven’t met since initial talks ended without an agreement on July 12, and also because of the larger amount of contract issues that cover the various kinds of performers within SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000-plus membership.
While details are light, people with knowledge of this weekend’s talks agree with the WGA’s description of the deal in a membership memo as “exceptional” and containing “meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”
Despite this bright description and optimism that the deal will be ratified, that insider says that the studios aren’t taking the members’ vote for granted — particularly after a previous proposal, released publicly by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, was smacked down by the writers a month ago.
“It’s better to just wait and make sure that the deal is approved and the writers are officially back to work before talking with SAG,” the insider said.
The ratification process will also give time for SAG-AFTRA to review the WGA deal, which could determine the parameters of the Actors Guild’s own negotiations when it comes to key overlapping issues. Those include minimum rate increases, which traditionally remain consistent across all the guilds due to the AMPTP’s pattern bargaining. Earlier in the summer, the AMPTP and the Directors Guild of America agreed to general wage increases of 5% in the first year, 4% in the second, and 3.5% in the third.
The deal could also provide SAG-AFTRA with guidance on artificial intelligence protections, which are said to be included in the WGA’s contract. While the needs for AI protections can significantly differ between writers and actors, the common thread between the two is that it involves a nascent technology that is being included in Hollywood labor contracts for the first time.
One top studio executive told TheWrap earlier this summer that there’s confidence a deal on actors’ consent and compensation on AI use can be reached. But SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that all contract language on the issue would be closely checked by the guild’s legal team.
The extent to which the studios were willing to make concessions to the WGA on a technology it didn’t want to commit themselves to limiting potential use of when the strike began could influence what SAG-AFTRA is able to secure for actors.
Finally, there’s the issue that SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP were farthest apart on during their initial talks: streaming. The AMPTP staunchly refused to engage the guild on a proposed compensation structure in which a portion of each streaming service’s revenue would be shared among actors based on viewership data from a third-party source.
The WGA didn’t have the same proposed model, but was also pushing for the studios to end their policy of hiding streaming viewership from creatives. Securing a new model for streaming residuals and compensation will benefit SAG-AFTRA as it looks to replace the diminishing linear TV residuals its members receive with a model that reflects the new normal of media.
SAG-AFTRA declined to comment for this article beyond the statement made on Sunday congratulating the WGA on its deal and urging the AMPTP “to return to the table and make the fair deal that our members deserve and demand.”
For all of TheWrap’s strike coverage, click here.