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Actors union joins writers on strike

Hollywood actors are officially headed to the picket line.

Unable to reach a deal with producers, members of The Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists joined more than 11,000 already striking film and television writers Friday morning.

The failed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers means film and television productions featuring actors will immediately halt, essentially shutting down Hollywood. It’ll be the first tandem strike in the industry since 1960.

“We are the victims here,” said Fran Drescher, president of the actors union, during a news conference Thursday. “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us.”

“It is disgusting,” she said in fiery remarks. “Shame on them.”

SAG-AFTRA members are already taking the strike seriously. “Oppenheimer” actors left the film’s London premiere Thursday. Director Christopher Nolan told the crowd that the cast left and are “off to write their picket signs.” The film opens next week.

During the strike, actors will not be permitted to promote past projects through conventions, interviews or panels. This includes any Emmy Award campaigning. Nominations for the annual award show were announced Wednesday and the ceremony is set to take place Sept. 18 on Fox.

Heading into negotiations last month, Hollywood performers were looking to improve wages, working conditions, and health and pension benefits, as well as create guardrails for the use of artificial intelligence in future television and film productions. Additionally, the union is seeking more transparency from streaming services about viewership so that residual payments can be made equitable to that seen on linear TV.

“You cannot change the business model as much as it has changed and not expect the contract to change, too,” Drescher said.

The Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since May, is seeking higher compensation and residuals, particularly when it comes to streaming shows, as well as new rules that will require studios to staff television shows with a certain number of writers for a specific period.

The guild also is seeking compensation throughout the process of pre-production, production and post-production. Currently, writers are often expected to provide revisions or craft new material without being paid.

The WGA also shares similar concerns over the use of artificial intelligence when it comes to script writing.

SAG-AFTRA said producers have been unwilling to offer its members a fair deal and have worked to delay negotiations.

The AMPTP responded to the strike declaration by issuing a statement that it “presented a deal that 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.”

It blamed SAG-AFTRA for stalled talks.

Addressing the producers’ statement, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director and chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, dismissed the AMPTP claims, especially when it came to its AI proposal.

“In that groundbreaking AI proposal, they proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan, their image, their likeness, and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent and no compensation,” he said. “So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal I suggest you think again.”

Drescher called the AMPTP members “crazy” and called their response to the actors’ proposals “insulting.”

SAG-AFTRA’s comments come as reports have surfaced about tactics studio producers allegedly plan to implement against writers, namely, that producers don’t plan on attempting to negotiate with writers for several more months. According to the reports, producers expect writers will run out of money and possibly lose their homes and be forced to come to the bargaining table.

While the AMPTP has denied these reports, studio executives have remained outspoken about what they consider unreasonable contract requests.

“We managed as an industry to negotiate a very good deal with the Directors Guild, that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC on Thursday morning, ahead of SAG-AFTRA’s announcement. “We wanted to do the same thing with the writers. And we’d like to do the same thing with the actors. There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of challenges that this business is already facing, that is quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Iger noted that the industry has not completely recovered from the coronavirus pandemic and these strikes come at “the worst time in the world.”

“It will have a very, very damaging effect on the whole business,” he said. “And unfortunately there’s huge collateral damage to the industry, to people who are, you know, support services. I could go on and on. It will affect the economy of different regions, even, because of the sheer size of the business. It’s a shame. It is really a shame.”


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