Hollywood actors’ strike looms as SAG-AFTRA says contract talks are collapsing

Hollywood’s first industry-wide shutdown in 63 years is nearing certainty, as the union representing 160,000 TV and film actors prepares to call a strike as early as Thursday and join the screenwriters who walked out in May.

SAG-AFTRA, as the union is known, said at about 1 a.m. PT Thursday that negotiations with Hollywood studios over a new contract had broken down and that its negotiating board had voted unanimously to recommend a strike. The previous three-year contract expired at 11:59 pm, after being extended from June 30 to allow talks to continue.

The Federation National Assembly was scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Pacific to vote on the final strike. Sit-ins could start later on Thursday.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher called the studio’s responses at the negotiating table “insulting and disrespectful”.

“Companies have refused to engage meaningfully on some issues and turned us off completely on others,” Ms. Drescher said in a statement. “Until they negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach an agreement.”

Actors and screenwriters haven’t hitched at the same time since 1960, when Marilyn Monroe was still close to her peak. The twin strikes would effectively bring the entertainment business to a standstill, pitting more than 170,000 workers against legacy line studios like Disney, Universal, Sony and Paramount, as well as tech giants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

“We are extremely disappointed that SAG-AFTRA has decided to withdraw from the negotiations,” the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which is negotiating on behalf of the Hollywood companies, said in a statement. “This is the Guild’s choice, not ours.”

Although Hollywood has been preparing for the writers’ strike since the beginning of the year — screenwriters have walked out eight times over the past seven decades, most recently in 2007 — the cast’s uncharacteristic determination in recent weeks has caught CEOs and producers by surprise.

Many of the actors’ demands mirror those of the writers, including higher wages, increased residual payments (a type of royalties) from streaming services, and strong protections around using AI to preserve jobs. The union leadership also wants new regulations regarding self-recorded experiences, a pandemic phenomenon that has led to far fewer live sessions.

The Producers Alliance said the actors’ union “rejected our offer of historic wage and residual increases, caps on pension and health contributions, probation protections, shortened string option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects digital likeness for actors, and more.”

The actors staged their last major strike in 1980, with the economic details of the home video rental and sales boom as a sticking point. Their latest move is part of a rising labor movement, particularly in California, where hotel workers, school bus drivers, teachers and cafeteria employees have all been on strike for some time in recent months.

The studios’ first distress signal came in early June when approximately 65,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, voted to authorize a strike. Roughly 98 percent of voters supported the mandate, a staggering number that went beyond the book’s mere margin.

However, studio negotiators went into the talks feeling optimistic. They were surprised to see the list of proposals from the union — it totaled 48 pages, nearly triple the size of the list during their last negotiations in 2020, according to two people familiar with the proposals, who spoke on condition of anonymity. to discuss confidential conversations.

Then in late June, more than 1,000 representatives, including such notables as Meryl Streep, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lawrence, Constance Wu, and Ben Stiller, signed a letter to the union leadership, clearly declaring that we were “willing to strike.”

“This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what would be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough,” the letter read. “We feel that our wages, our profession, our creative freedom and the strength of our union have all been undermined in the past decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”

On Tuesday, the union approved an application by the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance to hire a federal mediator, but declined to extend the contract deadline beyond Wednesday. Two mediators were involved, according to people briefed on the talks.

Hollywood studios would now need to fight a labor war on two fronts without a modern guide to consult with. There are many open questions, including whether the actors and writers might demand future negotiations with the studios side by side. One union that won’t be included: the Directors Guild of America, which last month ratified a contract with the studios that their union leadership called “historic.”

The cast’s exit would provide an immediate boon to the striking writers, who have been marching in picket lines for more than 70 days; Their union, the Writers Guild of America, has not yet returned to bargaining with the studios. The actors will soon be joining the writers on sit-downs in LA and New York in what is likely to be a raucous, star-studded spectacle — the struggling actors are still trying to get a foothold alongside the A-list with bodyguards being paid $20 million or more each. movie role.

It’s definitely going to be hot: Forecasters said a “severe” heatwave in the Los Angeles area will extend into next week. Burbank can reach altitudes of 108 degrees.

The last time writers and actors went on strike at the same time was in 1960, when Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild, and the remnants of movies on television were the battle of the day.

Although many productions closed after the writers’ strike, some filming continued for movies and TV series that completed scripts. One prominent talent agent said that the writers’ strike had effectively shut down 80 percent of the script industry – and that a second strike would bring it to a grinding halt.

The strikes are the latest massive blow to an entertainment industry that has been rocked by the pandemic and sweeping technological shifts in recent years.

Hollywood studios watched their share prices plummet and their profit margins shrink as cable and network TV viewership – as well as box office revenues – collapsed in the wake of the explosive growth of streaming entertainment.

Many companies have resorted to layoffs, as well as purging a string of streaming services, all in the name of trying to boost profit margins and appease rebellious investors. Studio executives had already placed restrictions on ordering new TV series last year as streaming services continued to drain money.

Barry Diller, a veteran media executive, said in an interview that the recent turmoil in the industry has caused concern on both sides.

“You have a complete change in the underlying economics of the entertainment business that it has certainly held for the last 50 years, if not the last 100 years,” he said. “It was basically all in equilibrium under the dominance of five major studios, and then, oh my gosh, come the tech companies in Netflix and Amazon and Apple and the fast transformative things that have come out of Covid. The result is you have a completely upended business.”