Hollywood’s strikes have meant no work, anxiety for crews

 A passionate and determined group of striking actors and union members gathered outside the Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery headquarters in New York. The atmosphere was charged with energy as they chanted slogans like "one day longer, one day stronger." The previous night, studio executives made the surprise decision to walk away from the negotiating table after five days of face-to-face talks.

Rather than demoralizing the actors, this move has only fueled their resolve. Jill Henessy, known for her roles in "Law & Order" and "Crossing Jordan," expressed her optimism despite the studios' decision. Henessy emphasized that the turnout for the strike was one of the best they had seen.

The recent successful deal between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Hollywood studios had raised hopes among the members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Shows such as Stephen Colbert's, Jimmy Kimmel's, Seth Meyers's, John Oliver's, and Jimmy Fallon's (despite recent controversy) resumed with the return of the WGA writers in early October. Writers from shows like "Abbott Elementary," "Grey's Anatomy," and Showtime's "Yellowjackets" also went back to work. However, writers on "The Drew Barrymore Show" chose not to return after their host attempted to continue the show without them.

Anthony Rapp, a member of the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee and known for his roles in "Rent" and "Star Trek: Discovery," expressed his disappointment in the lack of progress made by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). According to Rapp, the executives made no substantial concessions or counteroffers, leaving the actors with a sense of anticipation and determination.

The pause in negotiations has further ignited the fire within the striking actors, motivating them to continue demanding their fair share and a resolution that addresses their key concerns. Despite the setback, they remain hopeful for a favorable outcome in the ongoing negotiations.  

“We were still grinding it out,” he says. “We were still ready to be there as long as it took. So I was a little surprised that they decided to walk away.” 

Following the decision by Hollywood executives to suspend negotiations, both the AMPTP and the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee have provided their perspectives on the situation. The AMPTP claimed that the gap between the two groups had become too wide, rendering further discussions unproductive. Conversely, the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee alleged that the offer presented by Hollywood CEOs was shockingly lower than what was proposed before the strike commenced.

With over 90 days spent on the picket lines, union members have expressed their frustrations with the delay in reaching a deal. They have also shown solidarity with below-the-line workers who are facing difficulties during this period.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced a tentative deal with Hollywood studios and streamers on September 24, following almost five months of striking. This agreement came after Hollywood executives provided a counteroffer on August 11, which the WGA negotiating committee believed failed to adequately address the issues that led to the strike. Ultimately, the WGA ratified the new contract on October 9. The agreement included wage increases for streaming services, minimum staffing levels, and protections related to artificial intelligence (AI).

Anthony Rapp, a member of the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee, acknowledged the significant progress achieved by the WGA in their negotiations. Rapp emphasized that the WGA's proposals, which did not involve a significant financial burden on the studios, were successfully addressed. He believed that a fair resolution for the actors could also be reached if the studios were willing to negotiate in good faith, ultimately bringing an end to the strike.  

Negotiations between actors and Hollywood executives resumed on October 2 for the first time since the strike began on July 14. The talks lasted for five days, with prominent figures such as Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and NBCUniversal chief content officer Donna Langley in attendance.

During the negotiations, SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland reported that the half-day meeting on Wednesday ended slightly earlier than planned. There was no indication that anything presented by SAG-AFTRA was problematic or would cause the AMPTP to break off the negotiations. In fact, a full day of negotiations was scheduled for Thursday.

However, later that same Wednesday, Crabtree-Ireland received a call informing him that the talks had been called off. He expressed his disappointment and frustration at the decision, emphasizing the importance of maintaining communication and dialogue, regardless of differing offers or counteroffers.

During the meeting, SAG-AFTRA put forward a modified proposal for streaming revenue share, shifting towards a subscriber-based model. This change was described by Crabtree-Ireland as a significant compromise on their part.  

During the bargaining process in June, actors presented a revenue-sharing model that would allow them to share in the success of highly successful shows, with a proposed 2% cut of the revenue. However, during negotiations in early October, they revised their proposal and reduced it to a 1% cut. According to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the SAG-AFTRA national executive director, the CEOs of the studios adamantly refused to consider any proposal linked to the revenue stream.

To address this, SAG members made a final revision on Wednesday, changing the revenue-sharing model to a subscriber-based proposal. Under this new approach, Hollywood streamers would pay performers based on the number of subscribers and their share of viewership. Crabtree-Ireland argues that this change would only cost companies 57 cents per subscriber per year, which is less than the cost of a postage stamp.

During the strike, Netflix reported a 3% increase in revenue compared to the previous year, totaling $8.3 billion. The company's efforts to crack down on password-sharing led to a subscriber increase of 5.9 million, reaching a global total of 238 million subscribers. Despite the significant concessions made by the actors, Crabtree-Ireland expresses disappointment in the response received, emphasizing that when one side makes a substantial compromise, a favorable response is typically expected.

The meetings between the two parties were intense at times, but Crabtree-Ireland notes that they remained professional and reasonably cordial. However, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos disagrees with this perspective. During a Bloomberg conference, Sarandos stated that the streamers had offered a "success-based bonus" similar to the writers' deal but saw the proposed 57 cents per subscriber as going too far.

Crabtree-Ireland finds Sarandos' statement offensive and believes it misrepresents their proposal, emphasizing that it is not a tax but rather a fair compensation for the work performed by actors. Additionally, both sides disagreed on the overall cost of the proposal. Hollywood executives claimed it would cost over $800 million, equivalent to one dollar per subscriber, creating an "untenable economic burden." However, the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee argued that the subscriber-based proposal would only cost $500 million.

The differences in perspectives on the cost and nature of the proposal have further complicated the negotiations between the two sides.  

In response to the ongoing negotiations, NBCUniversal's Langley expressed the studios' commitment to spend however much time is necessary to achieve a resolution. Their ultimate goal, she stated, has always been to get the industry back to work.

According to the AMPTP, Hollywood studios and streamers insist that they have addressed the actors' demands regarding casting, including guidelines for self-tapes, as well as offering virtual and in-person audition options and accommodations for performers with disabilities. They claim to have provided actors with the same favorable terms, including wage increases, streaming residuals, and viewership bonuses, which were accepted by the writers' and directors' unions. However, the actors rejected these offers.

SAG-AFTRA contends that the Hollywood CEOs failed to implement AI protections for actors and offer wage increases in line with inflation. They also accuse the studios of employing a strategy used during the negotiations with the Writers Guild to undermine unity and discourage solidarity.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, of SAG-AFTRA, remarked that while there were some minor concessions made by the studios in the direction that the actors wanted, they were insufficient to resolve the outstanding issues related to self-tape auditions, schedule breaks, and working conditions for various professionals, such as singers, dancers, hairstylists, and makeup artists.

David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and a negotiator during the writers' strike, criticized the Hollywood executives for their unyielding approach and attempts to divide the union. He believes that greed is the driving force behind their actions and that they are utilizing a familiar playbook. In Simon's view, the studios mishandled the previous negotiation and are doing the same in the current one.

Simon explained that the studios offered writers the same AI protections provided to the Directors Guild, which the writers declined. Additionally, earlier in the strike, SAG-AFTRA reported that the industry proposed paying background actors a low daily rate to create digital replicas of them. The AMPTP has since claimed that SAG-AFTRA mischaracterized their proposal and clarified that they will ask for advance consent from both the performer and the background actor. However, actors are seeking additional protections, such as advance consent if their digital replicas are used within a cinematic universe or franchise project.  

According to Simon, it became evident when the CEOs actively engaged in negotiations that their own negotiators were incompetent and stuck in outdated dynamics.

Regarding residuals for TV and film reruns, actors have expressed their concerns about significant decreases in their payments on streaming platforms. Jaimie Alexander, known for her role in NBC's "Blindspot," noticed a decline in her residual payouts when the show was picked up by Hulu. The suspension of talks between Hollywood executives and the Actors Guild has led her to question her future with streaming platforms.

Alexander candidly shares that she no longer wishes to work for streamers or studios. She empathizes with entertainment crews who are facing financial strain due to the ongoing strike. In a statement issued on Friday, Hollywood labor unions, including the Writers Guild, Directors Guild, and crew unions, urged studios and streamers to resume negotiations immediately and address the needs of performers.

The statement asserts that every day without a fair contract addressing actors' specific priorities prolongs the unnecessary suffering of working professionals across the industry. The studios and the AMPTP are urged to recognize that more is needed than simply replicating the terms negotiated with other unions.  

At Netflix’s and Warner Bros Discovery’s New York offices, actors beat drums and rang cowbells as strike captains hollered chants about fair contracts. As they inch closer to 100 days on the picket lines, with no announcement of future talks with Hollywood executives in sight, actors still plan to cause a commotion on the front lines. 

“There needs to be boundaries put in place, true boundaries, things that all of us can see, not just taking the studio’s word like we have been for so long,” Alexander says, hoisting a SAG-AFTRA sign. “Because in all honesty, we’re not on billionaire’s retreats. We’re trying to feed our families.”

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