‘We’re not going to compromise’: Actors’ union says strike could last until 2024

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

One week into the shutdown of Hollywood, and neither side is blinking.

The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, striking together for the first time since 1960, have taken to the picket lines and are using their most famous faces to highlight exactly what they want: improved residual payments and increased protections against the rise of AI.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, speaks next to SAG-AFTRA union President Fran Drescher at SAG-AFTRA offices.

The result is an effective blackout of the entertainment industry, bringing to an immediate halt the production and promotion of your favourite TV shows and films. And according to Screen Actors Guild national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, it could stretch well into next year.

“I wouldn’t rule out January or February,” Crabtree-Ireland tells this masthead. “Everyone should be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen, but the only way that doesn’t happen is by finding a path to a fair deal.

“And we’re not going to compromise on the core principles of fairness that our employees fight for.”

Crabtree-Ireland was part of the team, alongside union president Fran Drescher, that negotiated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) until talks broke down on July 13. Since then, the two parties have had no formal communication.

“I did send a letter to the AMPTP formally advising them of the strike but other than that, there has been no communication directly between us,” he says. “Of course, there’s always back channels, but that hasn’t worked so far.”

The likelihood of a lengthy strike comes down to the inability of the two parties to agree on the core issues regarding AI and increased residual payments for actors.

“The current residual structure is based on a tier system, so the more subscribers a platform has, the higher the residual payment,” says Crabtree-Ireland. “But that doesn’t track the question of viewership. It means all programs are treated the same, so you can be the most popular program on the platform, and you can be the least popular program on the platform, and you receive the same compensation.

South Korean drama Squid Game was Netflix’s best performing show. Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of Squid Game, reportedly received a one-time payment for the show that increased Netflix’s value by hundreds of millions of dollars.Credit: Netflix

“Our concept is a success metric, so if you’re on a huge hit streaming series that generates a significant amount of subscription money for the company, we think that should be shared in a way that reflects the success that you brought to the role.”

Further complicating the matter is a potential division in the negotiating room between the major studios themselves.

“Our understanding of the AMPTP approach is that they require consent consensus to reach a decision; it can’t be a majority rule,” says Crabtree-Ireland.

So if every major studio is ready to play ball – minus Netflix, for example – the negotiations fall over?

“Exactly, and I think that does sometimes slow them down.”

The longer the strike goes on, the more widespread the impact will be, including here in Australia. The industrial action has caused two Queensland-based productions, Peacock’s Apples Never Fall and the feature film Mortal Kombat 2, to down tools, leaving the Australian cast and crew, including those who don’t fall under the Screen Actors Guild strike, out of work.

“We have very close relationships with our sibling unions around the world, including the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance in Australia … we informed them of our decision, and we’re very mindful of the impact this has in other places,” says Crabtree-Ireland. “The feedback we received was that those members understand why we’re fighting what we’re fighting for, and in many ways, it’s their fight too; something like AI will not be just a SAG problem.”

Susan Sarandon joins the picket line.

The past week has seen many of the union’s most recognisable faces, including Kevin Bacon, Susan Sarandon, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Sudeikis and Mark Ruffalo join picket lines outside studios lots in New York and Los Angeles.

The presence of star power is a big benefit for the union, but it doesn’t always move the needle. Tom Cruise appeared via video app in negotiations about AI in June in the hopes of getting the AMPTP to understand the union’s concerns.

“Tom Cruise was involved in certain aspects of our negotiations, including presentations to the companies,” says Crabtree-Ireland.

The strike went ahead despite Cruise’s pleas, and it has since been reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Cruise also asked the union to consider allowing actors to promote their film and television projects during the strike.

Tom Cruise joined the SAG-AFTRA negotiations via Zoom to lend his star power to the cause.

The union denied the Mission Impossible star’s request but has since granted approval to 39 independent productions to shoot and promote their work during the actors’ strike, after confirming that they are not linked to AMPTP companies – the list includes two A24 projects.

“We want to avoid making this harder than it needs to be for anyone and if a production can prove there is no AMPTP connection whatsoever, we will issue the waiver.”

While it’s unclear exactly when Hollywood might switch the lights back on, for the Screen Actors’ Guild the bottom line has always been about the bottom line. Should this strike bleed into 2024, what happens to those actors who are already facing hardship?

“We have an emergency assistance fund, and as part of the strike, the union has made a sizable contribution to that fund,” says Crabtree-Ireland.

“That fund is used to help members who need financial assistance, whether that’s paying rent, health insurance premiums, or whatever the case may be, the union is well positioned to sustain, and we’re in for the long haul.”

But exactly how long that might be remains to be seen.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article