Four CEOs are set to return to SAG-AFTRA headquarters on Tuesday with a new offer that they hope will break the stalemate in the 102-day actors strike.
Among them will be Disney’s Bob Iger, who called SAG-AFTRA’s top negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, on Saturday to invite the actors back to the bargaining table.
The CEOs — who also include David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery, Ted Sarandos of Netflix and Donna Langley of NBCUniversal — are eager to get a deal as soon as possible, in hopes of salvaging next summer’s box office and some portion of the 2023-24 TV season.
On Monday, Paramount announced that it was postponing the next “Mission: Impossible” installment from June 2024 to May 2025. More delays could follow if the strike is not resolved soon.
Iger’s call lifted the spirits of SAG-AFTRA leadership, who saw it as confirmation that the union holds the leverage to win a transformational deal.
“We got the wind at our backs,” said one person on the union side.
In an interview, Crabtree-Ireland said he, too, is optimistic.
“There’s no way to make progress without talking,” he said. “Having them in the room is important. If that’s accompanied by a significant move on key pieces, that’s even better.”
The union is seeking artificial intelligence protections and an 11% increase in basic minimums. But the key obstacle remains SAG-AFTRA’s demand for a cut of streaming revenue.
The talks broke down on Oct. 11 after the union proposed a 57-cent-per-subscriber fee on all streaming platforms, which would cost the studios roughly $500 million a year. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said that would present an “untenable economic burden.”
Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, has argued that the dramatic transformation in the entertainment business model requires a dramatically improved compensation structure.
Actors received $91.7 million in residuals from streaming in 2019 — more than was earned from network reruns, but less than the amount that came from basic cable or from pay TV channels like HBO and Showtime. The union received an increase in 2020, and the total figure grew to about $126 million in 2022, according to the union.
The CEOs have already agreed to increase that figure again to factor in foreign subscribers, and also offered a viewership-based bonus residual patterned on the deal reached with the Writers Guild of America.
The latter would pay about $20 million a year, SAG-AFTRA said. The union has said that is far too low, and that the deal negotiated by the WGA will not be enough for the actors.
The CEOs are expected to present their new offer on Tuesday, which is believed to be a substantial improvement from the earlier proposal.
Though talks have been suspended for nearly two weeks, the two sides have still been working on elements of the contract. The AMPTP delivered a response on AI last Thursday.
The union is seeking to establish minimum terms for use of AI, including compensation and consent. The union also wants to restrict AI training on actors’ work. The WGA also sought to forbid such training, but did not get that provision.
On the studio side, there is hope if not quite optimism that a deal can be reached soon. The CEOs have been frustrated with Drescher, who has talked in the negotiating room about income disparities and her ambition to transform actors’ lives.
“It seems to me they’re more concerned about their own legacy than ending the Hollywood calamity that is completely in their control,” said Jeff Ruthizer, a longtime senior VP of labor relations at ABC, and the author of a memoir entitled “Labor Pains.” “They can’t figure out how to end it gracefully and declare the victory they have already won.”
The upbeat mood in the actors’ camp marked a change from last week, when leadership was facing pressure from George Clooney and other high-profile members to make a deal and backlash on social media over guidance that restricted members’ Halloween costumes.
Nobody expects a deal to be reached on Tuesday, even under the best of circumstances. With dozens of unresolved items, it could take days or even a week or more to reach a comprehensive agreement.
The union is seeking increases in pension and health contribution caps, a page limit on self-taped auditions, and many other items, including a dry-cleaning stipend for background actors.
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