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Contract talks between Hollywood studios and actors break down again

Actress Gabrielle Maiden and fellow SAG-AFTRA members picket outside Universal Studios.
Mandalit del Barco
/
NPR
Actress Gabrielle Maiden and fellow SAG-AFTRA members picket outside Universal Studios.

Contract negotiations between Hollywood studios and streaming companies and the performers' union SAG-AFTRA have broken down once again. So for now, the nearly three-month-long strike continues.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios, announced in a statementthat the gap between their proposals and the union's was "too great" and that conversations "are no longer moving us in a productive direction."

Just two weeks ago, the studio heads of Disney, Netflix, NBC Universal and Warner Brothers Discovery had resumed negotiating with SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 actors, dancers, voiceover artists and stunt performers. The first round of their contract negotiations stalled in mid-July, and union members began to strike, joining striking screenwriters who had walked off their jobs in May.

[Note: Many NPR News employees are members of SAG-AFTRA, but are under a different contract and are not on strike.]

The AMPTP said in particular, demands for cast members to get a "viewership bonus" — a cut of streaming platform revenues — would be "an untenable burden" that would cost more than $800 million a year.

During a Bloomberg Screentime event hours after the announcement, Ted Sarandos, co-chief of Netflix, said the studios offered SAG-AFTRA a "success-based bonus," similar to the deal they made with the Writers Guild of America.

Sarandos said SAG-AFTRA's residual proposal would cost much more. "We just felt like a bridge too far to add this deep into the negotiation," he said.

In it's statement, the AMPTP also said it did agree to require consent for the use of artificial intelligence, both for principal and background actors. The alliance also said the union presented "few, if any, moves on the numerous remaining open items."

In response, SAG-AFTRA's negotiating committee sent out a release expressing "profound sadness" that the industry CEOs have walked away from the bargaining table. The union said the alliance overestimated the guild's streaming residuals proposal by 60 percent, and that it only cost the streaming platforms 57 cents per subscriber per year.

The union accused the studios of using "bully tactics" to reject and intentionally misrepresent their proposals, and said it had made a "big, meaningful" counter offers.

"These companies refuse to protect performers from being replaced by AI, they refuse to increase your wages to keep up with inflation, and they refuse to share a tiny portion of the immense revenue YOUR work generates for them," the statement read. "The companies are using the same failed strategy they tried to inflict on the WGA – putting out misleading information in an attempt to fool our members into abandoning our solidarity and putting pressure on our negotiators. But, just like the writers, our members are smarter than that and will not be fooled."

The union called on its members to continue to picket outside studios. They have been joined in solidarity by other Hollywood workers, including screenwriters in the Writers Guild of America. On Monday, the WGA members voted to approve the contract their leaders made with the AMPTP, ending their nearly five month strike.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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