CUT! After 118 days, striking actors reach a deal with studios

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher

The longest strike in film and TV history is ending with a victory for 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other media professionals.

“I can proudly say we began this journey the largest entertainment union in the world, and we ended it the most powerful,” said Fran Drescher at a Los Angeles press conference Friday.

The actress is president of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union that represents actors.

Drescher said one of the main areas of focus in their negotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was the use of artificial intelligence.

The SAG-AFTRA National Board met and approved the tentative agreement for the 2023 TV/Theatrical Contracts reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

An informational webinar will be held via Zoom on Monday, Nov. 13, at 1 p.m. ET. All SAG-AFTRA members are urged to attend this important meeting. Reservations are required in advance by the deadline of Monday, Nov. 13, 10 a.m. ET.

SAG-AFTRA members who are unable to attend and have questions regarding the tentative agreement can email or call (323) 549-6832.

“In the world of AI, three months is equivalent to a year, so, if we didn’t get those barricades, what would it be in three years?” she said.

Under the billion-dollar deal, the actor must consent to “digital replicas” and what they are used for. They would also get paid for their use.

“I was determined to redefine SAG-AFTRA as not only the largest entertainment union in the world, but the most powerful. And now that we have forged the biggest deal in industry history which broke pattern, established new revenue streams and passed a historic $1 billion plus dollar deal with the most progressive AI protections ever written, I feel pretty confident in saying this is a paradigm shift of seismic proportions! I am so proud of the TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee and so thrilled to have partnered with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland” said Drescher. “Onward and upwards!”

The deal provides meaningful protections around the use of artificial intelligence, including informed consent and compensation for the creation and use of digital replicas of our members, living and deceased, whether created on set or licensed for use.

The agreement includes an unprecedented wage pattern with two wage increases in the first year of the contract – 7% upon ratification, and another 4% increase effective July 2024, making a compounded first year increase of 11.28%. There will be another 3.5% increase effective July 2025. This package breaks the so-called “industry pattern.”

Wages for background actors will increase by 11% effective November 12, 2023, and then by an additional 4% effective July 1, 2024 and by another 3.5% effective July 1, 2025. And in a monumental breakthrough, for the first time ever, the number of covered positions in the West Coast Zones will equal those of the East Coast Zones. This is projected to add almost 11,000 new covered background work days annually.

A nearly 43% increase to the contribution cap for one-hour productions and nearly 67% increase to the cap for half-hour productions will result in increased contributions to the Health and Pension/Retirement funds, as well as help performers working on those shows to continue qualifying for benefit coverage.

The agreement is welcome news to actress Erin Bethea.

“That’s kind of a plight of the actor– the constant pursuit of our art and survival, financial survival,” said Bethea.

She and her husband, who is also an actor, relocated from Los Angeles to the booming Georgia film market, opening Greenlight Acting Studios in Kennesaw.

Bethea said the last four months of striking have been challenging, but believes the strike was worth it.

“Everyone from the background artists to major A-list Hollywood celebrities were on picket lines together, banding together, fighting for the future of our industry,” she said.

Other takeaways from the announcement were improved health benefits, higher minimum pay, and a new fund created for streaming compensation.

“We are seeing them get played over and over and over again, but there were some platforms that gave zero residuals at all up until this,” Bethea pointed out.

According to Bethea, only one percent of the 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members make their income from acting alone, and she hopes this will be a step in allowing them to continue the work they love, while also feeling respected by the studios.

Those 160,000 professionals —across 25 locals in the United States— work in film and digital motion pictures, television programs, commercials, video games, corporate/educational and non-broadcast productions, new media, television, and radio news outlets, as well as major label recording artists.

“While it is an art form, it is also a job,” she said. “We are also laborers, and you pay the laborer what the laborer is due.”

The agreement does not go into effect until it is ratified by SAG-AFTRA members. The voting begins next Tuesday and lasts through the beginning of December.

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