After several productive days at the negotiating table, Hollywood studios are increasingly optimistic they are nearing a deal to end the 108-day actors’ strike, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Those people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the employment situation, warned Sunday that some issues remain unresolved with the actors, including protections surrounding the use of artificial intelligence technology to create digital copies of their likenesses without payment or approval. But other knots began to unravel, the people said.
SAG-AFTRA, as the actors’ union is known, has wanted, for example, an 11 percent increase in the minimum wage in the first year of the contract. The studios insisted they could offer no more than 5 percent, the same amount recently given (and agreed to) by the writers’ and directors’ unions. At the beginning of last week, however, the studios raised their offer to 7 percent. By Friday, SAG-AFTRA had dropped its demand to 9 percent.
SAG-AFTRA did not respond to requests for comment. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of major entertainment companies, declined to comment.
In an email to SAG-AFTRA members Friday night, the union’s negotiating committee said, “We completed a full and productive day.” On Saturday, the union sent a routine reminder of pickets planned for next week, including one planned for Wednesday at Walt Disney Studios . The parties continued the negotiations on Sunday.
Studio execs said last week — in conversations with directors, agents, reporters and the actors themselves — that a deal must be done (or close) by the end of this week, or the sets are likely to remain dark for another two months.
Put another way, unless negotiations speed up, January could be the earliest the cast (and crew) get paid.
Skill on the edge? Of course. This is a standard part of any strike. However, the companies said they were just pointing to the calendar. It will take time to assemble creative teams, a process complicated by the upcoming holidays. Pre-production (before anyone gets on set) for new shows can take up to 12 weeks, with movies taking roughly 16 weeks. Bake in time for contract ratification by SAG-AFTRA members.
More than 4,000 mostly day-to-day actors responded Thursday with an open letter to their union saying, “We haven’t come all this way to fail now.” They added: “We cannot and will not accept a treaty that fails to address vital and existential issues that we must all address.”
At the same time, some stars are putting pressure on union leaders to bring more urgency to negotiations. Unemployed crew members are also becoming increasingly disillusioned with Hollywood’s closure. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents 170,000 crew members in North America, has estimated that its West Coast members alone have lost more than $1.4 billion in wages.
For their part, companies are under pressure to salvage their spring TV schedules and film lineups. On Friday, Disney delayed the live-action version of “Snow White,” which had been scheduled for March 26, because it would have been impossible to finish on time. Earlier in the week, Paramount delayed Tom Cruise’s next film, Mission Impossible, along with Lupita Nyong’o’s A Quiet Place: Day One.
The entertainment business has been at a standstill for months because of strikes by writers who walked out in May and actors who joined them in July. The writers’ strike was resolved last month, raising hopes for a quick resolution to the issue between the studios and the actors’ union. Instead, the process is slow.
Talks between the parties resumed on Tuesday after breaking down earlier this month over a union proposal for a per-subscriber fee from streaming services, which Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos publicly dismissed as a “tax” and “a bridge too far.” ” SAG-AFTRA accused studio executives of “harassment tactics.”
It is not clear how the streaming issue can be resolved. But there is real hope in Hollywood that people may soon be back to work.
“We do not have specific information from any studio at this time,” Michael Akins, a Georgia official for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, wrote to members Friday. “But it’s clearly written that the industry shutdown is in its last days.”
John Coblin and Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.