Actors’ strike continues: Here’s what’s holding up negotiations, including artificial intelligence

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SAG-AFTRA Members Continue Strike As They Wait On Studio Responses To Latest Negations

The SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike is in its 117th day, making it the longest strike in the union’s history. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Key Facts

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing more than 160,000 actors and entertainment professionals, rejected the latest contract offer from major Hollywood studios because of disagreements over artificial intelligence.

The studios’ proposal would reportedly allow studios to pay to secure AI scans of Schedule F performers—actors who make more than the minimum for series regulars or feature films—but the union wants studios to compensate performers when these scans are re-used.

The union also pushed back on clauses that would permit studios and streamers to use AI scans of deceased performers without the consent of their estates or SAG-AFTRA, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In a statement released Monday night, the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee said there are “several essential items” on which the guild and studios differ and pledged to end the strike responsibly by working toward a fair deal.

The strike, which began July 14 amid an overlapping writers’ strike, is in its 117th day as of Tuesday, making it the longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history.

Key Background

The studios presented what they considered their “last, best and final” offer to SAG-AFTRA over the weekend. According to reports, the proposals include doubled residual payments—which compensate actors when their work is rebroadcast or reused—for actors who appear on the most popular programs on streaming services. The studios’ residuals proposal reportedly faced some backlash from union members who fear it leaves behind actors on less popular shows. The offer also contrasts with a SAG-AFTRA proposal for streamers to pay 57 cents per subscriber per year to create a residuals payment fund that would be distributed based on a program’s popularity. The studios also reportedly offered wage increases they considered “historic” and the highest in 40 years. Representatives from major studios, including the heads of Netflix, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros Discovery and Disney, met with SAG-AFTRA on a Zoom meeting over the weekend, making it the largest group of film executives to meet with the union. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos reportedly told guild leadership: “We didn’t just come toward you. We came all the way to you.”

Chief Critics

Actors and writers took to social media to criticize studio executives for falling short of union demands regarding artificial intelligence. “The fact they’re not wanting to budge on AI tells you they’re definitely gonna use it to f*ck us over,” actor Frank Garcia-Hejl posted on X, urging the union to “hold strong.” “So basically the studios are saying that the pesky state of being alive is a hindrance to their AI plans, got it,” television writer Helen Shang posted. Some derisively referred to the studios’ proposal to re-use scans of deceased performers without consent as the “zombie clause.” Writer and former WGA board member David Slack said the “zombie clause” is “obviously reprehensible and grotesque,” stating the proposal does not protect actors from the “studios’ greed.” Slack added the ability of studios to scan and re-use the likenesses of performers may “eliminate thousands of jobs across our industry.” An anonymous union source told The Hollywood Reporter fighting the studios’ AI proposal is “vital to the sustainability of the performance industry,” stating it “behooves [studios] to have you dead in that they need consent when you’re alive but not when you’re dead.”

Tangent

The studios are reportedly anxious to end the strike to salvage what remains of the television season and to prevent further delays to the 2024 film schedule. The actors’ strike, and the concluded writers’ strike, forced productions to shut down across Hollywood and resulted in the postponement of films, television series and awards ceremonies. A studio source told Deadline they were forced to shut down production on a project this week because they had expected a deal to end the strike Sunday night. This weekend’s box office was the third lowest of the year so far thanks to the postponement of Dune: Part Two, which was set to open in theaters but was delayed to March 2024 because of the strikes.

What To Watch For

Further negotiations will likely take place Tuesday, Deadline reported.

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