2nd UPDATE, EXCLUSIVE, 10:29 PM: SAG-AFTRA and the studios have finally called it a night on the latest talks in search of a new three-year contract.
In the past 30 minutes or so, the actors union and the AMPTP ended a long bargaining session that started this afternoon. The thinking is they will resume negotiations on Tuesday, the 117th day of the strike. However, at this late hour, no definite time has been set yet.
Tonight’s meeting was a virtual get-together, with the CEO Gang of Four joining AMPTP boss Carol Lombardini and SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, among others. Netflix‘s Ted Sarandos, NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley, Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Disney’s Bob Iger have all been participating in talks directly on and off since the latest round of negotiations began on October 24. The latter two of that quartet may be feeling a bit more pressure than usual with their respective companies’ quarterly earnings reports out later this week.
Still, all seem aware of what’s at stake for the industry as a whole, we’re told.
“This was a productive session, some work still required before there’s a deal,” a studio insider told Deadline tonight of the gathering, which followed the guild’s response earlier in the day to the studios’ so-called “best, last and final offer” of last week. “There’s still some serious daylight between us, at least as of right now,” the insider added.
As has been the case for months, AI remains one of the major issues that divides the two sides. The studios are looking to seal the deal with what one source called “an expanded version of what the WGA agreed to,” while the guild wants project-specific protections on scans of performers and re-use of their likenesses. Well-positioned sources on both sides admit that part of the problem is coming up with effective guardrails for a technology that is evolving in leaps and bounds.
UPDATED, 4:20 PM: As the back and forth between SAG-AFTRA and the studios continues Monday, an end to the 116-day actors strike may not be imminent.
“There are several essential items on which we still do not have an agreement, including AI,” the guild said in a letter to members in the last hour. “We will keep you informed as events unfold.”
Here’s the full letter:
This morning our negotiators formally responded to the AMPTP’s “Last, Best & Final” offer.
Please know every member of our TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee is determined to secure the right deal and thereby bring this strike to an end responsibly.
There are several essential items on which we still do not have an agreement, including AI. We will keep you informed as events unfold.
In solidarity and gratitude,
Your TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee
The letter follows the guild delivering their response to the studios’ “last, best & final” offer on a new TV and movie contract earlier in the day. As Deadline reported, the parties are scheduling new negotiations which could begin as soon as this evening.
AI has been one of the primary sticking points between the sides since the beginning of their initial talks in June. Since that time, the technology has evolved so rapidly that there are questions on both sides as to how many protections could actually be put into a new three-year deal.
“It’s not bulletproof, everyone has to recognize that,” a studio executive told Deadline today about any potential AI agreement. With IATSE and Teamsters negotiations coming next year, the exec noted that it’s just a matter of months before studios will be back in deliberations with the likes of the DGA, WGA and SAG-AFTRA on the next three-year contract.
PREVIOUSLY, 2:38 PM: EXCLUSIVE: A deal may not be in the cards tonight, but SAG-AFTRA and the studios could be heading back to negotiations within hours.
The two sides are hoping to speak virtually later today and perhaps into the night, we hear.
As of right now, no meetings have been formally set, according to a guild source, but they are expecting to lock in a time “very soon.”
It is unclear at present whether the CEO Gang of Four — NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley, Warner Bros Discovery’s David Zaslav, Disney’s Bob Iger and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos — will be participating in these new talks, which are said to include guild Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and AMPTP president Carol Lombardini.
That response was “measured,” as a guild member close to talks tells us on this 116th day of the SAG-AFTRA strike. The guild spent most of the weekend “reviewing” the hundreds of pages of the proposal from the studios — a proposal that is a response to SAG-AFTRA’s “comprehensive counter” of late October.
“Everybody knows where everybody stands,” a studio insider told Deadline this afternoon. “Now, it’s about bringing it home, if we can,” he added with some optimism. Despite the ominous tone of the studios’ most recent offer, the tactic never truly excluded having talks between both sides continue into this week.
With “a lot to digest” for the SAG-AFTRA in the studio’s offer, according to one source, details reportedly include the highest wage increases for actors in 40 years. Additionally, there was a 100% uptick in performance compensation bonuses for high-budget streaming series and films in the AMPTP package, which a boatload of CEOs got on a brief Zoom call on November 4 to brief guild brass. Perhaps the crown jewel in the studios’ package is what have been called “full” AI protections. Put together, along with health and pension fund contributions and more, the execs feel their offer went “a long way to what SAG wanted,” per an industry source over the weekend.
Or, as Netflix’s co-CEO Sarandos told SAG-AFTRA leaders on Saturday, “We didn’t just come toward you, we came all the way to you.” If execs thought that was going to get them across the line by now, clearly they were disappointed. One insider on the studio side, expecting a deal Sunday night, informed us they had to pull the plug on a scheduled production that was getting ramped up today.
You’ll remember that it’s tricky for TV and feature productions to shoot, even though the writers strike has ended. SAG-AFTRA pickets were out in full force, shutting down a B-roll shoot with extras of Netflix’s Nicole Kidman limited series The Perfect Couple in Nantucket on September 28. It doesn’t matter where Hollywood is shooting; the guild will keep them in check. The problem with The Perfect Couple was that it was using non-guild members as extras on camera, which was a big no-no for local union actors in Massachusetts.
The combination of the now-resolved WGA strike and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike is estimated to have cost the California economy over $6.5 billion so far. With guild members united but feeling the financial squeeze, another fallout aspect of the nearly total shutdown of production has been the loss of 45,000 entertainment industry jobs.
If a new deal is reached, the turnaround on how fast actors can go back to work and promote new TV series and films remains in question. Given the size of SAG-AFTRA at 160,000 members, it’s figured that actors’ return to work during a contract ratification period might not be as feasible as it was for the 12,000-strong WGA, whose members returned before a final vote on their new contract.
In that context, SAG-AFTRA members and their allies were out in force in front of studio lots and offices in Los Angeles and New York today, with a near full week of picketing planned as of right now. This week also will see two of the top-tier CEOs facing Wall Street scrutiny as both Warner Bros Discovery and Disney release their latest quarterly earnings and project into the New Year.