EXCLUSIVE: “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
That’s the word from a well-positioned individual today on the true state of a new three-year contract between striking SAG-AFTRA and the studios.
“There’s a lot of common ground now, and we are building on that,” a studio source close to the talks said of recent movement between the parties. “Details still have to be determined, but we’re heading in the right direction,” a wary guild insider told Deadline, noting at the same time that there is some “significant steps” before a tentative agreement is anywhere near on the table.
The AMPTP, a quartet of studio CEOs and guild leaders have been in direct talks since October 24. Following the sudden suspension of renewed talks by the studios on October 11, this latest round of negotiations came out of a call from Disney’s Bob Iger to SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland on October 21, the 100th day of the strike.
Moving towards Halloween, as a new set of rumors that a deal in the nearly 110-day strike is just a day or two away swirl around Tinseltown, numerous sources on both sides tell us the buzzwords remain “caution” and “optimism. A studio source advises: “Things are moving along, but everything takes time.”
“Anyone who tells you there’s a done deal just doesn’t know what’s really going on,” an industry eminence also warned.
For instance, amid conversations among small working groups of lawyers and others on both sides today, by later afternoon the guild had yet to hear back from the AMPTP on its latest set of proposals, we hear.
To that end, despite SAG-AFTRA’s missive to members last night stating the parties would “re-engage on scheduling at the end of the day,” no further formal sit-down meetings have been set so far with the likes of guild president Fran Drescher and National Director Crabtree-Ireland, AMPTP chief Carol Lombardini and the CEO Gang of Four.
Still, with where things are right now such a gathering may prove unnecessary in some ways. Like the deliberations over the weekend, on the upside, today has seen a “constant flow,” as a person close to the players put it, of individual talks as well as communications between principals and staffers. “This is about relationships, [and] trust now, that’s how we land the plane,” the guild insider noted.
In that, AI and success-based compensation for cast members of streaming shows remain the biggest hurdles in the way of a tentative agreement. On the latter issue, the parties look to be heading towards the middle in negotiations, at least on the money. The studios’ last proposal offered a 7% increase in minimums, with SAG-AFTRA offering a self-described “comprehensive counter” late last week that took minimums to 9%, a drop from the 11% it previously sought.
Similar to the weekend discussions, Lombardini has been taking point for the studios Monday in conversations with Crabtree-Ireland and others. Not directly involved like they were last week, Disney’s Bob Iger, Netflix‘s Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav and NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley have been participating in the background to varying degrees or being briefed on where things stand. Yet, like the weekend discussions, it is the small working groups focusing on specialized topics that have been doing most of the heavy lifting at this stage.
Neither SAG-AFTRA nor the AMPTP responded to request for comment on the state of talks when contacted by Deadline. If and when they do respond, we will update this post.
On day 109 of the actors guild strike, Monday saw both sides take a step back from the official bargaining table. As exclusively revealed by Deadline and confirmed by the guild late Sunday, the two sides decided to be “working independently” today as the studios assessed SAG-AFTRA’s latest proposals after a weekend of virtual discussions.
“Looks like we’re in the final stretch,” a senior studio source said Sunday. That sentiment was echoed by a guild source, who declared there’s “a feeling of optimism” that the two sides could reach an agreement within a week or so.
In that context, exclaiming “anything is possible” when it comes to a deal today, guild chief negotiator Crabtree-Ireland told Deadline on Monday that there’s still a way to go. “People seem to think we’re at a point where we’re just dotting I’s and crossing T’s,” Crabtree-Ireland said regarding gossip rocketing around town. “That’s not the situation; there are substantive issues, we’re still working hard to bridge real gaps,” he added on the picket line outside Netflix, putting an emphasis on the divisions that remain over issues like AI. “But the dialogue has been productive and constructive. We’re just gonna keep at it.”
As negotiators worked out the next steps in achieving a deal, SAG-AFTRA members responded in force to their guild’s request of late Sunday to “flood picket lines” today.
In New York, Merritt Wever, David Costabile of the just concluded Billions, Beanie Feldstein, Gina Gershon, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto and SAG-AFTRA exec Rebecca Damon were among those out on the streets today. Patton Oswalt, Justine Bateman and Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Meredith Salenger were out in Los Angeles today along with hundreds of other placard-holding guild members in front of studio lots and offices.
AI, mentioned by Crabtree-Ireland Monday, has once again apparently become a bulwark to an agreement.
Throughout the strike, what’s been important for SAG-AFTRA is getting performers’ proper “informed consent” when it comes to their likeness use. “That means performers need to understand what’s going to be done with the digital replica of their voice,” said Crabtree-Ireland at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year about informed consent. When it comes to AI, SAG-AFTRA has been about protecting extras as well; such performers’ likenesses are in jeopardy, if the can be used by studios in perpetuity and at low rates particularly when it comes to franchise content.
As we hear all over town from C-suites to parking lots and dog parks, studio execs are anxious and eager to get a deal done given the new TV season and feature film productions remain in limbo. Already, the 2024 theatrical release schedule has shed big movies — Mission: Impossible 8, Elio and Snow White — with more likely to come.