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A Standstill, and a Ticking Clock
SAG-AFTRA's streaming residual proposal was 'a bridge too far,' said Netflix's Sarandos
The tl;dr recap of labor news this week is that things are back at a standstill.
Talks restarted, promisingly, and then came to an abrupt halt. If you’re having déjà vu, that’s because we’re not talking about the recently resolved Writers Guild of America contract negotiation but the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, now on Day 92, which appears to be following the same flow in its negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
After the studios suspended talks Wednesday night, the 160,000-plus members of the actors union woke up Thursday to a letter from leadership accusing the studios of using “bully tactics” and deliberately overstating the cost of the guild’s suite of proposals to the press. The revenue share proposal — that actors get a 2 percent cut of the upside of a hit — was always the boldest of the guild’s initial demands, though it was tweaked to become a subscriber-based ask following studio resistance. Still, there were no takers.
“We have made big, meaningful counters on our end, including completely transforming our revenue share proposal, which would cost the companies less than 57¢ per subscriber each year,” said SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee in the memo. “They have rejected our proposals and refused to counter.”
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos had a thing or two to say about that particular proposal at Bloomberg’s Screentime conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, calling it a “levy” on Netflix’s 230-plus million subscribers that marked “a bridge too far.” The AMPTP had put on the table a “first-of-its-kind success-based residual for High-Budget SVOD productions,” the bargaining entity said Wednesday, similar to what it had offered the WGA.
At almost exactly the same time that Sarandos was on stage, SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland was outside the co-CEO’s home turf at Netflix headquarters, less than a mile away on Sunset Blvd., telling the press from the picket line that the counteroffer simply wouldn’t do.
“Writers work in a totally different economic structure than actors do, and that bonus proposal is limited to only a small number of projects that appear on these platforms,” Crabtree-Ireland told The Hollywood Reporter. “Our proposal from the beginning has been to provide compensation for the contribution that’s made by all of our members on these streaming platforms. And we can’t agree to something that’s structured in the same way that it is for the writers. It just doesn’t work for us.”
Meanwhile, the WGA, DGA, IATSE, AFM, Teamsters and other Hollywood labor groups sent out a joint statement this morning, reaffirming their commitment to solidarity and urging the studios and streamers to come back to the negotiating table.
“Our members work side-by-side for the same handful of employers, and our unions and guilds collectively stand more united than ever,” reads the statement. “Each day a fair contract addressing actors’ unique priorities is delayed is another day working professionals across our industry suffer unnecessarily. At this point, it should be clear to the studios and the AMPTP that more is needed than proposals which merely replicate the terms negotiated with other unions.”
“We collectively demand the AMPTP resumes negotiations in good faith immediately, make meaningful moves at the negotiating table with SAG-AFTRA to address performers’ specific needs, and make the fair deal they deserve.”
The financial hurt to the local economy and Hollywood’s rank-and-file continues to compound, even as some corners of the industry come back to life. Most of the writers I spoke to this week were busy getting back to work in writers rooms, and I’ve gotten wind that some folks are being asked to gear up for pre-production activities, optimistic as that may seem. But production proper cannot start in earnest without front-of-camera talent, and as we approach the traditional holiday quiet period that begins in mid- to late November, there is less and less time to work things out if the town would like production to restart in the new year.
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