“The Digital Age Is Cannibalizing Us” – The Hollywood Reporter

The story behind Hollywood’s largest union calling for its first strike in four decades is starting to come into focus.

SAG-AFTRA’s decision Thursday to order a strike by some 160,000 members — from Hollywood stars to background actors — made history by creating the first dual strike by both performers and writers since 1960. Writers have been without writers since the Writers Guild of America walked out of their own labor negotiations on May 2. Beyond the entertainment business impact, the 100-day 2007-2008 writers’ strike cost California’s economy $2.1 billion — and this dual labor strike will undoubtedly multiply that amount.

As the smoke began to clear on Thursday, union president Fran Tresher and chief negotiator and national managing director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland discussed in an interview how they got to this point and the stakes involved. After the SAG-AFTRA press conference, the two spoke The Hollywood Reporter The issues the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers agreed on during negotiations, the topics that divided them, and why Drescher believes “the whole world is watching us.”

You both sent a video to SAG-AFTRA members in late June where you said the negotiations have been “very productive” so far. What has changed in the negotiating room between then and now?

Fran Drescher: Well, a reality check because it was early on and we thought we were making progress on peripheral issues. But when we tried to get into the spiral of what our concerns were, we started getting stoned. They didn’t even do what they did in 2020 to accept our request to change the contract to accommodate the current business model and respect the contributions of our members, but we started to notice what they were doing. Inflation should be created today and for the next three years. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. But, you know, it became clear that there was a lot of resistance and resentment, like we didn’t have the right to get what we deserved. We are not major contributors to this industry. We are somehow subservient and unimportant. Statements were made on the other side that we were constantly writing on white boards to remind us that these people were presenting themselves. It’s not good.

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What do you see as the biggest sticking point at this point? What issues are you still running into with AMPTP?

Treasurer: I think the whole world is watching us now as humans at various levels are being replaced by robots. And the eyes of the world and certainly the workers in this country are watching what is happening here. Putting barriers around artificial intelligence is critical because it’s going to put people out of work. It’s already putting our members out of work, it’s crazy. what are you doing Why do this? Because it’s a little cheaper or a little easier, but it’s unconscionable. If you do it at the risk of people’s livelihoods…everyone has the right to work. I saw a little box running around Santa Monica delivering stuff and my heart broke because I thought, he made money on a bicycle. Why should someone be fired? What is wrong with them? This is not normal.

Crabtree-Ireland: Yes, according to Fran, AI security is an important issue on which we still disagree. Also, only base minimum wage increases: Their proposal would require our members to work more in 2023 than they did in 2020 in real dollar terms, and that would continue for the entire term of the contract. That’s not right. It’s really outrageous that companies expect our members to do that. In addition, Fran says, there has been a sea change in the business model in the industry. We had a very reasonable proposal to address that by taking a small percentage of subscription revenue from streaming. The companies refused to engage in it and refused to discuss it during the entire course of negotiations. For 35 days, there has been no major discussion, even though we have told them that it is a top priority. So the engagement you’d expect from someone trying to make a deal isn’t really there.

Where did you all come to an agreement with AMPTP, come to tentative agreements?

Crabtree-Ireland: I mean, there are a lot of things we agree on. An example [is] They agreed to a plan to include Martin Luther King Day and Juneteenth as holidays in our contract. You know, Martin Luther King Day should have been a holiday a long time ago, and I’m glad they finally dropped their opposition to that proposal in the past. We have a few other provisions that have tentative agreements that relate to aspects of certain proposals. For example, we have some tentative contracts on some aspects of self-tape casting and things like that. But there are big, important parts of it where we disagree. Take, for example, all the work we’ve done on our self-tape casting project – there’s been a lot of progress, apart from their constant insistence that it all be in an honor system. They insist on a clause that says it is not subject to any grievance or arbitration, meaning there is no way to enforce it, and therefore agree to self-taped defenses that are more like a wish and hope than an actual promise. It doesn’t really do the trick.

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Where did SAG source the talks? Where did you say, OK, we can compromise on this particular issue?

Crabtree-Ireland: Well, we have withdrawn many of our proposals. For example, we had a plan to add additional compensation for theatrical re-releases of a theatrical motion picture that would be re-released after its entire initial run. And that happens, and that makes a lot of money, and if our members are in any of those programs, they feel like they should be compensated for that. The studios refused, and in the interest of trying to move things forward, we withdrew the project. This is an example of how we moved in the direction of many propositions. But apparently, those moves in their direction were not really appreciated or responded to.

Treasurer: And getting an extension of 12 days is unprecedented in this union. We did it in good faith; They didn’t come back with anything. They cheated us by saying that they should keep promoting their summer movies for 12 more days. They went behind closed doors. They kept canceling our appointments with them. It was really both inspiring and depressing.

Last question: A double strike in this industry will have far-reaching implications for many workers in the business who are not participating in these contract negotiations. What is your message to people who are not members of SAG-AFTRA and will be affected by the dual strike?

Treasurer: Trust me, that’s why we did the extension. Because it affects us a lot. We have compassion for everyone and we realize what this is going to do. Many Americans save no more than $500. But how can we continue with an agreement that is so disrespectful and disrespectful? No labor is in that direction [group] Must be moving in this nation. Someone has to draw the line and bring every other labor force behind us, and we’re the best, and often the most suspect, because we’re the elite people. It’s people like you who make us talk about these grievances that happen everywhere. We will talk to you. And we serve a purpose beyond our own interests. Because what happens here, what happens now is going to have a reverberating effect. Its tentacles are going to reach all corners of the earth.

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This is very, very important. The digital age is cannibalizing us. It takes over without any kind of thinking or advanced thinking – nothing, and it gets out of control. While they are now crying poverty they only see the prospect of money and valuations of the future of their business. And no one asked us if it was going to get better. We’re seeing each show cut down to six episodes — and that’s one season now? Sorry, when I did nanny, we did 28 episodes while predicting eyeballs and ad dollars and longevity. Well, that’s not the case anymore. A major hit is a streak that spans four years, most of which are three years if they win or drop out in the first 10 years. How do you make money doing it? How do you make a living doing that? Most of these are traveling actors who are hard workers trying to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, and put their kids through school. It’s insane that they are so insensitive to people that they improve their artistry. What are they without us?

Crabtree-Ireland: Did you mention the double strike? The last time SAG or AFTRA and the Writers Guild went on strike simultaneously was in 1960. It was that strike that led to the establishment of the health plan, the pension plan and, notably, the residuals. So sometimes such strikes become necessary to protect the basic needs of our members. That’s why we’re there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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