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Strike Update: Lots of Hope, But No Deal Yet

There’s an old football adage, “the last few yards are the hardest.” That certainly applies to the current negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP. Going into the weekend, the studios gave the actors union what they referred to as their “last, best and final offer.”

As of this morning, SAG-AFTRA had not responded, having taken the entire weekend to look over the proposal, though some kind of answer is expected today.

The fact that the studios were so hyperbolic about the quality of this latest — and supposedly ultimate — offer, was not lost on those manning the picket lines. Star Trek and American Horror Story star Zachary Quinto told SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher in an Instagram post, “The AMPTP is trying to capitalize on fatigue and harness pressure from the industry at large (agencies and studios especially) to break our resolve and have you and your incredible negotiating committee accept whatever it is they’ve thrown at us and say thank you.”

“Their decision to use ‘last best and final’ language in their most recent counter-proposal,” he continued, “tips their hand and shows that they are relying on intimidation and not fairness to bring this strike to an end.”

That said, there were some forward strides made, especially in the form of basic wage increases. Originally, the studios were offering 5 percent increases in the first year of a new contract, with the union asking for 15, but it appears the two sides have come to a common ground, expected to be in the 8 or 9 percent range. Additionally, the actors’ pie-in-the-sky request for a share of per-subscriber fees has been dropped, though the question of residuals has also been covered and there is word that this issue is likewise close to settled.

The outstanding issue and the biggest holdup to an agreement appears to be guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence. The two sides have grown closer over the course of the negotiations, but they still do not agree on what is and is not acceptable.

The AMPTP apparently put forth an offer that was similar to the one accepted by the WGA in late September — reportedly a looser definition — that didn’t take into proper account the digital replica factor, since actors appear on screen and writers don’t. SAG-AFTRA has brought in intellectual property attorneys to go through the proposal and ensure that the union members are covered.

Meanwhile, as reported last week, the studios are growing increasingly nervous about the 2023-24 television season and their 2024 movie release slates. The companies have lost billions of dollars thus far. With next year’s schedule already having lost major releases to 2025 and, with them, close to $2 billion, there is potentially a great deal more to come if things aren’t resolved quickly.

“It’s funny, over the summer there was this scandal about a studio exec saying they wanted the writers to lose their homes before it was all over,” an anonymous studio exec reported. “That attitude carried over to the actors, but that’s the irony here. The fact of the matter is that we’re the ones hurting. People are losing jobs. They’re scared. They’re not sure what’s going to happen to their careers because of this. Meanwhile, the actors are all banded together and are out on the picket line every day, unbreakable.”

Doubt it? Netflix just laid off more people in their drama and overall deals departments, and companies like Amazon, Warner Bros. Discovery, Disney, ESPN, Paramount, Conde Nast, Spotify, Fifth Season, Vice, Lionsgate and Roku have all been forced to make cutbacks because of the strike.

Expect more news later today, when SAG-AFTRA responds to the “last, best and final” offer with one of its own.

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