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The SAG-AFTRA national board approved its new contract with the major studios with an 86% approval vote, sending it to membership for ratification.
The official approval was announced by the guild at a press conference Friday afternoon, which finally got started at around 3:20 p.m. after an 80-minute delay. SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and members of the union’s contract negotiating committee were present at union headquarters to announce the terms. The full details of the contract will be distributed on Monday.
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“This victory is everyone’s victory,” said Crabtree-Ireland at the start of the conference.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, said it, too, was “pleased” by the board vote.
“We are also grateful that the entire industry has enthusiastically returned to work,” the AMPTP said.
The ratification process will get underway next week, and will include member meetings to go over the terms of the deal. The ratification vote will conclude on Dec. 5.
At the press conference, SAG-AFTRA officials acknowledged they did not get everything they were looking for in the negotiation. The union did not get a share of streaming revenue, which Drescher had made her top priority.
“This is an ongoing, living thing — a contract,” Drescher said. “And we’re not over. We’re only just beginning.”
The deal includes a 7% raise in most minimums, a percentage that “breaks the industry pattern” per Crabtree-Ireland. It also includes more than $1 billion in new wages and benefit plan funding over three years, and a new $40 million residual bonus.
The union wanted the full $40 million to go into a fund that would be distributed to a broad range of performers. But the studios would allow only 25% — roughly $10 million — to go into the fund. The remainder will go to the cast of streaming shows that reach a certain benchmark of success.
Crabtree-Ireland said that getting the studios to agree to the fund was one of the last elements that helped close the deal.
Additionally, the guild announced guardrails against the use of artificial intelligence, though it allows AI to be used to create “digital replicas” if actors are paid and give their permission.
“For me, the whole thing, the weight of it all, was extremely stressful,” Drescher said about the lengthy negotiations. “We went to the press and said, ‘What are they doing? What are they waiting for? Are they trying to smoke us out?’ Well honey, I quit smoking a long time ago. So I think they finally realized they were facing a new kind of leadership in me and Duncan.”
Drescher also highlighted the importance of addressing AI in the negotiations, which was one of the final items agreed upon during the contract negotiations: “If we didn’t get that package, then what are we doing? We’re not really able to protect our members in the way that they needed to be protected… If we didn’t get those barricades, what would it be in three years?”
Crabtree-Ireland also discussed several other deal points, including an 11% increase for background actors, who will see their daily rate rise from $187 to $207.
The deal also includes the first increases in contribution caps for the pension and health plan in 40 years, which is expected to generate $180 million over three years.
Series performers will also get a maximum relocation allowance of $5,000 per month, an effective increase of 153%, according to the union.
The deal also increases the number of background actors who must be hired on union terms on the West Coast to equal the number in New York. On a TV show in L.A. or other West Coast cities, only the first 22 background actors on any project are covered by the contract. The new agreement will step that up to the New York level of 25. (On features, the L.A. minimum has been 57, while in New York it is 85.)
The deal also includes an eight-page limit for self-taped auditions, which increases to 12 pages for callbacks. Actors must get their script pages at least 48 hours before the submission deadline. There are also provisions requiring hair and makeup for diverse performers and intimacy coordinators for scenes involving nudity or simulated sex.
The deal also eliminates “inappropriate wiggings and paintdowns,” according to the union, and includes access to gender-affirming care and translation services.
The tentative agreement, reached on Wednesday, put an end to the union’s 118-day strike, the longest actors strike in Hollywood history. Actors were allowed to return to work on Thursday.
The union’s membership has to approve the contract by a majority vote, though that is expected to be a formality.
The negotiating committee recommended the pact with unanimous thumbs-up, marking a rare example of unity among SAG-AFTRA’s many factions at a time of change for the industry.
Led by Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland, the deal was negotiated on and off from early October until a final marathon push over the past two weeks.
The pressure was heightened as the clock ticks down on 2023. The industry is now engaged in a mad scramble to get movies finished for next year’s summer blockbuster season, and to get TV series up and running before the winter and new year holiday break hits in December.
Drescher has emerged as a face and distinctive voice of the resurgent labor movement in sectors across the country. On Friday, Drescher offered a number of pearls of “Buddhist wisdom,” as she described during her more than 40 minutes at the microphone. Among the highlights:
On actors desire to work: “When I started out as a working actress, I was very proud to be a member of SAG. I would get a job and then when I qualified I would go on unemployment. But when I went on the employment and I had to fill out the government forms, you know we never really fit into that because they would say, ‘How far are you willing to travel to get to your job’ and I write ‘The ends of the earth?’ Or they’d say ‘What is you the least amount you are willing to accept for a salary’ and I would write zero or ‘I would pay them’ so they you knew that I would rather be working than on unemployment, and that was the God’s honest truth.”
On how she shouldered her leadership responsibilities: “The whole thing was extremely stressful. Many times I had to stay home on Zoom and lead in my bathrobe because it was just so stressful. And going into the room with the AMPTP and everything — it was a lot. So if I could be home with my dog, it was helpful.”
On facing public scrutiny, including anecdotal reports of her bringing a plushie toy to the negotiating room: “I have never been in this position before but attacking the woman leader, trying to discredit her, making me out to be either overly aggressive or overly frivolous when they never said about Duncan in the room, was something that I have never quite experienced before, it’s low hanging fruit. And a boy that I think should be beneath anyone. But I shared Buddha’s Wisdom with them in the room. I tried to put it into the context of the importance of what we were doing, the enormity of what we were discussing that didn’t end in this room, but actually was going to impact all of humanity. And yes, I even had a little heart-shaped plushie toy that a little girl gave to me to give me confidence. And I said I was going to keep it with me through this whole thing and in turn keep her with me too. but they weaopanized all that to discredit me. And what I did was turn it around into a movement for women and girls, because I don’t have to emulate male energy to lead. I can lead with have to emulate male energy to lead. I can lead with intellect. I can lead with wisdom. I can lead with empathy. I can lead with morality. I can have a plushie toy with me and I can lead and I can still rock a red lip.”
On lighter moments amid the bargaining process: “The idea that there was some kind of extreme contentiousness in the room — that really wasn’t the case. Sometimes we actually shared a laugh that had nothing to do with the negotiation and it came as a as a great reprieve and relief. Sometimes we would talk about, the shows we’re all enjoying on the streaming platforms. I said to Ted [Sarandos] ‘Don’t ever take off ‘The Great British Baking Show’ and he said ‘I never will.'”
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