Festival Movie Buyers Must Agree to New SAG-AFTRA Contract

Movie distributors headed to this year’s fall film festivals hoping to buy select star-studded indie films must be prepared to agree to new contract terms from SAG-AFTRA, the union’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said Tuesday.

During a broad press conference on the topic of SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements program — under which some movies and TV projects can shoot or engage in publicity during the ongoing strike — Crabtree-Ireland confirmed what many in the indie film world have been sweating over for weeks. If a film has received a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement, any potential buyer must agree to the union’s proposed new deal. This includes a chunk of streaming revenue for actors. Parties on all sides of the labor strike fear this will deter buyers from acquiring these movies, especially the big-spending streamers, sources told Variety over the past weeks.

“The contract contains assumption provisions which require any party that acquires rights under that collective bargaining agreement to assume the obligation to pay the residuals that are required by the contract,” the executive said.

Sales agents and talent reps have been anxious about this possibility as festivals in Toronto, Telluride and Venice approach — events that usually see some market activity around their official movie selections or with projects that travel to these cities to screen for buyers on the ground. It’s made some wonder what an interim agreement is worth in this context.

Take a project like Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” which was granted a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement allowing stars Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz to attend its world premiere at late August’s Venice Film Festival. That film already has distribution in Oscar winning studio Neon. As a hypothetical, say it was for sale. Red carpet photo-ops and handshakes from Driver and Cruz go a long way in generating audience buzz and sales chatter — but acquisition-happy companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple would have to commit to a contract they are openly battling via the AMPTP (Neon is not a member of the alliance).

Crabtree-Ireland did note that if and when SAG-AFTRA reaches a new deal with the AMPTP, the current interim agreements will “merge” with whatever the final agreement looks like. In the meantime, one representative to an emerging director said on the condition of anonymity, “half the buyers will be off the table this fall.” Crabtree-Ireland addressed this in his virtual Tuesday conference.

He acknowledged rumors that streamers won’t acquire content that’s subject to the interim agreement, and that what those companies have been “most resistant to is our streaming revenue share proposal. In my opinion, because they don’t want to share.”

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