SAG-AFTRA and Studios Extend Talks to July 12

SAG-AFTRA and the studios will keep talking beyond the midnight Friday contract deadline, as they remain at odds on issues like streaming residuals and artificial intelligence.

The union has agreed to extend the contract to July 12. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and SAG-AFTRA made the announcement in a joint statement just before 7 p.m. Friday.

In a message to its membership, SAG-AFTRA said the leadership had decided unanimously to extend the contract “in order to exhaust every opportunity to achieve the righteous contract we all demand and deserve.”

“No one should mistake this extension for weakness,” the union leaders said. “We see you. We hear you. We are you.”

The two sides are expected to meet again on Saturday, though it’s possible they will take a few days off after that for the holiday.

Negotiations have been underway since June 7, and the two sides have exchanged proposals and had lengthy meetings in the last few days. But sources have said they remain far apart on several key issues.

The union, which represents 160,000 performers, could still call a strike if the talks break down.

In a letter this week, more than 1,000 members urged union leaders to call a strike if they cannot achieve a “transformative deal.”

In a video message last weekend, union president Fran Drescher said the talks had been “extremely productive,” and promised to reach a “seminal” agreement.

SAG-AFTRA is seeking extensive AI protections and a streaming residual formula that would pay a bonus for top-performing shows. The guild is also looking to shore up its pension and health plans, which were forced to dramatically raise eligibility requirements during the pandemic.

Many SAG-AFTRA members have already joined the Writers Guild of America on the picket lines in a show of solidarity. The WGA has been on strike for nearly two months, and an actors’ strike would halt almost all scripted film and TV production that has not already been shut down by the writers.

Some low-budget independent productions could be granted permission to continue. But much overseas production — which has been largely spared by the writers strike — would shut down.

It is not unusual for SAG-AFTRA negotiations to stretch out a few days past the deadline. In both 2014 and 2017, the negotiators extended the talks for three additional days.

In this case, SAG-AFTRA had a short window to negotiate — just three weeks and two days. The talks typically take at least a full month, and sometimes longer. The union negotiators also came to the table with an unusually long agenda.

SAG-AFTRA has not called a strike on its basic film and TV contract since 1980. That strike lasted 94 days. Then as now, a key issue was residual payments.

The union has proposed using Parrot Analytics, a third-party data firm, to measure the success of shows, with the most popular shows generating a higher residual. The studios, represented by the AMPTP, has resisted that idea. The studios have also refused to base compensation on their own viewership metrics, which are considered proprietary and are not shared with creators.

The union is not seeking to ban the use of AI to generate performances. But it is seeking to require that any use of an actors’ image and likeness be done with that actor’s permission and with pay. The union is also seeking to restrict AI training.

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