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Hollywood studios break off strike talks with actors, who slam 'bullying tactics'

Publish Date
Fri, 13 Oct 2023, 2:39PM
Picketers carry signs on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. Photo / AP
Picketers carry signs on the picket line outside Netflix on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. Photo / AP

Hollywood studios break off strike talks with actors, who slam 'bullying tactics'

Publish Date
Fri, 13 Oct 2023, 2:39PM

Talks bitterly broke off between Hollywood actors and studios late Wednesday, killing any hopes that the three-month strike by performers would come to an end anytime soon. 

The studios announced that they had suspended contract negotiations, saying the gap between the two sides was too great to make continuing worth it, despite an offer they said was as good as the one that recently ended the writers strike. The actors union decried their opponents' "bullying tactics" and said they were wildly mischaracterizing their offers. 

"We made big moves in their direction that have just been ignored and not responded to," Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the national executive director and chief negotiator for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists had resumed negotiations, told The Associated Press on a Los Angeles picket line Thursday. "We're not going to find a solution to this if they just leave and don't talk to us." 

On Oct. 2, for the first time since the strike began July 14, SAG-AFTRA had resumed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, streaming services and production companies in strike talks. 

When negotiations resumed with writers last month, their strike ended five days later, but similar progress was not made with the actors union. 

The studios walked away from talks after seeing the actors' most recent proposal on Wednesday. 

"It is clear that the gap between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA is too great, and conversations are no longer moving us in a productive direction," the AMPTP said in a statement. 

The SAG-AFTRA proposal would cost companies an additional $800 million a year and create "an untenable economic burden," the statement said. 

In a letter to members sent early Thursday, SAG-AFTRA said that figure was overestimated by 60%. 

"We went into those rooms with our own open mind and a goal of establishing a dialogue with those CEOs. We were very happy they were there because here are ultimate decision-makers who have the power to say yes," Crabtree-Ireland said. "We gave them a full set of counterproposals yesterday. We made changes to our AI proposal. We made dramatic changes to what used to be our streaming revenue share proposal. We took it out of revenue share completely at their insistence." 

The union said its negotiators were "profoundly disappointed" the studios had broken off talks. 

"We have negotiated with them in good faith," the letter read, "despite the fact that last week they presented an offer that was, shockingly, worth less than they proposed before the strike began." 

Actors have been on strike over issues including increases in pay for streaming programming and control of the use of their images generated by artificial intelligence. 

The AMPTP insisted its offers had been as generous as the deals that brought an end to the writers strike and brought a new contract to the directors guild earlier this year. 

But the union letter to actors said the companies "refuse to protect performers from being replaced by AI, they refuse to increase your wages to keep up with inflation, and they refuse to share a tiny portion of the immense revenue YOUR work generates for them." 

"There is a laundry list of gaslighting that's going on in the way this is being communicated by them," Crabtree-Ireland said. "It's not how you treat someone with respect in negotiations. It's pressure tactics and bullying." 

Actors and writers showed up to picket outside of the Netflix offices on Thursday. They were joined by Crabtree-Ireland and other SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee members who shared words of encouragement and resilience with their fellow union members. 

"We're all sticking together," said Cisco Reyes, a member since 1999, outside Netflix. "Our negotiators are not just settling for less." 

Individuals on the picket lines still remained hopeful that they will win and reach a future agreement with the AMPTP. 

"There's a little bit of anger, there's a little bit of frustration, but there's a lot of hope coming out here at the picket line," actor Romel De Silva, a member since 2012, said Thursday outside Paramount Studios. "It's important for us to be out here every single day and show them that we're not backing down." 

From the start, the actors talks had nothing like the momentum that spurred marathon night-and-weekend sessions in the writers strike and brought that work stoppage to an end. Actors and studios had taken several days off after resuming, and there were no reports of meaningful progress despite direct involvement from the heads of studios including Disney and Netflix as there had been in the writers strike. 

The writers did have their own false start in negotiations, however. A month before the successful talks, the initial attempt to restart ended after just a few days. 

Members of the Writers Guild of America voted almost unanimously to ratify their new contract on Monday. WGA leaders touted their deal as achieving most of what they had sought when they went on strike nearly five months earlier. They declared their strike over, and sent writers back to work, on Sept. 26. 

Some WGA members went back to the picket lines Thursday in solidarity with the actors, including Tommy Pico, a member since 2020 who remembered the support from actors when writers went on strike first. Pico said that the AMPTP could put an end to the strike "right now." 

"They absolutely have the ability, they have the means, they have the opportunity and they are not," Pico said. "I feel like it's a power move." 

Late-night talk shows have returned to the air, and other shows including "Saturday Night Live" will soon follow. But with no actors, production on scripted shows and movies will stay on pause indefinitely. 

"Whatever differences we have are only going to get resolved by talking to each other," Crabtree-Ireland said. "We're ready. We're at the table. All they have to do is come back." 

___ 

-ANDREW DALTON, AP Entertainment Writer 

Associated Press journalist Leslie Ambriz contributed reporting. 

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