WGA Reaches Tentative Deal and Hollywood’s Actors Take Center Stage Amidst Labor Negotiations
Hollywood’s actors are poised to reclaim the spotlight. Following a tentative agreement between screenwriters and major entertainment studios on a new labor deal Sunday night, the industry is on the brink of a resurgence. However, a significant hurdle remains: resolving the strike involving tens of thousands of actors.
Communication between the two parties has been dormant for over two months, with no scheduled talks in sight. While leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, have expressed a willingness to negotiate, the studios strategically prioritized negotiations with the writers in early August. This decision was influenced in part by the impassioned rhetoric of Fran Drescher, the union’s president, who delivered fiery speeches, including one where she criticized studio executives as “medieval-era land barons.”
“After all, the people eventually breach the gates of Versailles,” Ms. Drescher declared in July when the actors’ strike was initiated. “And then, it’s over. We’re at that moment right now.”
Ms. Drescher’s public statements have been more restrained in recent weeks. However, only a resolution with the actors will determine when tens of thousands of industry workers, including camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists, and cinematographers, can return to their jobs.
In a statement on Sunday night, the actors’ union extended congratulations to the Writers Guild of America, which represents over 11,000 screenwriters. They expressed eagerness to review the tentative agreement with the studios while emphasizing their commitment to securing favorable terms for their members.
With a tentative deal secured, the Writers Guild halted picketing. However, actors are set to resume protests on Tuesday after a pause for Yom Kippur on Monday. Actress Frances Fisher, a member of the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee, urged solidarity, stating on Sunday via X (formerly Twitter), “We need everyone on the line Tuesday-Friday. Show us your #Solidarity!”
Numerous Writers Guild members pledged their support for the actors. Amy Berg, a Writers Guild strike captain, affirmed, “I know there’s a huge sign of relief reverberating through the town right now, but it’s not over for any of us until SAG-AFTRA gets their deal,” in a post on X.
However, this support has its limitations. Writers Guild negotiators were unable to secure the contractual right to honor other unions’ picket lines, potentially requiring writers to return to work before a ratification vote is finalized.
It has been 74 days since the actors’ union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing the studios, engaged in talks. This is likely to change soon, given the critical importance of salvaging the 2024 theatrical box office, which is at significant risk if Hollywood cannot resume production within the next month. The window for TV production for the remainder of the year is also narrowing, given the approaching holidays.
Resuming talks with the actors’ union is a more complex endeavor than it may seem. SAG-AFTRA officials will first need time to analyze the deal points achieved by the Writers Guild, as these wins and compromises will shape a new bargaining strategy for the actors. Additionally, discussions between studios and writers only recommenced after behind-the-scenes discussions about the most challenging issues and an assessment of the willingness to negotiate. Studios are likely to adopt a similar approach with the actors.
According to an insider intimately involved in the process, negotiations between actors and the studios may restart as early as next week. This individual spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the strike. Neither SAG-AFTRA nor the studio alliance commented on Monday.
Bobby Schwartz, a partner at Quinn Emanuel and a veteran entertainment lawyer representing major studios, commented, “There’s tremendous pressure on both sides to get this done.” He added, “The deal that the Writers Guild and the studios struck economically could have been worked out in May, June. It didn’t need to go this long. I think the membership of SAG-AFTRA is going to say we’ve been out of work for months, we want to go back to work, we don’t want to be the ones that are keeping everybody else on the sidelines.”
The concurrent strikes by writers and actors, a situation not seen since 1960, have effectively halted TV and film production for months. The repercussions have been substantial, both within and beyond the industry. Governor Gavin Newsom stated that California’s economy alone has incurred losses exceeding $5 billion.
Warner Bros. Discovery recently announced that the labor disputes’ impact would lower its adjusted earnings for the year by $300 million to $500 million. Moreover, share prices for other major media companies like Disney and Paramount have experienced declines in recent months.
However, on Sunday night, the industry took a significant step towards stability with the tentative agreement between writers and studios, effectively concluding a 146-day strike.
While the specific details of the terms have not been disclosed, the agreement encompasses many of the writers’ key demands. This includes enhanced compensation for streaming content, concessions from studios regarding minimum staffing for TV shows, and assurances that artificial intelligence technology will not infringe on writers’ credits and compensation.
In an email to members, the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee expressed pride in the agreement, asserting, “We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership.”
On Monday, President Biden lauded the deal, recognizing it as a step toward enabling writers to resume their crucial work in storytelling.
This prospective writers’ deal is expected to serve as a blueprint for the actors, given the similarities in their demands. Like screenwriters, actors contend that their compensation levels and working conditions have been adversely affected by the rise of streaming. They also share concerns about the potential use of artificial intelligence to create digital likenesses or alter performances without consent or compensation, and seek robust safeguards against such practices.
However, the actors have put forth several demands that the studios have resisted, including a revenue-sharing arrangement for successful streaming shows. Additionally, actors have requested substantial wage increases, including an 11 percent raise in the first year of a new contract, in contrast to the studios’ proposal of a 5 percent raise.
While the entertainment industry anticipated a potential work stoppage by writers from the beginning of the year, the actors’ unexpected determination this past summer caught studio executives off guard.
In June, over 60,000 actors voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike, with 98 percent support — a margin even surpassing the writers’ strike authorization. As negotiations progressed, the studios were presented with a list of demands from the actors. This list totaled 48 pages, nearly three times the size of their requests during the previous contract negotiations in 2020.
During this period of bargaining, more than 1,000 actors, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ben Stiller, signed a letter to guild leadership expressing their preparedness to strike. A little over two weeks later, the union called for a strike.