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Studios stop negotiations with actors over residuals

by Ohio Digital News

Hollywood may not be getting back to work for a long time, as the studios and striking actors are pointing fingers, amping up the rhetoric and far apart on financial terms. Negotiations between the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, and the studios broke down again on Wednesday night. The halt in negotiations comes after talks had resumed several weeks ago.

The AMPTP, the trade organization that represents studios including Disney, Netflix, and Warner Bros., released a statement late Wednesday night criticizing the latest offer it received from the actors guild. 

“After meaningful conversations, 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 statement read. But it’s difficult to understand how far apart the two sides really are with each accusing the other of distorting the financials of the deal. 

The studios declined to continue negotiations because of the actors guild’s proposal for a “viewership bonus” based on residual payments for streaming the AMPTP said would cost $800 million a year. The AMPTP said they had offered actors a “first-of-its-kind success-based” residual payment for “High-Budget [sic]” streaming productions. 

The actors guild scoffed at such a characterization, calling the AMPTP move to go public a “bully tactic” that had overstated the total cost of their proposal. SAG-AFTRA disputed the $800 million figure, saying it had been inflated by 60% in the AMPTP’s press release, calling it a “bully tactic” in a statement released on X. The actors added that the proposal would only have cost companies around 57 cents per subscriber. 

“The companies are trying to use the same failed strategy they tried to inflict on the WGA—putting out misleading information in an attempt to fool members into abandoning our solidarity and putting pressure on our negotiators,” SAG-AFTRA posted on X. “But just like the writers, our members are smarter than that and won’t be fooled.” 

In August, during the negotiations over the months-long writers strike that stretched out over the summer, the AMPTP released a public statement just minutes after stepping away from the negotiating table.  

Until the recent war of words, the two parties had been negotiating for a little over a week, in an attempt to end the strike, which has gone on for more than three months. Without the actors, studios can’t continue production of ongoing movies and tv shows. Perhaps even more notably, though, as part of their strikes actors won’t engage in any publicity for already completed projects, meaning that Hollywood can’t send its biggest stars on the press tours that gin up excitement for its biggest releases. Some major releases, including the star-studded Dune: Part Two, have already had their year-end releases postponed to early 2024.  

A failure to resolve the strikes in Hollywood represents a genuine risk to the American economy. The combined writers’ and actors’ strikes costs the economy around $5 billion, according to the Milken Institute. This summer alone the dual releases of Barbie and Oppenheimer, which created a marketing bonanza, dragged the summer box office to $4 billion ticket sales. The two movies added around $3.1 billion in consumer spending and international ticket sales over the summer, according to an estimate from Bloomberg Economics. 

One of the main points of contention throughout the process have been residual payments for movies and TV shows that appear on streaming services. Actors have historically not received additional payments for even the most popular content, unlike they would for something that airs on television or is released in movie theaters.  

Another major sticking point has been the use of AI in productions and to what extent it will be allowed to replicate actors’ performances. The proposal the studios released included provisions that would ensure actors not have their performances or likenesses coopted by AI without their express permission. “No Digital Replica of the performer can be used without the performer’s written consent and description of the intended use in the film,” the AMPTP said. 

The actor’s guild sought to contextualize that statement by saying the studios would demand such consent “on the first day of employment.” The replicated performance would then be available for use in ”an entire cinematic universe (or any franchise project),” SAG-ATFRA said. Meaning that giving consent for use of an AI version of a performance could apply to more than one project. 

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