Hollywood Strikes: No End in Sight as Union Leader Calls for Intervention SAG-AFTRA’s
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the national executive director of SAG-AFTRA, has expressed his concerns about the ongoing strikes in the entertainment industry. Speaking during an informal conversation at the Toronto Film Festival, Crabtree-Ireland stated that there are no signs of major Hollywood studios and streaming giants returning to the negotiation table to end the dual strikes anytime soon.
Unfortunately, Crabtree-Ireland reported, “I don’t have anything to report they’re coming back to us. Today is day 57 for our strike, and, no, we don’t have any indication they are willing to come back to the table and talk with us.” The strikes have lasted for nearly two months, leaving both sides at an impasse.
One of the key issues, according to Crabtree-Ireland, is the absence of a decisive figure like Lew Wasserman among the major studios and streamers represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Wasserman, the late head of MCA, was often regarded as the last Hollywood mogul. Without a powerful dealmaker, resolving the actors and writers’ strikes becomes increasingly challenging.
To break the deadlock, Crabtree-Ireland suggested that a coalition of mega-producers, agency heads, and government officials with close connections to the heads of major studios and streamers needed to push the AMPTP representatives back to the negotiating table. This external pressure may be the catalyst needed to restart negotiations.
However, Crabtree-Ireland did not provide a timeline for when the strikes might end or when the AMPTP might return to negotiations with the actors’ union. He mentioned recent back-channel conversations but clarified that they were primarily about the negotiation process itself and not substantive proposals to reach new agreements.
Despite the prolonged strike, Crabtree-Ireland emphasized that SAG-AFTRA’s membership remained steadfast in their support of the union and its bargaining positions. He noted, “Our members’ resolve is firm because they know what we’re fighting for is existential.”
Addressing concerns about interim agreements, Crabtree-Ireland clarified that these agreements were not waivers or special treatment for indie producers who had signed them. He described an interim agreement as “a fancy way of saying these companies have agreed to the deal we had on the table on the last day of bargaining with the studios and streamers.” He argued that if the major studios and streamers had accepted that deal on July 12, there would not have been a strike.
Crabtree-Ireland encouraged SAG-AFTRA members attached to movie projects covered by interim agreements to promote those films at fall festivals, reinforcing the union’s position through their success.
However, some indie producers have entered sales deals with studios or streamers but kept them confidential until the dual strikes are resolved, potentially undermining the interim agreements. Crabtree-Ireland asserted that waiting out the union or refusing to make concessions for workers would not lead to success for the major studios and streamers. “That’s not going to win the day for them,” he emphasized.
Addressing reports that he had been “uncivilized” during the July 12 talks that led to the breakdown of negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP, Crabtree-Ireland admitted, “That’s true.” He noted that the major studios and streamers were reluctant to negotiate with union members who were prepared to go on strike if bargaining did not result in a fair contract. He mentioned that Fran Drescher, a fellow union member, had also expressed her frustrations during the negotiations.
Crabtree-Ireland shed light on the bargaining position of the AMPTP negotiators, describing their strategy as stonewalling and making minimal concessions in the hopes that the union would eventually give in. This approach had further strained the negotiations and prolonged the strike.
One contentious issue raised by Crabtree-Ireland was the AMPTP’s offer to pay background performers for one day of work in exchange for the rights to their digital likeness. He argued that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) was even more concerning when it came to principal performers in franchise movies.
In particular, he highlighted that actors taking minor roles in franchise projects, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, were being asked to agree to a digital replica of themselves being used indefinitely and without their consent or additional compensation. This raised ethical and contractual concerns, and Crabtree-Ireland firmly stated, “Of course, we rejected that.”
In summary, the Hollywood strikes show no signs of ending anytime soon, with the major studios and streamers reluctant to return to the negotiation table. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland stressed the importance of external pressure from influential figures to restart negotiations. While the strikes continue, SAG-AFTRA’s membership remains committed to their cause, and interim agreements are seen as crucial steps to protect workers’ rights and fair compensation in the entertainment industry. The disputes revolve around fundamental issues like digital likeness rights, making resolution challenging but essential for the future of the industry.