Like amazing writers, the leaders of the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA described their labor feud in stark terms, calling the present moment “existential” for their members.
And like the writers, they argue, this has quickly approached crisis because of how streaming entertainment has exploded over the past decade.
“We look forward to making sure that acting can be a sustainable career choice for people, not just the world’s top 100 celebrities, but for all of our membership,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for the union, said in a recent interview. “They should be able to make a living and you know, pay the mortgage or pay the rent like everyone else.”
The actors raised a number of grievances, including regulations on self-recorded experiments, a pandemic phenomenon that has led to fewer live sessions.
But the primary issues were related to compensation, as well as the use of artificial intelligence. The union argued that actor compensation—particularly residuals, a type of royalty payment—has been “severely eroded” in recent years. In the old system, if a TV series was a massive hit, the actors could expect large leftover checks to hit their bank account for years afterward. In the age of broadcasting, actors say, the pie has gotten smaller, and so have checks.
“We are primarily interested in making sure that our members are involved in the success of the projects they create,” said Mr Crabtree-Ireland.
The actors also have major concerns about artificial intelligence, and how the technology can be used to replicate their performances using their previous work without compensating or consulting them.
Tara Cole, an attorney at entertainment law firm Johnson Shapiro Silhouette & Cool, which represents actors like Emma Watson and Ashley Judd, said in an interview that the potential use of artificial intelligence was “terrifying” for the actors.
“I think that’s the intractable issue,” Ms. Cole said. It’s an existential feeling that people don’t understand. It’s new. it’s scary. Everyone is worried that all of a sudden they’re going to be in a sequel to a movie and not get paid for their work.”
Chief negotiator Mr. Crabtree Ireland said of AI, “We have a real interest in making sure that something significant is done about it, so that we don’t try to fix it retroactively three years from now. It has to be done now.”
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture Film Producers and Television Producers, which is negotiating on behalf of the studios, said early Thursday morning that they were offering “historic salary and residual raises,” and made a “groundbreaking” proposal for artificial intelligence that “protects actors with digital likeness.”
“Instead of continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has set us on a course that will deepen the financial hardships of the thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods,” the studios said.
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