SAG-AFTRA leadership reveals details of new contract

SAG-AFTRA leadership have unveiled specific deal points in this week’s tentative agreement with AMPTP.

By Jeremy Kay 13 Nov 2023

SAG-AFTRA leadership reveals details of new contract
Fran Drescher; Cr: Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Speaking to press inside SAG-AFTRA Plaza in mid-city Los Angeles on Friday (November 10), national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the new deal will bring more than $1bn in wage rises and benefit plan funding.

Terms include a 7%-4%-3.5% minimum pay increase through 2026, informed consent and fair compensation for the creation and use of digital replicas of performers, and a streaming bonus valued at $120m over three years which involves a new fund to compensate performers for streaming exhibition in additional to traditional residuals.

The three-year TV and theatrical contract is effective during the ratification period through June 30 2026, and is retroactive upon ratification. 

It includes increased relocations allowances, protections for background actors and stunt performers, and requirements over intimacy coordinators, hair and make-up work, and performance capture.

Crabtree-Ireland listed the deal points and expressed his gratitude to union president Fran Drescher, the negotiating committee, strike captains and sister unions and guilds in the United States and around the world.

His comments followed lengthy opening remarks by Drescher, who displayed the fire and passion that has come to define her oratory over the duration of the four-month strike.

Drescher recounted her working class origins and talked about the power of women leaders, Hollywood legend Bela Lugosi’s union activity in decades gone by, the heart-shaped plush toy given to her by a young girl which she used for emotional support throughout the negotiations, her medical diagnosis of stress, and the see-sawing emotions among the negotiating team.

Noting “the secret sauce” of ”time and patience”, Drescher said of the studios and streamers: “We deflected their intimidation tactics. They had to acknowledge that we were demanding respect… We began this negotiation the largest entertainment union in the world and we finish it the most powerful.”

After the strike began on July 14 talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) did not resume until October 3. At the end, Drescher said the deal-breakers for the union were AI protections (specifically in relation to generative AI creating synthetic performers) and a new fund to compensate performers for streaming exhibition – both of which it achieved.

“They needed to meet the moment,” Drescher said after AMPTP rejected the union’s initial 2% and then 1% proposal of revenue share and the subsequent ask that the studios and streamers pay 57 cents per global subscriber. “They heard that something had to be done or this was not going to end well.”

Minimum wage increase

Terms include a 7%-4%-3.5% general minimum wage increase through 2026 which comprises two wage increases in the first year of the contract – 7% upon ratification and another 4% increase effective July 1 2024 – resulting in a compounded first-year increase of 11.28%.

Crabtree Ireland said the minimum wage increase breaks the industry pattern. Directors Guild of America settled for 5% on July 1 2023, 4% on July 1 2024, and 3.5% on July 1 2025. Writers Guild of America agreed to 5%-4%-3.5%. SAG-AFTRA initially demanded 11% in the first year and AMPTP initially countered with 5%.

Streaming bonus

The streaming participation bonus structure will generate around $40m a year or $120m over three years. The top 20% of films and series based on their first 90 days on a platform will produce a 100% bonus for actors from those shows based on their current residuals.

That incoming money will be split 75-25 with 75% going to the actors on the show while the 25% balance will be distributed via the fund to union members. The studio or streamer and the union will jointly manage the fund.

AI protections

The union has secured informed consent and fair compensation for the creation and use of digital replicas of performers, whether living or deceased, whether created on-set or licensed by a third-party.

This means the Hollywood companies seeking consent from performers or their estates must provide a reasonable description of what the intended use of the digital replica will be, and consent must be obtained at the time of use, except in the case of multi-film deals.

Compensation depends on what type of digital replica is involved and is designed to pay the performer for the amount of work she or he would have earned doing the work done by the replica. Payments for replicas licensed by a third-party are negotiable.

Background actors are protected from any use of their digital replica without their consent, and positions that are called for to be covered work by background actor will be performed by background actors. No use of a digital replica can be used to avoid paying a background actor.

Crabtree-Ireland explained that the final piece of AI protection secured on the last day of talks concerned the use of generative AI to create synthetic fake performers.

Hollywood companies must attain the consent of performers whose features are used to create a composite, synthetic performer. Companies must give notice whenever they use generative AI to create a synthetic performer, and the union can negotiate compensation for performers whose features are used to make a synthetic performer.

Addressing the 14% of national board members who voted against the tentative deal, Crabtree-Ireland noted that some members wanted the union to achieve every one of its demands. The executive said he had been part of negotiating teams on a number of occasions and the process inevitably involved give-and take by both aides, adding that SAG-AFTRA achieved many gains including the key points of streaming bonus and AI protections.

Key deal points appear below.

SAG-AFTRA said the new three-year deal achieves more than $1bn in new wages and benefit plan funding. This includes:

  • A new fund to compensate performers for streaming exhibition in additional to traditional residuals;
  • background actor wages increases of 11% effective immediately followed by an additional 4% wage increase effective July 1 2024, and a 3.5% increase effective July 1 2025;
  • 7% general wage increase effective immediately, followed by 4% effective on July 1 2024, and a 3.5% increase effective on July 1 2025;
  • increase in number of covered positions for background actors in West Coast zones, equalling for the first time the East Coast zones, which is projected to create 10,700 additional days of covered employment for background actors annually;
  • “substantial improvements” to relocations allowances for series performers covering $5,000 per month for up to six months, marking a 200% increase in maximum benefit;
  • “new and very meaningful protections” for the self-tape audition process;
  • proper hair and make-up services for all performers;
  • informed consent and fair compensation for the creation and use of digital replicas of performers, whether living or deceased, whether created on-set or licensed by a third-party;
  • increased to benefit plan caps for episodic work which are expected to generate more than $180m for the benefit plans;
  • language explicitly covering performance capture work;
  • “outsized gains’ for traditional formulas for high-budget streaming VoD residuals including “substantial” increases in compensation for foreign exhibition and increases to the residuals ceilings;
  • new minimums established by applying television terms for high-budget made-for AVoD programming;
  • for the first time a requirement to engage intimacy coordinators for scenes involving nudity or simulated sex;
  • new fixed residuals eligibility for stunt coordinators and “outsized increases” for stunt coordinators working under flat deal minimums in television, bringing them closer to equivalent measures for those working in film;
  • increased transparency which includes limitations, a separate rider, a separate check requirement, and required higher compensation for anyone who will receive advanced payment of residuals for television and new media productions; and
  • double pay for actors who sing and singers who act, so performing the other specialty will bring additional compensation.

This story originally appeared on our sister site Screen

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