The months-long Hollywood strikes came to an ultimate conclusion yesterday (Dec. 5) as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG or SAG-AFTRA) voted to ratify its new contract with the studios they fought against. The new contract includes “consent and compensation” protections against artificial intelligence (A.I.), a new compensation model for actors working in streaming, and updated protections against sexual harassment. The guild voted 78 percent in favor, but voter turnout was 38 percent.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the national executive director for SAG, told the Associated Press that he was happy with the turnout and the percentage of votes in favor, calling it “really unprecedented for any kind of contract where it’s not just a unanimous chorus of yeses.” The last SAG vote in 2020 had a turnout of only 27.2 percent, and the one before that in 2017 had only 15.3 percent.
Crabtree-Ireland also commented on the A.I. protections clause in the contract, which was highly contested amongst guild members and ultimately turned some of them from supporting the deal. Critics pointed out that the new contract could create circumstances where studios don’t need consent from actors to involve them in A.I. projects and that there aren’t clearly defined rules around storing the data of an actor’s digital likeness.
Addressing the dissent, Crabtree-Ireland said he is “very mindful” of the concerns and considers them legitimate, but still backed the resulting decision. “I also firmly believe that the approach we took to it and what we achieved in this negotiation were the best possible way to address A.I. at this time with these companies and in this industry,” he said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios like those owned by The Walt Disney Company (DIS) and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), issued its own statement yesterday congratulating SAG on finalizing the deal. “The AMPTP member companies congratulate SAG-AFTRA on the ratification of its new contract, which represents historic gains and protections for performers,” the statement said. “With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force.”
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, a key figure representing large studios during the strikes, was criticized recently for telling the New York Times he believed the Writers Guild of America (WGA) was “right about almost everything” it demanded during the writers’ strike. At the New York Times DealBook Summit last week, he expressed the same view on the actors union’s demands. However, guild members, including SAG president Fran Drescher, believed the studios were trying to outlast the actors, hoping they would give in eventually. “What were they doing? Were they trying to smoke us out?” Drescher told the Associated Press in November. “Well honey, I quit smoking a long time ago.”