On Nov. 8, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced they had reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), bringing an end to actors’ strikes that began in July of this year.
Two weeks later on Nov. 24, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, released the full details of the drafted contracts with the AMPTP, known as the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) draft. The major modifications established in the draft contract included changes regarding wages, streaming services, the minimum number of background actors hired, relocation bonuses, and limits on artificial intelligence, among many other gains as detailed in a report by CBS News.
Under the new contract, general performers will receive an immediate wage increase of 7%, followed by a 4% increase in 2024 and a 3.5% increase in 2025. Background actors, stand-ins and photo doubles will also receive an immediate wage increase of 11%, with the same increases in 2024 and 2025 as general performers. Performers will also gain a bonus for certain successful streaming projects, determined by that project’s proportion of domestic views relative to the platform’s total domestic subscribers. Streaming producers are now required to disclose viewership information each quarter for high budget streaming productions, which aims to increase transparency surrounding fair compensation for actors in these productions. For TV and movie productions on the West Coast, the new contract dictates that the minimum number of background actors be increased to match the requirements in New York. Additionally, performers that are required to relocate for their work in a series will receive a 200% increase in relocation benefits, now being entitled to benefits of $5000 a month for six months.
Other major gains made in the new agreement include provisions for hair and makeup equity. Black actors have long voiced the inequities they’ve experienced in hair and makeup trailers because the hairstylists and makeup artists that were hired did not know how to work with their hair types or did not have makeup in shades that matched their skin tones. The new provisions in the contract aim to address these inequities by providing hair and makeup consultations prior to production to ensure that the proper products are equipped on set. If performers must seek alternatives because the production is unable to provide this, they will be reimbursed. Both the consultation and compensation provisions apply only to principal performers (defined as performers with speaking roles) and not to background actors.
According to the Washington Post, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher described regulations around artificial intelligence (AI) as being “the last and most difficult issues to be resolved” in negotiations with the studios. Its major conflicts were between the union’s determination to gain AI protections for its members and the AMPTP’s unwillingness to “tie their hands” with such regulations. Under the new contract, studios must receive explicit consent from all actors (including background performers) to create digital replicas of a performer’s likeness, and that consent must be given at the time the replica is used. To ensure that actors are being fairly compensated for the use of their digital replicas, the contract establishes a standard for actor compensation that focuses on the amount of work an actor would have done in the place of their digital replica.
The AI stipulations have been a source of controversy among members of the guild, with concerns centered around giving consent for use of digital replicas and potential loopholes in the contract, as reported by Rolling Stone. Those worried about the contract’s AI stipulations argue that while the provisions about specific consent seem good on paper, it creates a new kind of issue about the coercion of performers who do not wish to be digitized by studios. Shaan Sharma, an alternate member of the union’s negotiating committee voiced his fear that while certain individuals with enough leverage in the industry will be able to deny the use of their digital replicas and still land roles, consent could potentially be used by studios as “the fee for entry,” as Sharma describes it, for others in the industry. In other words, studios could refuse to hire performers for certain roles unless they consent to be digitized. Actors are also concerned about what they should do if studios use their image in ways they did not consent to. Based on the new contract, they could seek monetary compensation from the studios, but they would still be powerless in making the studios alter that footage, creating a potential loophole that Sharma fears would leave performers vulnerable.
The deal SAG-AFTRA reached with AMPTP is a major victory for the union, proving the effectiveness of the summer’s historic strikes. With that being said, some of the contract’s provisions provide unequal protections for different types of performers, highlighting disparities in vulnerability within the union. In a note to guild members, Crabtree-Ireland urged members to support the new contract, emphasizing that the gains made in the contract “are only possible because of your sacrifice, solidarity and tenacity over the 118 days of the strike and are assured if you vote to ratify the agreement.” The new contract will not be approved until members vote to ratify the draft MOA by Dec. 5.