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Morale following the breakdown of the negotiations between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and SAG-AFTRA on Wednesday evening seemed depleted as actors and supporters walked back and forth in front of Hollywood studios, carrying “SAG-AFTRA on Strike!” signs that have been omnipresent at company entrances over the past three months.
Outside of Netflix in Hollywood, there was a lively, crowded atmosphere with DJ Evan Shafran spinning tunes, while multiple members of the negotiating committee were present. Duncan-Crabtree-Ireland gave a short speech, while “one day longer/one day stronger” chants rang through the air.
Presence at studios like Amazon, Sony, Disney (which hosted a pumpkin carving and bracelet-making station) and Warner Bros., however, seemed more muted than on many other days: no bulging crowds spilling into the streets, and fewer food and coffee trucks than before. It was comedy day on the Warner Bros. picket line. There were comedians taking turns doing bits in the shade, but unfortunately, it didn’t seem to lighten the mood. Cars honked in solidarity as picketers marched at Amazon, with songs like Nena’s “99 Luftballons” blasting through the speakers.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, several actors said they feel “disheartened,” “sad,” “deflated” or “disappointed” with Wednesday’s news, after the AMPTP stated that the gap between the parties was “too great” to continue bargaining. “It’s a rough day for everyone,” said one actress who didn’t want to give her name.
However, many of the actors did not seem surprised at the outcome. “I’ve been following [what happened] with the WGA and we know they’ve been going back and forth with the AMPTP as well, and we know how greedy they’ve been and reluctant on giving everyone a fair deal right now,” actor Davis Noir (I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson) told THR at the Netflix picket line.
“Everybody was really hopeful that this was going to be the end, but no, I wasn’t surprised [considering] the way that talks went at the beginning of the strike,” Adam Shapiro (Never Have I Ever, She Said) said. “We’re actors. The threat of losing our houses, that’s already what it’s like being an actor. We’re hustlers, this is what we do. If we’ve got to be out here another month to be paid fairly and to be valued the way that we should be? Then that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Early Thursday morning, SAG-AFTRA shot back at the AMPTP, telling members that the studios walked away from talks with the union and accusing them of using “bully tactics.” “These companies refuse to protect performers from being replaced by AI, they refuse to increase your wages to keep up with inflation, and they refuse to share a tiny portion of the immense revenue YOUR work generates for them,” the union’s negotiating committee wrote to members.
“It’s easy to get discouraged and disheartened, it’s easy to lose hope, it’s easy to fall into anger,” Sol Marina Crespo (New Amsterdam) told THR on the picket lines outside Amazon Studios in Culver City. “But part of what makes artists artists is resiliency and the fact that this is what we love to do, and nothing is going to stop us from doing that. Here we are, day 91, they made a deal with WGA and so it’s also like, ‘Is this a tactic? Is it not?’ But honestly, we don’t have time for that. We’ve lost so much work, a lot of money, a lot of people out of work.” Crespo added, “I think we’re sort of licking our wounds a little bit, but you know, it’s a normal response to have. Things felt like they were going so well. And it’s just not what we hoped for.”
Geoffrey Blake (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), added: “[Morale] is not great [today]! This is about half of what we see [usually], so by announcing their letter, I hope it doesn’t decrease morale. I think that’s the intention. I think this is the time not to get dejected, this is the time to fire up.”
Writers Guild of America West board member Dailyn Rodriguez, who was picketing in solidarity with the actors union at Disney on Thursday, said the AMPTP’s approach with SAG-AFTRA felt familiar. “It’s very similar to what they did to our negotiating committee in early August,” she said. “They released their terms, SAG-AFTRA comes back and says no, they’re exaggerating them, that’s not exactly what happened, these are the real terms. It’s the same playbook that we’ve seen.” Rodriguez is the showrunner on Netflix’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and the writers room is already back up and running but didn’t start until late morning, allowing people to join SAG on the picket line and the writers to not cross picket lines, as their writers room is not on a studio lot.
The announcement of a break in talks came after the fifth day of negotiations between the union and studios and streamers since SAG-AFTRA initially went on strike July 14. During the renewed negotiations, which took place at SAG-AFTRA’s Los Angeles headquarters and which were attended by studio heads including Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Disney’s Bob Iger, NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley and Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav, the union’s streaming revenue proposal remained a major sticking point.
“I was sad to see them break down,” Daniel Franzese, perhaps best known for his turn in comedy classic Mean Girls, said of the negotiations. “For an industry that is supposed to be creative, it’s also giving. We give ourselves, our time, our energy, our emotion. And for the greed to be thing to be ruling this town, it’s just so disappointing. What we’re asking for is what we deserve. They’re still going to make hundreds of millions of dollars. But we just need to make a little bit of money to live.”
Many performers on the picket lines on Thursday referenced residuals as a major issue they were still concerned about. “Residuals is what gets a lot of actors through the lean times because it’s never a 24/7 gig,” actor Scott Perry (Jury Duty, The Mandalorian) added. “Most actors are lucky to get a couple of gigs a year, and then get residuals to help people go into the next one. Now, absent those residuals, they don’t have a means to stay afloat. So you know, until somebody hits it big, that is their lifeline.”
Blake added, “It used to be that I could support my whole family, I could put my kids through school, have a very nice middle-class life. That does not exist anymore. The residuals from streaming, nonexistent. The residuals from network, certainly depleted. We as the actors are not getting paid our fair share. We’re not and it has to change. So we will be out here until they pay our fair share.”
Apart from residuals, actors said that the most important bargaining point is the issue of artificial intelligence. “Just using our likeness and not having to get paid for it. That’s not right,” said Robert Hawkey, a SAG-AFTRA strike captain and actor (All My Children, The Cosby Show), said. “They have to come and meet us on that one. That’s not right at all.”
“We’re talking about the usage of our likeness across all media throughout the universe in perpetuity,” added Perry. “And if you’re being paid once for that without any residuals for lifetime use behind your own lifetime, that really changes the talent that’s out there.”
Some actors say they are struggling to make ends meet lately, a situation that certainly hasn’t improved during the work stoppage. Blake, for example, wonders whether he can pay his monthly insurance costs, or take his kids to the doctor if they need it. Franzese has found a second act with stand-up comedy, but hopes “that something happens. At this point, they’ve got all the money, and we don’t have any of it.”
Amid disappointed hopes, there was still a lot of determination on the picket lines. “They’re hoping that we’re desperate enough to take any deal was placed on the table,” Perry said. “And that’s just not the case.”
Katie Kilkenny, Borys Kit and Lesley Goldberg contributed reporting.
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