All Signs Point to SAG-AFTRA Striking With WGA

in Entertainment, Movies & TV

photo of writers strike with sign superimposed reading "SAG-AFTRA STRIKE COMING SOON"

Credit: ITM

It’s been a tense couple of weeks for SAG-AFTRA, after contract negotiations were extended past the June 30 deadline to July 12 at midnight.

If they can’t make a deal with the studios by tonight, they’ll be striking along with the WGA, a historic move that marks the first time all of these groups have gone on strike together. (SAG and AFTRA were separate unions until 2012.)

However, it looks like things are only going to get tenser, because word out of the meeting room is that the studios have refused to budge on AI, a factor which all parties have agreed is crucial in this year’s contracts.

Studios Are Refusing To Budge on AI

Credit: ITM

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Artificial intelligence has been advancing at a breakneck pace. From a few years ago when the first rudimentary chatbots were going live, we’ve made advancements to the point where AI can now produce works of art that are almost passably human – and with a little human intervention, almost nobody could tell the difference.

This is a problem for both writers and actors, who stand in the vulnerable position of being some of the easiest creatives for studios to replace with AI – though scripts currently written by artificial intelligence could never even touch the quality of human writing, many studio heads aren’t well-versed enough in narrative storytelling to know the difference.

To those penny-pinchers, it would be simple math to replace a unionized writer or actor with a robot they don’t have to pay – and that is why the unions aren’t taking “trust us” as an answer.

No, really – according to one of Deadline‘s sources, studios have refused to budge even a little on their initial offer to hold yearly meetings to discuss the progress of AI regarding what is and isn’t possible.

There seems to be no real negotiations here. Actors see Black Mirror’s “Joan Is Awful” as a documentary of the future, with their likenesses sold off and used any way producers and studios want.

We want a solid pathway. The studios countered with ‘trust us’ – we don’t.

The WGA refused this line outright; they’ve already seen a little of what is possible, and the want to get ahead of it now, before the studios have any chance to take advantage of them.

Now, it looks like SAG-AFTRA is going to follow in their footsteps, because union president Fran Drescher has been explicitly instructed by no less than 2,000 SAG-AFTRA signatories in a letter that she is not to take anything less than a “transformative deal” that takes a hard line on AI.

What Works For the DGA Won’t Work For Everyone

sag-aftra joining wga starting preparations for strike
Credit: ITM

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SAG-AFTRA does not see the AMPTP-offered yearly AI meetings as a hard line, but the studios see it differently. A representative said that they believe the deal they cut with the Directors’ Guild stands as a “good basis for discussion.”

The directors took a deal agreeing that “AI is not a person and that generative AI cannot replace the duties performed by members.” This is, indeed, a good basis for the directors, whose creative role is more about oversight and ideation, but barely constitutes as a start for actors and writers, for whom there is nearly no middle ground between AI assistance and their work simply being replaced.

The representative further asserted that “this is a town [built] on relationships. Only the whackjobs want to blow this up; they’re the ones stopping a deal.” This may be true, but it seems like the AMPTP are the ones who are refusing to negotiate here, as their answer on Artificial Intelligence has not changed in over a month.

What Happens if SAG-AFTRA Calls the Strike Tonight?

sag-aftra authorization approved graphic
Credit: SAG-AFTRA

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If and when the strike is called, all promotional events for movies and television would have to wind down by Friday. After that deadline, PR agents have been expressly told that actors are not to do any work for any projects at all. No acting, no line reads, no consultations, nothing.

There is no telling how long the WGA and SAG-AFTRA could be on strike for. On the one hand, no actors and no writers leaves the studios in a pretty perilous position. Even ABC, who created a “strike-proof” Fall primetime schedule out of reality TV, news segments, and game shows, would suffer, as the SAG-AFTRA strike would deprive them of their hosts.

Things are likely to get awfully quiet for the studios in the coming months, and that kind of inactivity (and revenue loss) is likely to make any executive antsy to make a better deal.

However, as John Mulaney and many others have pointed out, there isn’t exactly as much of a demand for content as there was the last time there was a major strike. Thanks to streaming (the residuals from which are another hotly contested issue in negotiations), there are countless programs ready to be binge-watched anywhere and at any time, and some people have a list so long it would take them months to get through it anyway.

With so much less pressure to produce more content, it’s really anyone’s guess as to who will begin feeling the burn of these strikes sooner – but the studios should be ready for a long fight, because the actors and writers seem very determined.

Do you think SAG-AFTRA will strike tonight? How long will it last? Leave your opinion in the comments below.

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