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SAG-AFTRA strike negotiations hit an AI-shaped hurdle

Actor Walt Keller dressed as Mister Rogers carries a sign on the picket line outside Universal Studios on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Universal City, Calif.
Actor Walt Keller dressed as Mister Rogers carries a sign on the picket line outside Universal Studios on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Universal City, Calif. Copyright Richard Shotwell/2023 Invision
Copyright Richard Shotwell/2023 Invision
By Jonny Walfisz
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It's day 112 of strike action for the actors union, but is a potential end in sight?

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Are SAG-AFTRA close to making a deal with the Hollywood studios? After months of strikes, the US actors union is now in the thick of contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

SAG-AFTRA were reportedly getting “closer and closer” to finalising a new three-year contract with the studios, a move which would end their historic strike. Since 14 July 2023, all actors represented by the union went on strike over demands including better residual deals from streaming services and limits on the use of AI to replace actors.

The 160,000+ members of SAG-AFTRA were on strike for a long time alongside the US’s writers union, the WGA. The dual strike action contributed to the biggest interruption of Hollywood productions since the 2020 Covid shutdown and was the first time the two unions had simultaneously walked out since 1960. It’s estimated the joint strike action has cost the Californian economy $6.5 billion (€6.1 billion).

After going on strike on 2 May 2023, the WGA ended its strike action when a new contract that included bigger writers rooms, better residuals and clarity over AI was agreed upon on 27 September.

On 1 November, representatives of SAG-AFTRA met with AMPTP to continue negotiations. Deadline reported that the negotiations were moving in a positive manner. “We’re beyond cautious optimism now, I’d say,” a source inside SAG-AFTRA told them.

Picketers demonstrate outside Paramount Pictures studio on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles
Picketers demonstrate outside Paramount Pictures studio on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los AngelesChris Pizzello/2023 Invision

However, talks reportedly hit a more significant bump later in the day on the topic of AI. One of the key concerns behind this year’s strike action – unions are worried for the potential for actors to lose out on roles due to computer generated alternatives, or for their likenesses to be used without their express wish.

“The Negotiating Committee met today to discuss and finalise our response to the AMPTP AI counter-proposal which we received yesterday,” a press release from SAG-AFTRA explained. “The negotiators then met with AMPTP representatives for more than three hours this afternoon and evening to present and review our revised proposal.”

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