SAG-AFTRA’s Duncan Crabtree-Ireland Sees No Early End to Dual Strikes

SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland sees no indication major Hollywood studios and streamers are headed back to the table anytime soon to end dual strikes in the entertainment industry.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to report they’re coming back to us. Today is day 57 for our strike, and, no, we don’t have any indication they are willing to come back to the table and talk with us,” the union’s chief negotiator, wearing his trademark SAG-AFTRA strike T-shirt, said Friday during an informal conversation at the Toronto Film Festival.

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What’s more, Hollywood is without an ultimate dealmaker among the major studios and streamers represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to resolve dual actors and writers strikes. “For better or worse, the days of Lew Wasserman are gone,” SAG-AFTRA’s Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said of the late MCA head often regarded as the last Hollywood mogul.

The union’s chief negotiator said a community of mega-producers, agency heads and government officials — people with close connections to the heads of the major studios and streamers — needed to push representatives of the AMPTP back to the negotiating table.

Without giving an indication of when the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of American labor actions will end with new contracts, or when the AMPTP will return to the table with the actors union, Crabtree-Ireland talked about recent back-channel conversations. But he added those informal talks were more about process and getting both sides to talk again, and were not about substantive proposals to hammer out new deals.

In the meantime, Crabtree-Ireland insisted his membership remains steadfast in their support of SAG-AFTRA and its bargaining positions. “Our members’ resolve is firm because they know what we’re fighting for is existential,” he told the TIFF panel.

Crabtree-Ireland also reiterated that interim agreements are not waivers or special treatment for indie producers that signed them. “Interim agreement is a fancy way of saying these companies have agreed to the deal we had on the table on the last day of bargaining with the studios and streamers. So, our deal as of July 12, these companies have signed that deal,” he argued.

“It’s a full-on collective agreement that incorporates all the terms that the studios and streamers should have said yes to on July 12. If they would have said that, there wouldn’t have been a strike,” he insisted. Mindful he was at the Toronto Film Festival, Crabtree-Ireland encouraged SAG-AFTRA members attached to movie projects signed up for interim agreements to promote those movies at fall festivals.

“I’m encouraging our members to feel confident in promoting and being part of those projects because the success of those projects just proves our position even more strongly,” he said. His clarifications on interim agreements came as some indie producers have potentially done sales deal with studios or streamers and won’t make them public until the dual strikes are resolved, or signed interim agreements and assume they won’t have to adhere to them after new labor deals are signed.

Crabtree-Ireland said the major studios and streamers would not succeed by attempting to wait his union out or hold the lines on making concessions for workers to get a deal. “That’s not going to win the day for them,” he said.

Asked at one point whether, according to reports, he had been “uncivilized” when talks between SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP broke off July 12, he responded: “That’s true.” Crabtree-Ireland said the major studios and streamers didn’t want to negotiate with union members ready to take to picket lines.

“I reminded them that it’s every worker’s federally protected right to go on strike in the event that bargaining doesn’t achieve a fair contract for them. Fran [Drescher] had some other comments for them,” he recalled.

Crabtree-Ireland argued the major studios and streamers looked intent on giving little or nothing at the table. “Stonewall everything, give some little thing and then stonewall everything and hope they give in,” he said in describing the bargaining position of the AMPTP negotiators.

Asked about an offer by the AMPTP to pay background performers for one day of work in exchange for the rights to their digital likeness, Crabtree-Ireland said the issue of AI was even more dire in its implications when it came to principal performers in franchise movies.

He said the major studios and streamers had proposed that actors taking minor roles in a Marvel Cinematic Universe project, as an example, and who stood to be hired for a day or a week, had to agree to a digital replica of themselves being used in perpetuity and without their consent or additional compensation.

“Imagine the position that puts someone in. Finally, they get their big break. They get cast in a Marvel movie, this is their chance. And they’re told they have to basically give over ownership of their persona to this corporation for any use in the future,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “That’s an absolutely unconscionable proposal. Of course, we rejected that.”

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