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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Actors ratify deal with Hollywood studios, with reservations



Members of SAG-AFTRA picketing in Los Angeles, on Sept. 26, 2023. Actors voted to approve a new three-year contract with studios — albeit by a mediocre margin, reflecting dissatisfaction about artificial intelligence protections.

By Brooks Barnes


Actors voted to approve a new three-year contract with studios, although some union members remained dissatisfied with the deal’s artificial intelligence protections. The ratification formally ended six months of labor unrest in the entertainment industry.


The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said last week that more than 50,000 members submitted ballots during the three-week voting period. The contract was ratified with 78% of the vote, easily clearing the required threshold of a simple majority.


To compare, however, screenwriters ratified their new contract with studios in October with 99% of the vote. And the writers in one way received less: Desperate to resolve the second of two strikes — writers walked out in May and actors in July — studios agreed last month to give actors a 7% first-year raise, while writers received 5%.


SAG-AFTRA valued its deal at more than $1 billion over three years, noting that it also included artificial intelligence protections, better health care funding, improved hair and makeup services on sets, concessions from studios on self-taped auditions, and a requirement for intimacy coordinators for sex scenes, among other gains.


But some SAG-AFTRA members have questioned the strength of the AI protections.


The new contract guarantees that studios will not use AI tools to create digital replicas of performers without payment or approval, rights that actors previously did not have and that SAG-AFTRA leaders have described as a hard-fought starting point. The new contract requires studios to meet at least twice a year until then to discuss the fast-evolving technology.


The contract, however, does not bar studios from populating screens with “synthetic fakes,” or the use of artificial intelligence to create an entirely fabricated character by melding together recognizable features from real actors. “Ratification of this contract will result in greater job reductions, especially for background and stunt performers,” Matthew Modine, a SAG-AFTRA board member, said in a statement last month.


“The use of AI has already financially impacted voice performers,” he added. “The industry has shown it has no qualms about replacing human actors with digitized ‘sound-alike’ voices. Even monstrously resurrecting voices of performers who are no longer living.”


Modine and other actors have also criticized the contract for allowing studios to require body scans as a condition for employment. Studios can also use past performances to train AI tools.


In a message to members on Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA called the contract an “enormous victory.” Of members eligible to vote, 38% did so, up from roughly 27% in 2020 and 15% in 2017.


“Let’s celebrate what we’ve accomplished together and continue to foster the bonds that have been forged throughout this season of solidarity,” Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA’s president, said in the note to members.


The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the biggest entertainment companies, congratulated the union.


“With this vote, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force,” the alliance said in a statement.


The strikes brought Hollywood to a standstill and the financial fallout has been significant. Beyond the writers and actors, more than 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers were out of jobs for months. The strikes caused roughly $10 billion in losses nationwide, according to Todd Holmes, an associate professor of entertainment media management at California State University, Northridge. While the big studios are based in Los Angeles, they also use soundstage complexes in Georgia, New York, New Jersey and New Mexico.

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