SAG-AFTRA Leader Says Studios ‘Duped’ Union to Buy Time to Promote Summer Blockbusters

Hurricane Hilary is approaching Los Angeles as striking actors walked the picket line in New York City on Friday, July 14, 2023. (Credit: Twitter/@sagaftra)

The president of SAG-AFTRA says union negotiators were “duped” into extending contract talks for 12 days by movie studio reps, who wanted more time to promote their summer blockbusters.

During a news conference Thursday in Los Angeles announcing actors would go on strike, union leaders were asked why they previously released a statement saying they were “encouraged” by the negotiations, and agreed to extend the talks for nearly two weeks.

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SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said she now believes the union was misled by the studios.

“Initially we started, kind of on the outside. They weren’t really ready to get to the core issues, and we were encouraged,” Drescher said. “But we didn’t realize that that was where it ended.”

She added that the union was “stonewalled” on core issues, which include increased residual payments from streaming and limits on the use of artificial intelligence.

“In earnest, we gave them an extension of 12 days, which they absolutely wasted, making us feel like we’ve been duped, like maybe it was just to let studios promote their summer movies another 12 days. They stayed locked behind closed doors, they continued to cancel our meetings with them,” she explained.

SAG-AFTRA’s three-year film and TV contract expired on June 30. Just before the clock ran out on the contract, the union agreed to extend talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — which represents studios and streamers — until 11:59 p.m. PT on July 12.

During that 12 day period, movie premieres were held around the globe for Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, the Warner Bros. film Barbie, and Universal’s war epic Oppenheimer.

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On Thursday, July 13, after SAG-AFTRA announced the talks had broken down, the cast of Oppenheimer walked out of the film’s London premiere.

The U.K.’s Independent reported stars Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, and Emily Blunt posed for photos on the red carpet, but bailed on the screening.

“You’ve seen them here earlier on the red carpet,” director Christopher Nolan told the audience at the screening.

“Unfortunately, they’re off to write their picket signs for what we believe to be an imminent strike by SAG, joining one of my guilds, the Writers Guild, in the struggle for fair wages for working members of the unions, and we support them,” Nolan said.

SAG-AFTRA released its strike order to members on Thursday afternoon detailing what they can and can’t do during the work stoppage.

The order says members must stop acting, doing auditions, and providing “publicity services for work under the TV/Theatrical Contracts.”

The publicity work was listed as interviews, fan expos, film festivals, panels, screenings, premieres, award shows, press junkets, podcast appearances, studio showcases, and sharing promotional posts on social media about movies and TV shows.

Watch Drescher’s comments in the video below at the 27 minute mark: