Why are actors making movies during the strike? What to know about SAG-AFTRA’s ‘interim agreements’

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BY LINDSEY BAHR AND ANDREW DALTON

The actors and writers strikes have resulted in most Hollywood film and television productions being shut down, from the “Gladiator” sequel to the live action “Lilo & Stitch.” But some independent films and television productions are are still filming after reaching agreements with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists that will allow them to continue with union actors amid the strike.

It’s a move that the union leadership says is an essential negotiating tactic, but that’s also proved divisive and confusing to many sweating it out on the picket lines while movie stars like Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey continue to work.

Here’s what to know about the “interim agreements” that are keeping some Hollywood productions filming.

WHAT FALLS UNDER THE INTERIM AGREEMENTS?

Actors are striking against studios and streaming services that bargain as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The group’s ranks include the major film studios (Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.), television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon.

There are numerous independent production companies that aren’t affiliated with the AMPTP, and they are allowed to film with SAG-AFTRA actors during the strike. They must agree to terms that the union last proposed during negotiations, which includes a new minimum wage rate that’s 11% higher than before, guarantees about revenue sharing and artificial intelligence protections.

Those terms were rejected by the studios and streaming services, but SAG-AFTRA realized that some independent producers and smaller film studios (like Neon and A24) were willing to agree to the terms if it meant they could keep filming.

“The interim agreement provides empirical proof that the terms that we have put on the table with the AMPTP are not only realistic, but are actually desirable and usable by producers in this industry,” SAG-AFTRA executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said.

WHAT ABOUT THE WRITERS?

The Writers’ Guild of America has opted not to grant similar agreements in their own strike. In an attempt to show solidarity and sync strategy, SAG-AFTRA changed course Monday and said interim agreements would not be granted to productions that were covered by the WGA contract.

WGA films and shows include about 15 to 20% of the productions granted the agreements before the switch, and those will not be revoked, but no new ones will be granted.

“We have been advised by the WGA that this modification will assist them in executing their strike strategy, and we believe it does not undermine the utility and effectiveness of ours,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “It is a win-win change.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PRODUCTIONS ALLOWED TO CONTINUE?

More than 200 productions have been approved so far, including a Rebel Wilson comedy “Bride Hard,” an untitled Guy Ritchie project, a film with Jenna Ortega and Paul Rudd called “Death of a Unicorn,” the Matthew McConaughey thriller “The Rivals of the Amziah King” and David Lowery’s pop star movie “Mother Mary,” starring Anne Hathaway and Michaela Coel.

The list is being constantly updated on SAG-AFTRA’s website, but even some productions that have been granted exceptions are still pausing for optics and solidarity. Viola Davis decided to step away from her film “G20,” in which she plays the U.S. president at a G20 Summit overtaken by terrorists, despite it being granted a waiver.

“I love this movie but I do not feel that it would be appropriate for this production to move forward during the strike,” Davis said in a statement. “G20” though independently financed, was set to be distributed by Amazon Studios, which is an AMPTP member.

WHAT IS SAG-AFTRA’S STRATEGY?

Crabtree-Ireland said there are several benefits of the interim agreement to SAG-AFTRA members.

“It provides absolute empirical proof that the terms that we are seeking in the negotiation are reasonable,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “We have hundreds of independent producers who say we’ll be happy to produce under those terms.”

It also provides opportunities for crews and actors to work, relieving some of the financial pressures of the strike. And, he added, it might be getting the attention of studios.

Emmy-winning “Abbott Elementary” actor Sheryl Lee Ralph agrees with the strategy.

“I have to honestly say interim agreements are smart agreements. What that does is keep little conversations going with producers who are not the big major producers,” she told the AP. “So now the big folks can look and say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if they can do it, why aren’t we doing it.’”

WHY IS IT CONTROVERSIAL?

To some members sweating it out on the picket lines and pinching pennies, it doesn’t feel like a united work stoppage when major celebrities like Hathaway and McConaughey get to still make movies.

Comedian Sarah Silverman was one who was especially irked about the loophole and posted her thoughts in an Instagram video. After meeting with SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland, she walked back her outrage and said both sides better understood the waivers could be a positive and a negative.

“I do understand that some members feel like it creates a confusing message or that it makes it not as clear of a line,” Crabtree-Ireland conceded. But he added that “we’re all very clear on the fact that AMPTP companies are the companies we’re on strike against.”

WHAT HAPPENS IF AN AMPTP COMPANY BUYS THE FILM FOR DISTRIBUTION?

Some of the productions from smaller studios, like A24 and Neon, have their own distribution arms that can get films out into the world. But others don’t. They often sell to AMPTP companies who ultimately put them into theaters or on their streaming services. “G20” is a prime example of this, having already had a deal in place with Amazon to distribute.

Crabtree-Ireland said it’s “a concern” but also a “reality we accept as a possibility” that one of these independent films will sell to, say, Netflix. He sees a possible upside if this happens though, as the interim agreement includes a streaming revenue share proposal.

And he said that any company that acquires an interim-agreement film at the upcoming slate of fall festivals like Venice, Telluride and Toronto — key places where an AMPTP studio might acquire such a project — will have to pay performers the residuals the contract requires.

WHAT ABOUT ACTORS PROMOTING COMPLETED PROJECTS?

SAG-AFTRA is reviewing applications that would allow talent to promote independent films at the fall festivals, which are going forward with many high-profile world premieres regardless of actor availability.

Luc Besson’s “DogMan,” debuting at Venice, was recently granted an interim agreement allowing its stars, like Caleb Landry Jones, to help promote the film through red carpet appearances and interviews. Other independent films headed to Venice include Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” with Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi, Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” with Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz, Ava DuVernay’s “Origin,” Michel Franco’s “Memory,” with Jessica Chastain and Richard Linklater’s “Hit Man,” with Glen Powell, all of which could, theoretically be granted the special status.

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