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SAG-AFTRA agrees to contract extension with studios as negotiations continue

Fran Drescher, left, president of SAG-AFTRA, and Meredith Stiehm, president of Writers Guild of America West, pose together during a rally by striking writers outside Paramount Pictures studio, Monday, May 8, 2023, in Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Fran Drescher, left, president of SAG-AFTRA, and Meredith Stiehm, president of Writers Guild of America West, pose together during a rally by striking writers outside Paramount Pictures studio, Monday, May 8, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Updated July 1, 2023 at 2:14 AM ET

Hollywood remains in suspense over whether actors will make a deal with the major studios and streamers or go on strike. The contract for their union, SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, was supposed to end at midnight on June 30. But negotiations will continue, with a new deadline set for July 12.

Both sides agreed to a media blackout, so there are only a few new details about where negotiations stand. They've been in talks for the past few weeks, and 98% of the union's members have already voted to authorize a strike if necessary.

A few days before the original deadline, more than a thousand actors, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Pedro Pascal, signed a letter urging negotiators not to cave. That letter was also signed by the president of SAG- AFTRA, Fran Drescher, former star of the 1990's TV sitcom The Nanny.

On Good Morning America, shortly before the original deadline, Drescher was asked if negotiations were making progress in the contract talks. "You know, in some areas, we are; in some areas, we're not. So we just have to see," she said. "I mean, in earnest, it would be great if we can walk away with a deal that we want."

After announcing the contract extension, Drescher told members that no one should mistake it for weakness.

If the actors do go on strike, they'll join the Hollywood writers who walked off the job on May 2.

The Writers Guild of America says they've been ready to continue talking with the studios and streamers. But they probably will be waiting until the actor's contract gets resolved.

Meanwhile, many actors in Los Angeles, New York and other cities have already been picketing outside studios in solidarity with the writers.

The last time the Hollywood actors and writers were on strike at the same time was in 1960. Back then, there were just three broadcast networks. SAG had yet to merge with AFTRA. The Screen Actors Guild was led by a studio contract player named Ronald Reagan decades before he would become the country's president.

Those strikes were fights over getting residuals when movies got aired on television.

In the new streaming era, writers and actors are demanding more residuals when the streaming platforms re-play their TV shows and movies.

They also want regulations and protections from the use of artificial intelligence. Actors are concerned that their likeness will be used by AI, replacing their work.

Elizabeth Mihalek and Vincent Amaya are background actors and members of SAG-AFTRA. They picketed in solidarity with striking writers outside Netflix this week.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR News
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NPR News
Elizabeth Mihalek and Vincent Amaya are background actors and members of SAG-AFTRA. They picketed in solidarity with striking writers outside Netflix this week.

Vincent Amaya and Elizabeth Mihalek are unionized background actors who worry that studios and streamers are replicating their work with AI.

"What they started doing is putting us into a physical machine, scanning us, and then using that image into crowd scenes," says Amaya. "[Before], if a movie wanted to do crowd scenes, they would hire us for a good two, three weeks, maybe a month. However, if they're scanning us, that's one day."

Mihalek says actors are told, "You have to get scanned and we're going to use this forever and ever. You know, it's a perpetual use contract."

Losing work days means less pay and they may not qualify for the union's healthcare and pension benefits.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.