'We were duped' by studios, says Hollywood actor union president

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher speaks during a press conference at the labor union's headquarters in Los Angeles, California, on 13 July, 2023.AFP

Hollywood actors were "duped" into extending negotiations for two weeks by studios who wanted more time to promote their summer blockbuster movies, union president Fran Drescher told AFP on Thursday.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) last month postponed their initial strike deadline, in the hope of thrashing out a deal with the likes of Netflix and Disney over demands for better pay and more protection against artificial intelligence.

That extension failed to yield any progress in talks, which collapsed on Wednesday night, with the union representing some 160,000 performers calling a strike for midnight Thursday (0700 GMT Friday.)

US actress Frances Fisher, SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer US actress Joely Fisher, SAG-AFTRA President US actress Fran Drescher, and National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, joined by SAG-AFTRA members, pose for a photo during a press conference at the labor union's headquarters in Los Angeles, California, on 13 July, 2023.

"We, in good faith, gave them an extension, with the hope that they would make deep inroads, and we would really have something to discuss," Drescher, the star and co-creator of 1990s sitcom "The Nanny," told AFP.

"But we were duped. They stayed behind closed doors, they kept canceling our meetings, wasting time."

"It was probably all to have more time to promote their summer movies. Because nothing came out of it that was significant."

During that two-week period, major premieres have been held around the world for summer blockbuster movies including Warner's ‘Barbie’, Universal's ‘Oppenheimer’ and Paramount's ‘Mission: Impossible -- Dead Reckoning Part One’.

SAG-AFTRA rules prevent actors from promoting their movies and shows during a strike.

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Had the strike begun earlier, stars such as Tom Cruise, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling would have had to skip glitzy red carpet events -- a key tool used by studios to drum up publicity and, hopefully, box office receipts.

Red-carpet premieres set for the next few weeks are now being canceled, such as Paramount's ‘Special Ops: Lioness’, or scaled back, like Disney's ‘Haunted Mansion’.

"I actually was surprised. But I think that I may have been naive, because this was my first big negotiation," said Drescher, elected SAG-AFTRA president in 2021.

"I really thought that we could come to a meeting of the minds. That they could see how dramatically this new business model has been foisted upon the entire industry," she said, referring to the changes wrought by streaming.

One of actors' primary grievances concerns the drop-off in payments known as residuals.

The substantial sums that performers used to receive when successful shows or films they had starred in were rerun on television have all-but disappeared, because streamers today refuse to disclose their audience figures.

Instead, streamers pay the same flat rate for all programs available on their platforms, which can mean a tiny return for a global smash hit.

"It's just crazy to me, that they wouldn't want to sit down and say, 'we need to bring you into this in an honorable and respectful way, so you can live with this significant change,'" said Drescher.

"The truth of the matter is, they didn't do that."

Despite her frustration with the studios, Drescher insisted that SAG-AFTRA's "door is open to continue negotiations."

"The strike is not the end, it's just the next step. We would love to continue to negotiate with him. But the ball is in their court."