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Actors union agrees to federal mediation with studios as contract deadline nears

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Just before midnight tonight in Los Angeles, the contract between Hollywood studios and the film and TV actors union SAG-AFTRA will expire.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That means the actors could go on strike, joining screenwriters, who walked off the job in May.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been reporting on Hollywood labor news. Mandalit, it seems like we were just here a couple of weeks ago.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right. The two sides agreed to an extension back then. And now coming down to the wire, the union has agreed with the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, to call in federal mediators.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, federal mediators - so what have been the main sticking points of the negotiations?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, both sides have a media blackout, but we understand they're still very far apart on at least two key issues - that is, residuals and AI. Actors want to get paid more residuals from the streaming platforms, especially if their movies or series are hits. They want to tie their compensation to the number of views. And there still may be disagreement over the use of artificial intelligence on work done by actors. They want to control where their likenesses are used. They don't want to be replaced by computer-generated images.

These are very similar issues to what the Writers Guild of America has been fighting over in their strike. And, you know, I should note that many of us here at NPR are members of SAG-AFTRA, but broadcast journalists have a very different contract than the Hollywood actors.

MARTÍNEZ: Mandalit, you and I drive around LA all the time. We see people, you know, all around the studios on strike. So what's been the mood like in Los Angeles? Because it's hard not to think about this story living here.

DEL BARCO: That's right. You see the picket lines all over the place. And there's a lot of nervousness and some excitement over how this could go. This could be the first time Hollywood actors and writers walk off the job together since 1960. Ninety-eight percent of SAG-AFTRA's members already voted to authorize a strike if their demands aren't met. And a lot of big-name actors, including Meryl Streep and Fran Drescher, the president of the union, signed a letter urging negotiators not to cave in to the studios.

You know, I was outside Amazon Studios yesterday, and I found Jamila Webb. She's an actor you may have seen on "Family Reunion" on Netflix or "Reboot" on Hulu. Well, like a lot of actors, she's been picketing in solidarity with the writers.

JAMILA WEBB: We're ready to go on strike, but we don't know if it is going to come to that. I know sometimes Hollywood and entertainment can feel like we're in our own bubble, but this is an opportunity to really get the message out to people who are like, hey, are my shows coming on in the fall? No, and this is why. Ultimately the goal is - right? - to get a great contract. That's what we want. And if it comes to that, me and my friends - we're ready. We're ready.

DEL BARCO: Webb says she's prepping to be a strike captain. But already the writers' strike has closed down almost all production. Shows and films are delayed. So the union actors haven't been working anyway. And the writers say they're still waiting for the studios to return to their negotiations too.

MARTÍNEZ: So, OK, if they do strike, what happens first?

DEL BARCO: Well, we might see a lot of movie and TV stars on the picket lines, but union actors won't be able to promote their shows or movies that they're in. The Emmy Award nominations are coming out today, and the actors won't be able to do press for that. They won't be able to show up at next week's Comic-Con to promote their projects. They won't be interviewed or photographed on the red carpet. There are reports that SAG-AFTRA met with 140 Hollywood publicists this week to advise them about what the actors will and won't be allowed to do. These folks are reportedly very nervous about the possible strike. Panicked is the word I've seen.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: The whole Hollywood machine is really on pins and needles today.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Mandalit del Barco, thanks a lot.

MARTÍNEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martinez
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.