How did Ben Affleck and George Clooney put pressure to resume actors’ strike talks?

A call from Disney CEO Bob Iger to SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland on Saturday, October 21, launched a long-awaited return to negotiations between the union and Hollywood studios later this week.

During that conversation, Iger expressed the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ desire to return to bargaining and finally reach a new three-year contract amid the SAG-AFTRA strike that has now extended for more than 100 days. AMPTP President Carole Lombardini quickly followed up with her own call to Crabtree-Ireland. Under pressure from members at the bottom and top of the call sheet, the Performers’ Union responded quickly, on the same day issuing a joint press release with the AMPTP announcing a return to negotiations and the postponement of its biennial national conference two days early. Union staff and negotiating team can get to work.

The AMPTP, which withdrew from negotiations on October 11 over what it described as a huge “gap” between the two sides, is expected to make a presentation of a new package of proposals when the two sides face each other again on Tuesday. . The same four Hollywood leaders who attended the negotiations before they collapsed earlier this month — Iger, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, and Warner Bros. CEO David Sarandos. Discovery’s David Zaslav, NBCUniversal Studio Group Chairman and Chief Content Officer Donna Langley – are set to return for the continuation of the talks to be held at the union’s national headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

These developments come on the heels of the A-list actors’ meetings with both their union and Hollywood studios.

Last week, the group that included Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Tyler Perry, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon grew concerned. Frustrated over whether union negotiators were doing everything they could to reach an agreement, they decided to present a united front. Key union members held several Zoom meetings with SAG-AFTRA Crabtree-Ireland leaders and President Fran Drescher to discuss returning to the table. Some had already held individual talks with union leaders, but decided to go one step further Work together to try to break the stalemate.

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Before the talks broke off, sources say the four CEOs who attended the SAG-AFTRA negotiations were taken aback by Drescher’s negotiating style, which included bringing a puppet (Heart-shaped plush toy with smiley face Given to Drescher by an 11-year-old fan ) and Saying Buddhist inspirational quotes. She also alarmed CEOs when she declared: “I don’t care if we stay here for a year” in order to achieve the union’s goals, sources confirm, something a union source denies. A source close to the union explains that Drescher uses a “less contentious” bargaining process and tries to lower the tone of the room at times.

“I don’t need to emulate male energy to be an effective leader,” Drescher said in a statement.

“Sexist tropes used to belittle female leaders in Hollywood are nothing new, and this is another egregious example,” Crabtree-Ireland added. “Fran brings balance and consensus to what can be a hostile process.”

Drescher opened his first Zoom meeting with dignitaries by asking to take a screenshot, according to two sources familiar with the session. The source close to the union confirms that Drescher wanted to take a screenshot to preserve the historical moment in the life of the union; SAG-AFTRA collects the history of its association as part of its general operations. Perry politely declined, expressing that he would rather get down to business.

In conversations leading up to the Zooms, some listeners floated ideas like eliminating the $1 million dues cap for high-income members. In Zoom meetings, the group proposed a new streaming model, written by Affleck and designed to benefit low-paid actors, according to a source familiar with the calls. During those conversations, Affleck, Clooney and others suggested that eliminating the dues cap on the highest-paid actors could bolster that model. This discussion has appeared in newspaper reports, prompting Fran Drescher to post an Instagram story on October 19 noting: “We are a federally regulated labor union, and the only contributions that can go to our retirement and health funds should be from Employer. So what we are fighting for in terms of benefits should stay in this contract,” she added.[It’s] “Kind of apples and oranges, just so everyone understands that.”

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“None of the actors” [on the call] “I suggested this was a magic bullet or something resembling a solution,” says one participant. “It was proposed as a start to the outside-the-box conversation because the phrase ‘inside the box’ doesn’t currently work for either side of the negotiations,” the source added.

Meetings with SAG-AFTRA leaders left this person feeling “very frustrated,” and several A-list actors say they walked away from those relevant conversations.

The actors also began making their calls at the studio, seeking to persuade them to return to bargaining and asking how they could help bring both parties back to the negotiating table. Many of these prominent artists are also major producers.

At the same time as the actors were working on their relationships at the studio, some began channeling their frustrations into a draft letter expressing their concerns about SAG’s leadership. Over the weekend, as news emerged that SAG and AMPTP were returning to the negotiating table, union members decided not to publish the document, fearing its content would hurt negotiations.

But ultimately, according to a source close to the studios, the motivation behind the majors’ initiative to SAG-AFTRA on Saturday was to save the 2024 film and broadcast season, as well as restore industry jobs that have been on hold for months. Amid multiple entertainment strikes. Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA expected to file a counterproposal after the union significantly changed its revenue share proposal on October 11, converting it to a fee for subscribers. Crabtree-Ireland portrayed this revised proposal as a “very huge concession”.

Meanwhile, in a letter to members on October 21, the day the renewal of negotiations was announced, the union told members that it was their unity that made it happen: “It is clear that the strength and solidarity shown by our members has sent an unambiguous message.” “To the CEOs,” the union bargaining committee stated. He added: “As we have said repeatedly, we are ready, willing and able to participate at any moment to meet and work across the table to reach an agreement worthy of your sacrifices.”

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Now, it looks like a new deal is on the table Tuesday — the question remains what the contract language looks like and how SAG-AFTRA negotiators will react to it. When it comes to the final sticking point – the union’s proposal to charge streaming platforms fees to every global subscriber – it appears the union is not backing down. “Now, it’s true that CEOs don’t really want to address this, but sometimes in life when you introduce an unprecedented business model like they did with all of my members through streaming, your unprecedented compensation structure also has to go with it,” Drescher said in her story. On Instagram on October 19. “It may not be easy, and it may not be what they want, but it is an elegant way to solve the problem so we can all get back to work in what will be the new normal.”

Guild members — along with the rest of Hollywood — are waiting with bated breath.

“I’m closely monitoring the progress of the negotiations,” says former SAG President Melissa Gilbert. “I am incredibly hopeful that our union will walk away from a deal that will benefit our members, and everyone in our industry who is suffering so badly will be able to return to work.”

Kim Masters contributed to this report.

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