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SAG-AFTRA Justifies Interim Agreements as “Vital Part of Our Strategic Approach” Amid Debate

In the wake of prominent members airing concerns about SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements, union leaders are justifying the granting of these pacts, which allow films and TV shows to proceed amid the ongoing performers’ strike, to independent productions.

In a message sent to members on Sunday evening, the union’s TV/theatrical negotiating committee maintained that these agreements are a “vital part of our strategic approach” during the 2023 negotiations and strike. The majority of projects that are granted these agreements are “entirely independent” from the companies that comprise the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, whose unresolved negotiations with the union have resulted in the current strike, the group stated. Some exceptions, however, are being made for “extraordinary circumstances mandated by legal considerations, such as Tehran.” (SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland previously told Deadline that Tehran, an Apple TV+-distributed series produced by an Israeli company and shot in Greece, is subject to “multiple national laws” on striking that contributed to the decision to grant the waiver.)

The terms and conditions of the interim agreements, the negotiating committee continued, “reflect” those that SAG-AFTRA is seeking to gain in its ongoing TV/theatrical contract negotiations with the AMPTP. These agreements, therefore, allow members to work for companies that are not part of the AMPTP and exhibit that “the wage increases and other terms, which the AMPTP has so far rejected, are in fact reasonable and appropriate.” (Still, if SAG-AFTRA reaches a deal with major entertainment companies before projects with waivers are distributed, ultimately the terms and conditions of these interim agreements will “conform to our final terms” of the eventual deal with the AMPTP.)

Furthermore, these pacts are important, the negotiating committee argued, because they motivate “production budgets to be directed to union-covered projects employing union members rather than fueling a pipeline of non-union foreign productions.” As a result, the negotiating committee said, “We urge independent producers to apply and encourage SAG-AFTRA members to work on the projects that obtain an Interim Agreement, along with all of the other permissible work we support.”

The message arrived just a day after Viola Davis announced that she was stepping away from the MRC film G20, which was set to be distributed by Amazon (MRC is not a member of the AMPTP, but Amazon, as a producer, is). SAG-AFTRA granted the film an interim agreement, but Davis said in a statement that “I do not feel that it would be appropriate for this production to move forward during the strike.”

Just a few days earlier, Sarah Silverman had raised concerns about interim agreements, arguing that ultimately these independent projects could be sold to companies like Netflix or Apple, whose production subsidiaries belong to the AMPTP. “Movie stars are making movies because they’re independent movies, and SAG is allowing it because if they do sell it to streaming, it has to be because streaming is abiding by all the things we’re asking for. That’s just working. The strike ends when they come to the table, and we make a deal in agreement,” she said in the message.

SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee addressed this concern in its message: “We understand the concern that our Interim Agreement may produce content for struck companies to distribute. We are confident that the terms of this agreement, particularly the streaming revenue share, will make distribution of these projects through AMPTP platforms unfeasible, until such time as an industrywide agreement has been reached,” the group stated. (One of SAG-AFTRA’s proposals for companies this year was for casts of streaming films or TV shows to receive a portion of streaming subscription revenue, depending on the success of the title in question.)

The negotiating committee further argued that these agreements would not “prolong” the strike, saying they would boost “competitive pressure” on AMPTP companies.

So far, SAG-AFTRA has granted interim agreements to projects including A24’s Death of a Unicorn, with Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega, and Mother Mary, starring Anne Hathaway and Michaela Coel, as well as Hammerstone Studios’ Flight Risk, with Mark Wahlberg. The Chosen television series, from Out of Order Studios, and Balcony 9 Productions’ Bride Hard with Rebel Wilson have also received waivers.

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