“It’s Preposterous!” SAG-AFTRA’s Duncan Crabtree-Ireland On Ted Sarandos’ Claim Of Union Seeking “Levy On Subscribers”; Praises Taylor Swift

Film

SAG-AFTRA Chief Negotiator and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is very happy with Taylor Swift and not so happy with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.

We spoke with Crabtree-Ireland today at New York Comic-Con where he took the stage for a panel about AI.

Talks collapsed on Wednesday night between studios and SAG-AFTRA following the guild’s revenue share proposal that would cost the companies less than 57¢ per subscriber annually. The studios balked exclaiming that SAG-AFTRA’s ask was an “untenable economic burden” which would cost them more than $2.4 billion over the course of a new three-year contract or more than $800 million per year. On Thursday, Sarandos at Bloomberg’s Screentime event called the SAG-AFTRA proposal a “levy on subscribers on top of [other] areas” as well as a “bridge too far”.

Following Wednesday talks, SAG-AFTRA said the studios “intentionally misrepresented to the press the cost of the above proposal – overstating it by 60%. They have done the same with A.I., claiming to protect performer consent, but continuing to demand ‘consent’ on the first day of employment for use of a performer’s digital replica for an entire cinematic universe (or any franchise project).”

Here’s our discussion with Crabtree-Ireland on the 94th day of the SAG-AFTRA strike:

On Wednesday, SAG-AFTRA suggested a profit-split streaming proposal which would cost the studios under 57 cents a subscriber….

One of the things they had said, they did not want to have a flex revenue stream. We took that back to our committee and came back with a completely restructured proposal that didn’t rely on the revenue stream that was based on subscriber and viewership. Just like their concept they had consensus for the writers guild. So that effectively amounted to a number that would cost them no more than 57 cents per subscriber per year; less than the cost of a postage stamp. The public statement from the CEOs in their press release from the AMPTP characterized our demands as excessive. But really we don’t think they are. The numbers they’ve been using are wildly overstated. (Ours) is a reasonable approach to fair compensation for the contribution that actors make to the existence of success of these streaming platforms.

What is your take on what Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos called “a levy on subscribers”?

Preposterous! It’s preposterous! That’s like saying that workers should be compensated for their work as a tax. That’s wrong. The reason that product exists is because of their work. Fair compensation, fair wages for workers is not, and never has been, or will be a tax.

There was a momentum in the industry that as the writers’ deal wrapped up, that TV shows would go back into production late this fall, and that the runway for a new season would be January. But each day that the strike goes on, that’s becoming less and less possible. How much consideration is the guild giving to this looming demand of the TV production schedule?

If I was considering that question, the first people I would direct that question to are the people who walked away from the table in this continued negotiation. Because the only way that a deal can be reached is people talking to each other, and I do not see how walking away and going home further reaches a deal sooner. Their actions are what are delaying the progress of a resolution of this strike. What they need to do is get back to the table immediately so that we can keep talking and find a path forward.

You haven’t heard about when talks will resume then?

We told them on Wednesday night when they told us they were cancelling our scheduled session for Thursday that we were willing and ready to meet on Thursday and every day thereafter and so, the ball is in their court to return to the table. We are there, we are ready and they’re the ones that decided not to show up, so I hope they will change that and decide to come back to the table and move forward.

Taylor Swift: Eras Tour concert film now seeing a $92M-$105M Opening

What’s your take on the whole Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour phenomenon at the box office this weekend? I know the film has a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement, but the film’s success comes at a time when actors can’t promote, and we’re clearly seeing the impact of that at the box office.

Actors can promote any project that has an interim agreement. There are projects that have had premieres, that have been promoted using our members where there are interim agreements. The success of the Eras Tour movie is a testament to the importance of creative talent in not only creating projects but promoting projects. I’m thrilled that it has been so successful. Taylor Swift is a member of SAG-AFTRA. She has done a lot to help other artists in the industry. I hope that the studios are paying attention because it is important sign of creative partners who have talent and provide a fair deal where we can get the industry back to work.

AI is a such a fast and moving technology, is it even realistic to put guardrails in place? Even if a deal is reached, the technology could outstrip the deal by weeks or months. I’m just wondering, can you comment on creating an evergreen plan for something that’s changing so quickly?

The kinds of guardrails we’re looking to put around this technology aren’t dependent upon the development of the technology. The idea of a performer having the right to informed consent of the use of their image and likeness in the creation of a digital replica — any and every performer should have that right in any form of technology including AI and AI tools that have been developed for that purpose. So, I think the guardrails we’re putting around fair compensation, informed consent, those are things that can grow with the industry and the state of technology.

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