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Hollywood Shutdown Looms as Actors Say Contract Talks Have Collapsed

Members of the actors’ union came out to support the television and movie writers who went on strike in May.Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

Though Hollywood had been bracing for a writers’ strike since the beginning of the year — screenwriters have walked out eight times over the past seven decades, most recently in 2007 — the actors’ uncharacteristic resolve in recent weeks caught senior executives and producers off guard.

The first distress signal for the studios came in early June when roughly 65,000 members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, voted to authorize a strike. Almost 98 percent of the voters supported the authorization, a stunning figure that only narrowly eclipsed the writers’ margin.

Still, studio negotiators went into the talks feeling optimistic. They were taken aback when they saw the list of proposals from the union — it totaled 48 pages, nearly triple the size of the list during their last negotiations in 2020, according to two people familiar with the proposals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential talks.

Then in late June, more than 1,000 actors, including luminaries like Meryl Streep, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lawrence, Constance Wu and Ben Stiller, signed a letter to guild leadership, declaring pointedly that “we are prepared to strike.”

“This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough,” the letter said. “We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”

On Tuesday, the union agreed to a request by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to hire a federal mediator, but refused to extend the contract deadline past Wednesday. Two mediators got involved, according to people briefed on the talks.

The Hollywood studios will now need to navigate a two-front labor war with no modern playbook to consult. There are many open questions, including whether the actors and the writers may demand that future negotiations with the studios be conducted in tandem. One guild that will not be included: The Directors Guild of America, which ratified a contract last month with the studios that their union leadership described as “historic.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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