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Bargaining talks are set to resume between striking Hollywood performers and studios

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Hollywood performers and studios are going to be back at the bargaining table today talking for a third time, trying to negotiate a new contract. Members of the union SAG-AFTRA have been on strike for more than a hundred days. Meanwhile, Hollywood productions have been on pause since the screenwriters went on strike in May. The Writers Guild of America finally reached a deal, now the actors are waiting in the wings. NPR culture correspondent Mandalit del Barco joins us now from Los Angeles to talk about it. Just a couple of weeks ago, the studios broke off talks. Why did they do that and what's different now?

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Yeah, well, when the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers walked out of negotiations, they said it was because SAG-AFTRA was asking the streaming companies to share the wealth by paying performers 57 cents per subscriber every year. Here's union president Fran Drescher on Instagram last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAN DRESCHER: We have cracked the code on something. We have identified what the flaw is in this streaming model with regards to compensation. It may not be easy, it may not be what they want, but it is an elegant way to solve the problem.

MARTÍNEZ: So Drescher even admits it may not be what the studios want. I take it they don't like it.

DEL BARCO: No, they don't. The AMPTP said it would cost too much. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is one of the negotiators. He told Bloomberg TV they offered the actors a deal similar to the one they made with screenwriters in the WGA, to give bonus residuals based on the success of a show or a film.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED SARANDOS: I know that all these guilds are not created equal and they all have different needs, but like I said, that is one that worked, that rewarded success, which we agreed with. But a levy on top of our revenue or per subscriber just felt like a bridge too far to add this deep into the negotiation.

DEL BARCO: Sarandos now says he's optimistic about starting up negotiations again.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, at least he's optimistic. Anyone else optimistic?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, it's true, the longer this goes on, the more pressure there is to make a deal. And even though the screenwriters are now back at work, nothing can be shot or filmed without the actors. Yesterday I went to a few picket lines to talk to strikers to see if they were optimistic. Outside of Sony in Culver City, I met strike captain Andrea Casimos (ph). Here's what she said.

ANDREA CASIMOS: Everybody's a little bit on edge and a little worried in terms of, like, how much longer are we going to be here, you know? And what's so disheartening about it is that what we're really asking for is living wages.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HONKING, CHEERING)

CASIMOS: People think of, like, the millionaire actors who make all this money acting. And the reality is, our members are not usually that. It's really hard to get your insurance minimum, which is, like, a little over $26,000 a year. And so it's really hard when you have CEOs who are making millions and millions and millions of dollars telling us it's too expensive.

DEL BARCO: Now, A, we should mention that many of us here at NPR are members of SAG-AFTRA, although we're under a different contract and we're not on strike.

MARTÍNEZ: And now I guess some A-listers, Mandalit, are trying to take a home run cut and try to end this.

DEL BARCO: Yeah. You know, the union shot down a rescue plan last week by George Clooney and some other A-list actors like Scarlett Johansson, Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry, Emma Stone. The high-paying actors offered to pay $150 million in union dues for the other members' benefits. SAG-AFTRA leaders said, thanks, but that has nothing to do with their demands in the contract.

Well, also last week, the union issued Halloween guidelines. They suggested members not wear costumes based on struck shows and movies like "Barbie" or "Wednesday Addams." That sparked some online backlash, including from former union president and "Little House On The Prairie" actress Melissa Gilbert. She called the guidelines infantile and silly. And she tweeted, quote, "we look like a joke. Please tell me you're going to make this rule go away - and go negotiate." Well, negotiate is what they're planning to do again today.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, NPR's Mandalit del Barco. Thanks a lot.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.