Hollywood’s actors are back in the spotlight.
With screenwriters reaching a tentative agreement with the major entertainment studios on a new labor deal Sunday night, one big obstacle stands in the way of the film and TV industry roaring back to life: ending the strike with tens of thousands of actors.
The two sides have not spoken in more than two months, and no talks are scheduled.
Leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, have indicated a willingness to negotiate, but the studios made a strategic decision in early August to focus on reaching a detente with the writers first. A big reason was the rhetoric of Fran Drescher, the president of the actors union, who made one fiery speech after the next early in the strike, including one in which she denounced studio executives as “land barons of a medieval time.”
“Eventually, the people break down the gates of Versailles,” Drescher said after the actors strike was called in July. “And then it’s over. We’re at that moment right now.”
Drescher has been less vocal in recent weeks, however. Only a resolution with the actors will determine when tens of thousands of workers — including camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists, cinematographers — return to work.
The actors union offered congratulations to the Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters, in a statement Sunday night, adding it was eager to review the tentative agreement with the studios. Still, it said it remained “committed to achieving the necessary terms for our members.”
It has been 74 days since the actors union and representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, have talked. That will probably soon change given the high stakes of salvaging the 2024 theatrical box office, which will be in considerable jeopardy should Hollywood not be able to restart production within the next month. Neither SAG-AFTRA nor the studio alliance immediately responded to requests for comment on Monday.
“There’s tremendous pressure on both sides to get this done,” said Bobby Schwartz, a partner at Quinn Emanuel and a longtime entertainment lawyer who has represented several of the major studios. “The deal that the Writers Guild and the studios struck economically could have been worked out in May, June. It didn’t need to go this long. I think the membership of SAG-AFTRA is going to say we’ve been out of work for months, we want to go back to work, we don’t want to be the ones that are keeping everybody else on the sidelines.”
The dual strikes by the writers and the actors — the first time that has happened since 1960 — have effectively shut down TV and film production for months. The fallout has been significant, both inside and outside the industry. California’s economy alone has lost more than $5 billion, according to Governor Gavin Newsom.
Warner Bros. Discovery said this month the impact from the labor disputes would reduce its adjusted earnings for the year by $300 million to $500 million. Additionally, share prices for other major media companies such as Disney and Paramount have taken a hit in recent months.
The industry took a meaningful step toward stabilization Sunday night, though, with the tentative deal between the writers and studios all but ending a 146-day strike.
The deal still needs to be approved by union leadership and ratified by rank-and-file screenwriters in the coming days. Both are expected to happen. Although the fine print of the terms has not been released, the agreement has much of what the writers had demanded, including increases in compensation for streaming content, concessions from studios on minimum staffing for television shows, and guarantees that artificial intelligence technology will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation.
“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee said in an email to members.
On Monday, President Biden released a statement applauding the deal, saying it would “allow writers to return to the important work of telling the stories of our nation, our world — and of all of us.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.