As Hollywood waits to see what may come out of Friday’s meeting between the WGA and the AMPTP, filmmakers and producers at all levels have been engaged in a complex dialogue on the lightning-rod topic that has emerged during the concurrent actors strike: the SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreement.
As of Tuesday, a total of 123 interim agreements have been handed out in both film and TV since the guild’s strike began, to projects from “truly independent producers” that have agreed to abide by the terms of the new contract SAG-AFTRA is pushing for with the studios and streamers.
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The topic of the interim agreements, which are being studied and handed out by a group within the actors union, are being discussed, dissected and debated on the picket lines and social media, with actors such as Sarah Silverman voicing their concern that such a policy could prolong the strike.
PROS & CONS
Proponents argue that interim agreements are a lifeline for industry workers, including crew and others, at a time when many are potentially facing devastating financial insecurity.
Jeremy M. Rosen, founder of Roxwell Films, who has produced movies including Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Ida Red starring Josh Hartnett, Frank Grillo and Melissa Leo, and his producing partner John Swab, are currently producing the Tulsa, OK-based crime thriller King Ivory.
Rosen tells Deadline that the low-budget movie, which stars Ben Foster, Michael Mando and Leo, employs “a solid hundred people” including SAG-AFTRA actors and stuntpersons. He added that the production has had a ripple effect that will help local business including hotels, food services and other film-related providers.
Armadilla, an ultra low-budget indie film written and directed by and starring Layton Matthews, also received an agreement. Matthews acknowledges that “there’s an infrastructure that’s being hurt” by the dual strikes by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA. “The people that rent locations, the people that rent gear. It’s a whole plethora, dozens of industries. They’re affected by this, and [this is] a way they could keep working.”
Matthews and Layton say that, in their experience, SAG-AFTRA has been effective as far as the administration of these agreements, communicating, for the most part, quite clearly and getting them out to filmmakers in need with a sense of urgency. Matthews says the union was “understanding” and “helpful” and awarded him the agreement within 48 hours.
Rosen says he initially made an “an agreement to agree” to the terms to allow his film to return to shooting, with the cast on standby in Tulsa. He admits it was a complex process but that he received help from his production accountant and payroll company, and the final agreement was awarded within a few days. “Any further delay would’ve probably put us down beyond repair, so we really felt like we thread the needle and we were grateful to be one of those initial [projects]… It feels like a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket.”
“The Interim Agreement gives many of our journeyman performers and crews the opportunity to pay their rent and feed their families. This approach maintains our strength, solidarity and upper hand with the AMPTP until they yield to the deal we deserve,” the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee noted.
However, others say that process was “chaotic,” and one high-level producer says delays cost them $100,000. The producer says it was tough to “bridge the gap” between a verbal agreement and the final pact.
Many have questioned SAG-AFTRA’s selection process and queried why projects from Amazon, such as the Viola Davis-fronted G20, Apple TV+ series Tehran and The Watchers, which has a deal with Warner Bros Discovery’s New Line, have been awarded agreements.
“There’s clearly some gray area there regarding what is deemed to be an AMPTP project versus what is maybe one or two steps removed,” says one producer. “I think there’s always going to be some ambiguity there.”
Deadline revealed that The Watchers managed to make the list because while New Line is on board to distribute, it was a negative pickup and the distribution deal was not yet signed.
Producers have called for clarity on whether negative pickups make a difference. “I am always anxious or starved, if you will, for guidelines. I don’t know what I don’t know. I want more clarity, and then I would of course conduct myself accordingly,” adds a source.
Another producer tells Deadline that it’s hard to understand why projects from struck companies such as Apple and Amazon have been awarded interim agreements. “I think that muddles things, to the point where I see why people will be hesitant or go against them,” the producer says. “I know that deals are very complicated. I also think maybe the fear is that you just go shoot a movie and by the time the movie’s finished, there will obviously have been a new deal in place. Some people are worried [that] a year later when the movie’s finished, it’ll just be a negative pickup, and the interim agreement doesn’t really count anymore because whatever they’ve agreed on takes the place of that agreement.”
“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,” SAG-AFTRA added.
There are other complications: SAG-AFTRA has to take into account international law. For instance, Apple’s Tehran is an international series that comes out of Israel and is produced by Israeli producers with Canadian funding and shot in Greece.
G20 was another example. The action thriller is produced by MRC for Amazon, which will distribute. Davis opted to step back from the project, as first revealed by Deadline, saying to appear now would not be “appropriate.”
Deadline understands that the film secured an interim agreement despite the involvement of the AMPTP-affiliated Amazon because the company is not serving as producer or financier, but instead solely as distributor. “That’s the thing I do not understand… [SAG-AFTRA] should not give that project an interim agreement because Amazon is benefiting from that,” a source tells Deadline. “They’re actually putting it on their [service] and it has Amazon’s logo on it. To me, that goes completely counter to what an interim agreement should be.”
Davis stepping back from G20 speaks to a wider concern that many actors were facing as to whether appearing in projects that had interim agreements would be considered scabbing.
IT’S THE WILD WEST, RIGHT?
“It’s the Wild West, right? We’re all figuring it out as we go along,” says Rosen. “I have the utmost respect for everyone’s opinion on it, and I’m not an actor or a SAG-AFTRA member myself, so I don’t want to be hypocritical in any way. However, I do really pride myself in being a recurring repeat employer for loads of SAG-AFTRA members and I take that very seriously, how we conduct ourselves here, and how we treat these productions in the utmost sensitive manner. And the interim agreement is no exception.”
A24, which is not a member of the AMPTP, has been awarded interim agreements for two projects: Mother Mary, starring Anne Hathaway and Michaela Coel, and Death of a Unicorn, starring Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega.
The company, which was founded by Daniel Katz, David Fenkel and John Hodges, has also found itself in an interesting situation as one of the few studios outside of the AMPTP that has secured multiple guild-approved workarounds to the work stoppage.
A24 handles U.S. distribution of its films, many of which it finances, and it also relies on indie outfits for international, which means it can get projects out where some other companies can’t.
“I feel like A24 is kind of in that perfect position. Because they have financing and distribution capabilities, and Neon isn’t really doing that,” says a producer who is working on an A24 film. “I think if there were other companies like A24 that were out there doing it, it would be maybe less scrutinized. But it seems like there’s only A24 and then there’s independently financed films.”
Rosen says the interim agreements highlight the issue of what it even means to be an indie production.
“I think my knee-jerk response is, it’s all relative,” he says. “Obviously, A24 is certainly indie relative to Paramount and Warner and Netflix, but it’s far from indie compared to what we do here at Rockwell Films.”
Rosen believes the projects that have received interim agreements can serve as “a beacon and an example on how to make these things very respectfully and in a mutually beneficial manner for cast and crew.”
Matthews adds “[With] the interim agreement, we get our chance, as the little guy, as a tiny little film, to say yes to the things the big boys say they can’t afford. It shows that if the independent community can say, ‘We can make these terms work,’ why can’t the big boys?”
Casting and Promotion
As the film industry heads towards the fall festival season and the awards race, new issues such as casting-specific interim agreements and promotional agreements have arisen.
Is seeking casting and promotional interim agreements for a project a bad idea, one source wonders, given issues they might create for the sales process? What will the process be like for those starting from scratch in the fall, in terms of casting and so many considerations? Will the SAG-AFTRA system, at this point, continue to prove compatible with the nature of independent filmmaking, where elements so commonly fall into place at the last minute?
“It’s starting to get really muddled. I wish that there were maybe some guidelines laid out very, very clearly,” says one producer. “It seems like there are just going to be waivers for everything.”
While there is confusion and heightened emotions surrounding the process, even amongst those who offered harsh criticisms of the interim agreement process the understanding is generally that interim agreements are an overall good thing, both for the film industry at large and indies specifically.
Hope for a resolution to the strikes does remain. Matthews says, “I mean, I’m nervous that it’s going to take a long time, but that’s all the more reason that if you have an independent project, get it out there. I don’t want to be too excited by the fallout from this, but one of the silver linings is that there will be a need for some content still, and so the independents can be there to fill that need in the meantime, and while doing so, employ plenty of people that can still fight the fight.”
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