Geoffrey Owens walks a picket line

Geoffrey Owens walks a picket line in support of the SAG-AFTRA strike outside Warner Bros. Discovery Headquarters on November 6, 2023 in New York City.

(Photo: NDZ/Star Max/GC Images)

'A Nightmare Scenario': Actors Union Rejects Studio Offer Over AI 'Zombie Clause'

"It's the cheap, dark future studios want," said one television writer. "Right now, SAG-AFTRA is the only thing preventing it. And they're fighting like hell."

Negotiations between the world's largest labor union representing screen performers and some of the most powerful studios in Hollywood were set to resume on Tuesday after union negotiators announced that they had rejected the companies' "last, best, and final offer," arguing that the terms did not include sufficient artificial intelligence protections for highly-paid actors.

The latest offer included language that would have cascading negative effects on the entire entertainment industry, said supporters of the ongoing actors' strikes.

The negotiating committee of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), including chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and union president Fran Drescher, told the union's 160,000 members Monday evening that they were "determined to secure the right deal and thereby bring this strike to an end responsibly." The union began a work stoppage on July 13 after more than a month of negotiations regarding residual pay, AI, and other issues.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers' (AMPTP) supposed "final" offer included a requirement that studios and streaming services pay to make AI images with the likeness of highly-paid "Schedule F" performers, who earn more than the minimum for series regulars ($32,000 per TV episode) and feature films ($60,000).

But SAG-AFTRA is also demanding a provision that would require compensation for the re-use of AI scans and one that would require companies to secure consent from a deceased actors' estate to use an AI scan of them.

The language in the AMPTP's offer was derided as the "zombie" clause by television writer David Slack, who called the studios' proposal "a nightmare scenario" that would play out like an episode of the dystopian series Black Mirror.

While the clause pertains to highly paid actors, Slack noted that it would ultimately impact thousands of people who work across the entertainment industry, as the studios' goal appears to be gaining the ability to produce films and television without paying the actors who appear in them.

"The AMPTP's zombie clause also means less money for talent agents and managers—as performers making a good living right now are suddenly scanned once, given one check, and then sent home forever," said Slack. "And who is going to pay the publicists, PR firms, event managers, and press junket journalists for TV and movie premieres—when they start releasing shows where all the 'actors' were either not involved in the 'filming' or are already dead?"

Before the Writers Guild of America secured a deal that was ratified in October, ending the writers' strike after nearly five months, the union also refused to accept an AMPTP offer that was presented as its "best and final."

"The AMPTP tried their 'Last, Best, and Final' trick—and the SAG-AFTRA [negotiating committee] didn't blink," said Slack. "This is how you win."

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