Interim agreements, which are signed by producers to allow SAG-AFTRA members to participate in the production and publicity of projects during the work stoppage that began July 14, have caused much confusion and concern.
Some actors have voiced their support for interim agreements, like Adam Driver who was at the Venice Film Festival for the interim agreement project Ferrari, while others have chosen to abstain from publicity despite starring in projects that have signed agreements. Amanda Seyfried said she would not attend the premiere of Atom Egoyan’s TIFF drama Seven Veils, which has an interim agreement, writing on social media that it “doesn’t feel right to head to the fest in light of the strike.”
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Common concerns voiced about the interim agreements range from worry about creating content that can be acquired by AMPTP companies, as well as worries over the slow pace at which the agreements are being vetted. (Crabtree-Ireland says they have worked through 400 of the 1,400 applications for interim agreements have been submitted.)
Actor Peter Facinelli — who is currently doing press for his latest feature On Fire, which has an interim agreement — and SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the agreements and the confusion surrounding them.
Peter, what conversations were you having with your producers when they were weighing the option of signing an interim agreement?
Peter Facinelli When I talked to the producers, there were two ways for them to go. They could have gone under the old agreement and the actors weren’t going to promote their films and they would’ve taken a risk there. Or they sign the interim agreement, which gives us exactly what we’re asking for, and they support us and our union in hopes that the actors come out and support their film, theatrically. Then, if and when it does go streaming, [they know] that the streamers most likely won’t take this film right now. If they did, they’d have to abide by the interim agreement and give us [streaming] residuals. That’s a risk that they were willing to take to support us. I think the optics right now are if actors are doing press for their films, they shouldn’t be. Or they shouldn’t be doing these interim agreement movies. Duncan is trying to get the message changed and I thought maybe I could help. I have seen friends and [people] on the picket lines having this mentality of “shut everything down.” For me, we could still do these interim agreements and do independent films and minimize the collateral damage that’s happening not just to actors, but to managers, agents, publicists, and crews and get them back to work. If the AMPTP is saying starve the actors out, wait until they lose their homes and the writers lose their homes, and then go back to them and offer them crackers, it’s important for us to go, “We’re not going to starve.” We’re going to continue making our content and our art and we’re going to continue doing it with people that support us.
Why do you think union members have still been reticent to do publicity for projects that have signed interim agreements?
Facinelli The messaging got off on the wrong foot with these interim agreements. They were being called “waivers,” which when I first heard about it, I thought, that seems wrong. People shouldn’t be getting around something. We should stand in solidarity. Then I looked into it more and I realized this is a positive thing and this is a good thing for our union. I stand in solidarity with my union which is asking us to go out and make these movies and make independent movies and get people to sign an agreement and get them approved.
Duncan, what concerns have you heard from union members about interim agreements?
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland People want to make sure that it’s not only okay, but helpful to our strike effort to participate in promotion for interim agreement projects, which we very much believe that it is. When we sign an interim agreement with a producer, that is a full-on collective bargaining agreement. It’s not some exception to something. This is the producer agreeing to every term that we had on the table with the AMPTP on July 12. There are more than a thousand producers who want to make that deal with us. So once a producer makes that deal, we want their project to be successful, we want them to be able to promote it. We want actors to go out and do all the things they would normally do in connection with a project like that.
There has been a bottleneck when it comes to the approval process for these agreements, especially one seeking them for publicity ahead of the fall festivals. What is behind that?
Crabtree-Ireland It’s a fair question. On one level, it’s the impact of our own success. We’ve had more than 1,200 applications for interim agreements that have come in the last six weeks. In a normal year, we process maybe a few thousand productions of that type. So, it’s like taking six months or more worth of production applications and compressing them into six weeks. It’s just hard to do. The other aspect of it is that this is sophisticated work. This requires people to do things like research chain-of-title and look for intellectual property. We’re looking for the fingerprints of the AMPTP on these projects. AMPTP studios are very sophisticated. They know how to bury things beneath layers of shell companies and use third parties as their intermediaries. And so we have to do a very thorough job of investigating each of these projects. So, there is a bit of a backlog. We are putting more resources into it and we are streamlining certain aspects of that process to try and push more through. So far we’ve processed about a third of the applications that have come in, so that’s more the 400 applications that we have either granted or rejected depending on the circumstances. I expect that pace to speed up.
At a prior press conference, you said that you think it is unlikely that an AMPTP company will pick up a project that has signed an interim agreement. Heading into the fall festival, where projects are looking for distribution, have you heard this as a concern from members about signing these agreements?
Crabtree-Ireland I’ve had questions about it, and I think one of the things that really assuaged those concerns is that ultimately the interim agreement will merge with the ultimate agreement that’s made with the AMPTP. So any impact against streaming acquisitions would be temporary. Once the strike gets over, whatever the terms are that are agreed to, will apply to everything. When I explain that to people, usually what I [hear] is, well, I wouldn’t have wanted my project to go on one of the streamers during the strike, anyway. That seems to have eliminated most of those concerns knowing that it’s not a permanent situation. Ultimately, there will be a single deal and their projects won’t be at a disadvantage compared to anyone else in terms of streaming acquisition at that point. And then, of course, from my point of view, if projects go on to the platforms under our terms from July 12, that’ll be amazing because that will include a 2 precent revenue share from streaming revenue. I don’t really expect that to happen, but I definitely want those projects to ultimately have the same opportunity to be viewed on streaming as any other project. I’m confident that’s what will happen.
So, a streamer could acquire a film out of a fall festival that has signed an interim agreement and sit on it until the ultimate contract is reached, and then release it under the terms of the new contract?
Crabtree-Ireland Right. If they wait until there is an agreement with the AMPTP, then those terms will all merge. It’ll be under those same standard terms. So, it is true a streamer could acquire content at a festival and just hold that content and not platform it until after the strike. That is a scenario we’ve discussed internally. From my point of view, if a streamer’s acquisition budgets are being used up on buying projects produced under our interim agreement with our members and union crews, instead of being used to acquire content from outside the United States done non-union, then that is also a net benefit to our strike effort. If it’s not being platformed for the streamer, it’s not generating revenue for the streamer, it’s an acquisition cost item without a corresponding revenue entry until after the strike is over. That scenario is OK with us.
Facinelli I’ll add that if [producers] don’t sign the interim agreements, the streamer could just pick up those movies under the old agreement and put them out on their platforms regardless, and the actors get nothing. So, if producers are signing the interim agreements, and even if the streamer actually takes them and holds them, it’s still giving us what we want. That’s why I am still trying to figure out what the case is to not have the interim agreement. I haven’t had anybody explain that to me.
Duncan, what reasons have you heard from producers why they would not be signing interim agreements?
Crabtree-Ireland There have only been two reasons that have been articulated to me. And I’ve had so many conversations, as you might imagine, about interim agreements with so many members and so many other folks. The one that I think came out the biggest, which in retrospect I wish we would’ve had more messaging sooner about this to help prevent that from happening, was “this is creating a pipeline of content for the companies during the strike.” And so there are the reasons you already talked about that clearly it is not creating a pipeline of content for the streamers to platform. Even if they have said this, they don’t want to agree to the 2 percent revenue share, so they aren’t going to put any content on that’s going to trigger that obligation for them. The vast majority of these projects, more than three-fourths of them are independent feature films. These are projects that are going to go into hopefully into theaters.
And number two, the other issue, is [interim agreements are] a little complicated to explain. If you read it, it’s 70 pages long. It is full of details because that’s what collective bargaining agreements are. They’re full of details because the devil’s in the details. It is hard to explain in a simple soundbite why interim agreements are good or how they work. So that’s why I think it’s taken us more time than I originally anticipated to get that message out and to help make sure our members really understand and everyone understands why this is so important to our strategy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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