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(From left to right) SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer Joely Fisher, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, and SAG-AFTRA Committee member Frances Fisher and Kevin E. West arrive for the 2023 Women in Film Honors at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood, California.— AFP
(From left to right) SAG-AFTRA secretary-treasurer Joely Fisher, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, and SAG-AFTRA Committee member Frances Fisher and Kevin E. West arrive for the 2023 Women in Film Honors at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland in Hollywood, California.— AFP
Hollywood braces for actors' vote on strike deal

Hollywood on Tuesday anxiously waited to learn if actors have approved their union’s hard-fought deal with studios, or if an entertainment industry still reeling from months-long strikes could be plunged back into turmoil. While the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) deal is widely expected to pass, criticism - mainly over its perceived lack of protection against artificial intelligence - has swelled in recent weeks, raising jitters about a potential, if unlikely, return to picket lines.

Members have until 5:00 pm Pacific Time (0100 Wednesday GMT) to cast their votes, with a simple majority required to finally seal the agreement.

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer and analyst, said an approval figure between 75 percent and 85 percent is “a realistic expectation.”

But should ratification fail, SAG-AFTRA would likely need to reopen talks with studios - who could themselves withdraw the terms previously offered - and a return to industrial action could beckon. “The contract is s***,” said actor Michael Vaccaro, one of dozens of performers to speak out publicly against the terms.

“I voted no. And I’m fully prepared to go back on strike. Absolutely 100 percent,” he told AFP. “By signing this thing, we gain nothing. By going back out on strike, there’s the possibility to gain quite a bit.” The tentative deal between SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood studios to end the actors’ 118-day strike was agreed last month.

It contained higher pay, better bonuses for starring in hit shows or films, and the first-ever protections against the use of artificial intelligence to replace human actors. It was ratified by the union’s leadership two days later, though not unanimously.

Union leaders have since held meetings and sent out emails and social media posts to members, strongly urging them to approve the deal.

“It is the most lucrative, innovative and protective contract in entertainment union history,” said SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher in a recent Instagram post. But as details of the agreement emerged, warnings began to circulate online about its shortcomings, particularly over the issue of AI.

Performers fear they could soon be replaced by entirely synthetic “actors,” generated by AI using the body parts of many different humans, whose likenesses have been scraped from film archives. The deal does not prevent studios from using generative AI, but it has a clause requiring them to inform the union each time the technology is used.

SAG-AFTRA would then have the right to bargain for compensation on behalf of the actors involved - though critics say it would be hard to identify who these are. Actors also say that the massive number of viewers a show or film needs to attract in order to trigger bonuses for its performers is too high for all but the very top echelon of hit shows.

Results of the vote are expected by late Tuesday local time. “Because of the opposition, people naturally wonder ‘will it pass?’ and that leads to some nervousness and concern,” Handel told AFP. “But I think it’s highly likely that this will pass. It would be very startling if it didn’t.” — AFP

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