Bill Mechanic Has Thoughts On SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreements – Guest Column

Editors Note: Bill Mechanic is chairman and CEO of Pandemonium Films and a former top executive at Paramount, Disney and chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. He is also a former producer of the Oscars and Oscar-nominated films like Hacksaw Ridge and Coraline. He previously advocated for interim agreements as a guest on Deadline’s Strike Talk podcast and his company has applied for them since.


A strike is about emotions just as much as it is about financials. Owners/employers feel the need to protect their businesses, their profitability, even though neither is generally at risk. Strikers often feel they are treated with disrespect which makes the fight more than simply about fair wages. In the current dispute, it sure seems like this year’s guild actions against the AMPTP tilts more in favor of those on strike. Every action that brought us to this impasse was at the behest of the companies not the talent.

In the WGA and SAG-AFTRA shutdowns, the word “existential” has been used and seems aptly applied. Streaming changed the rules by not playing by the rules and as a result erased many of the economic conditions that have been forged over the years. “Talent,” instead of being asked to participate in the success during the transition to the future, is being used instead to pay for the future.

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But getting carried away in the emotions, of attacking without a goal towards resolution, of being on the side of “right,” doesn’t help anyone. Not even sure it makes anyone feel better. Better than emotion is fortitude and rationality, finding incremental ways to reach a satisfactory agreement. Clearly we’re in a divisive era, where politics, justice and many other things are viewed from extremes. The pendulum never stops in the middle, because the middle today is viewed with contempt.

What I think is getting lost in all the emotion of shutdowns is a rational explanation of the SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreements strategy. Everyone understands supporting the strike by picketing or shutting down production, but not why enabling union-friendly productions is a powerful tactic to end this economic battle. Pain is an unfortunate consequence of the strike, but seeding competition is a positive way to create competitive pressure. Divide and conquer.

Actors and writers should be focusing on ways to allow non-AMPTP companies to grow at the expense of the AMPTP companies. Play with companies who will play by the rules established by SAG-AFTRA (and the WGA), that promote sequential distribution, that agree to profit sharing and residual formulas and protect jobs in the future. It’s completely myopic to kill the business you’re in by shutting it down in its entirety, taking down the good with the bad. You feed the ones who feed you, not the ones who take food off the table. It’s not the same thing. It is not “crossing the line” to act in a movie or show that has agreed to your interests in its contracts. In fact, not doing so is self-defeating.

Because when the strike ends, you don’t want the weak to be weaker and the strong to be stronger. Ultimately, to the degree possible, you want as much as possible to reverse that equation. Pick a fledgling streaming service that will play ball with you and feed it with a steady supply of product. Make them a service of choice. If you don’t think the others would react, then you are listening to the bravado coming out of everyone’s mouth. “We have enough product to outlast the strike.” “The strike allows us to increase our profits.“ “No one will notice.”

Hah! The AMPTP streaming ventures will be ravaged without product. Cord-cutting will be devastating and billions of dollars will be lost in Wall Street evaluations. The financial gives in settling the strike are insignificant in comparison.

Warner Bros Discovery just experienced its first read windfall since the merger with Barbie, but what happens next? A sequel to cash in? Maybe likely, but it’s not coming quickly. No writer is at work, no actors have agreed to appear. Nothing is on the vista. Maybe one never comes, maybe it’s a bad idea to sequel it, but there is no choice to make because of the strike. That’s bad in today’s business world for Warner Bros Discovery. Comcast should be reveling in the success of Oppenheimer, a creative achievement in our “don’t take a risk” environment. Instead, it has to deal with the impacts facing it in a strike that doesn’t seem to be moving to an end.

Maybe the guilds should divide and conquer as well by negotiating interim agreements with non-AMPTP companies. Or maybe since the AMPTP companies do not share a common vision of the future, aren’t all funding streaming companies or releasing movies to theaters, there is an avenue to keep the business working with those entities. Maybe Sony or Lionsgate or A24 (or other independents) will be open to settle a dispute that isn’t really about their issues. The DGA negotiated for its own interests, so perhaps Sony, Lionsgate or others will care more about what is in their interests and not about the streaming issues at the heart of the strike.

The SAG-AFTRA interim agreements won’t change the scorecard enough to rearrange the deck in film/TV/streaming, but they will put pressure on the other side. Same as the DGA settlement put pressure on this one. Making a film or show for someone supporting your interests is not heretical. It’s as supportive as walking the picket line and maybe more impactful. Don’t do one or the other. DO BOTH. If working under an agreement makes you think you’re hurting your colleagues, then donate a portion of your fees to the relief fund.

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