As the SAG-AFTRA strike enters its second month, the granting of interim agreements that allow some productions to resume has come under increased scrutiny. But according to the head of the union, those agreements are not waivers.
SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained that the interim agreement—which also includes stipulations on using artificial intelligence—was always on the table.
“The interim agreement is not a waiver; the interim agreement is the exact deal that was offered to the AMPTP on July 12,” Crabtree-Ireland said in a live Q&A session on Tuesday. “The proposals and counters from SAG-AFTRA, the AMPTP companies, the studios, and streamers, could have signed that exact deal on July 12, and there would never have been a strike, and that deal remains available to them right now.”
The interim agreement allows productions not associated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to move on with their projects while the strike continues.
The widespread use of generative artificial intelligence platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google Bard, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion has led to concerns in the entertainment industry that movie studios would use the technology to replace performers and writers and instead use digital replicas and AI chatbots to do their work.
“So long as the company is signed to the interim agreement and is in full compliance with the informed consent requirements, with the compensation requirements, and the limitations that are provided in Schedule B, then, yes, they are allowed to use AI technology and subject to those limitations,” Crabtree-Ireland told Decrypt during the open Q&A.
The use of AI in film and television production, while not the only or main issue in the contract dispute with the AMPTP, remains an important one, involving discussions of consent and compensation.
In the interim agreement, SAG-AFTRA says producers must notify and get written consent from performers when creating a digital avatar of the performer. The filmmakers agree to not use digital replicas of background actors in lieu of hiring the background actors “necessary to fulfill the applicable coverage minimums for the scene(s) to be photographed,” the agreement reads.
“The consent shall be set forth in a letter or other writing separate from the original employment contract or voucher, must be clear and conspicuous, and must include a description of the intended use of the Digital Replica in the motion picture,” the union said.
According to the agreement, producers may only use an actor’s image in the film the producer hired the actor to perform in. Producers must obtain written consent from both the actor and the union before the replica is used in “new photography or soundtrack not previously recorded by the performer or background actor for that motion picture.”
SAG-AFTRA also stipulates that producers can not use the replica of deceased actors without the consent of the union and the actor’s estate.
SAG-AFTRA notes that consent is not required for post-production, including editing, rearranging, or limited manipulation of the photography or soundtrack, such as noise reduction, timing and speed, and continuity.
Crabtree-Ireland said SAG-AFTRA could take several steps in cases where producers do not abide by the signed interim agreement. These steps include rescinding the interim agreement, halting work, and instructing members to stop working on that project.
“The response depends on the violation’s nature, with some actions like late payments having set penalties,” Crabtree-Ireland told Decrypt. Other issues might require standard contract enforcement, he said, adding that the SAG-AFTRA contract enforcement team vigilantly ensures adherence to our agreements, taking necessary actions when “deviations are identified.”
“The bottom line is that our contracts enforcement staff, including our field representatives, are out in force doing their jobs to make sure that those contracts are complied with,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “Wherever we detect any non-compliance will take whatever the appropriate steps are to make sure that the contract has lived up to.”