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British Actors Union Seeks Residuals Overhaul and End to Misuse by US Buyers

A comprehensive overhaul of residuals, the inclusion of artificial intelligence (AI) stipulations, and the elimination of “special stipulations” misuse by major American studios top the British actors’ union Equity’s agenda as they negotiate new film and television agreements with PACT.

In recent weeks, Equity has submitted its proposal to the producers’ trade body and is gearing up to negotiate a new contract set to govern most UK TV series and indie movies, including those produced by streaming platforms, for the next two to three years. Despite long-standing desires to merge the TV and film agreements, it seems this goal will not be achieved in the immediate future.

Equity’s General Secretary, Paul Fleming, reported that relations between the union and PACT remain strong, and the initial buzz around potential strike action has subsided. The two parties plan to meet bi-monthly over the next two months, aiming to finalize the agreement by the end of September.

Since early this year, Equity has been gathering input from its 40,000 members to shape its proposal, which outlines five primary demands. According to an email sent to members, which Deadline has reviewed, Equity emphasized the critical timing of these negotiations, noting their significance in light of the challenges that fueled last year’s SAG-AFTRA industrial action in the United States.

The five demands are:
1. Pay – A substantial increase in minimum fees.
2. Secondary payments – Reforming royalty and residual payments to ensure artists receive a fair share in an evolving media landscape.
3. AI – Regulating the use of generative artificial intelligence in productions and securing clear protections for members.
4. Casting – Establishing fairer methods for self-taping auditions.
5. Fair contracts – Addressing the misuse of special stipulations that undermine collective agreements and ensuring contracts include provisions for suitable hair and makeup, catering to members of all ethnicities and cultures.

A significant focal point is secondary payments or residuals, which were a prominent issue during the SAG-AFTRA strike in the US last year. Fleming noted that Equity seeks to revise compensation based on how long a show or movie is licensed on a platform rather than rewarding viewership alone. “We want more money for your work being exploited for longer,” Fleming stated, adding that this model could discourage exploitation and offer actors a pay increase.

Equity’s approach to residuals aims to be a “hybrid between the British, American, and Canadian models.” In the U.S., SAG’s recent contract introduced a success-based model with bonuses for shows reaching specific viewership thresholds. Equity’s proposal considers a more nuanced measurement of success, focusing on licensing periods.

Indeed, Equity is targeting the misuse of “special stipulations” by American networks and streamers. These US-based buyers, including streaming platforms, typically offer higher rates than UK broadcasters but often attach stringent demands around availability, holiday pay, and sick leave, which Equity aims to regulate.

Fleming explained, “What happens at the minute is that Americans offer 20 times our minimum rate but then make demands,” highlighting the need to prevent deteriorating working conditions and increased precarity. While PACT is generally in favor of addressing these issues, the streamers might present a challenge at the negotiating table.

Over the past decade, streaming giants like Netflix, Disney, Apple, and Comcast-owned Sky have approached Equity negotiations through “side letters,” which supplement the PACT deal with additional premiums for original commissions. For instance, Netflix adds approximately a 25% pay premium on top of PACT agreements, tailored to its subscriber model.

Equity’s email to members stated that upcoming renegotiations with streaming platforms like Apple, Netflix, and Disney+ would reflect any changes in Equity contracts across film and television for the forthcoming years. However, these companies declined to comment on whether they would participate directly in the negotiations.

Aside from special stipulations, the “Fair contracts” section of Equity’s claim calls for the end of inadequate hair and makeup provisions, especially concerning members of diverse ethnic backgrounds. This issue gained attention at Cannes through comments by stars like Lashana Lynch and Naomie Harris.

AI provisions, unsurprisingly, are another cornerstone of the claim. Equity has been proactive in AI research, particularly concerning actors’ faces being cloned and used in other shows. Fleming mentioned that the union’s goal is to establish clear parameters for AI use, breaking down the positive and negative implications in a nuanced manner.

Finally, Equity’s demands include pay and casting. According to sources, Equity seeks a roughly 7% pay increase for movies this year and at least 5% the next year. For television, a 7% increase for 2024, 3.5% for 2025, and 3% for 2026 has already been agreed upon. These increases aim to ensure pay rises exceed inflation.

Moreover, Equity insists that guidelines for self-tape auditions be embedded into collective film and TV agreements. This follows reports of agents sending clients illegitimate self-tape audition invites, prompting actors to demand better regulation of the practice.

In essence, Equity is pushing for a comprehensive and balanced new agreement that not only improves pay and working conditions but also properly addresses the implications of AI and the demands of modern media landscapes.

Source: Deadline