Hollywood actors reach tentative deal to end strike

Hollywood actors have reached a tentative agreement with major studios to resolve the second of two strikes that rocked the entertainment industry this year as workers demanded higher pay in the streaming TV era.

The 118-day work stoppage will end officially just after midnight, the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) union said in a statement after its negotiating committee voted unanimously to support the deal.

Valued at more than $US1 billion ($NZ1.68 billion), the new three-year contract includes increases in minimum salaries and a new "streaming participation" bonus, the union said.

The deal also provides protections against unauthorized use of images generated by artificial intelligence (AI), an area that had emerged as a major concern from performers who feared being replaced by "digital doubles."

"We have arrived at a contract that will enable SAG-AFTRA members from every category to build sustainable careers," the union said.

The group's national board will consider the agreement on Friday, and the union said it would release further details after that meeting.

Fran Drescher speaking at a march in September. Photo: Getty Images
Fran Drescher speaking at a march in September. Photo: Getty Images
SAG-AFTRA president and The Nanny star Fran Drescher wrote on Instagram: "We did it!!!! The Billion+ $ Deal!"

To thousands of rank-and-file Hollywood actors, Drescher emerged this summer as a modern-day labour hero who secured a hard-fought deal. To studio executives who negotiated with her, she prolonged a strike while relishing her high-profile role.

Not since her portrayal of Fran Fine, a one-time bridal shop attendant from Queens who winds up caring for a Broadway producer's three children in the 1990s sitcom, had Drescher seen so much screen time.

Her memorable portrayal of the nanny, with her nasal voice, loud fashion, and deftly executed pratfalls, garnered her two Emmy nominations. As president of the 160,000-member SAG-AFTRA union, Drescher won widespread praise from performers for her tenacity in fighting for better wages and protections against the rising threat of artificial intelligence technology.

"She's a really good wartime president," said Kate Bond, who played Jill Morgan on CBS series MacGyver.

Drescher framed her actions as part of a broader labour movement battling Corporate America, where, in her view, executives place Wall Street's approval and their own compensation ahead of the welfare of workers.

"We are the victims here. We are being victimised by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us," Drescher said at a July news conference. "I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty. That they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them."

Union team captain Iris Liu reacts after a tentative deal was reached on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Union team captain Iris Liu reacts after a tentative deal was reached on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiated on behalf of Walt Disney, Netflix and other media companies, said Wednesday's agreement represented "a new paradigm" that gave the union its "biggest contract-on-contract gains" in its history.

The organisation said it "looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories."

With the strike ending, Hollywood can ramp up to full production for the first time since May this year. 

"I'm relieved," actor Fanny Grande said in an interview. "It's been really difficult for most people in the industry, especially people of colour. As it is, we don't have as many opportunities. We aren't big celebrities that have money in the bank for months."

Actor Jessica Payne said she felt "deeply grateful, cautiously optimistic and ready to work."

Word of a potential agreement had spread across Hollywood earlier on Wednesday, raising hopes among actors who had spent weeks picketing outside studio offices in New York and Los Angeles instead of on sets.

"Preliminary chatter was that a vote was imminent," said Rati Gupta, best known as Anu in the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. "Hearts have been pounding for several hours today."

Actors had similar concerns to film and television writers, who argued that compensation for working-class cast members had dwindled as streaming took hold, making it hard to earn a living wage in Los Angeles and New York.

TV series on streaming have not offered the same residual payments that actors enjoyed during the heyday of broadcast TV.

Performers also became alarmed by recent advances in artificial intelligence, which they feared could lead to studios manipulating their likenesses without permission or replacing human actors with digital images.

George Clooney and other A-list stars voiced solidarity with lower-level actors and had urged union leadership to reach a resolution.

Many film and TV sets shut down when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) called a strike in the spring. While WGA members returned to writing scripts in late September, the ongoing SAG-AFTRA work stoppage left many productions dark.

The disruptions cost California more than $US6 billion in lost output, according to a Milken Institute estimate.

With little work available, many prop masters, costume designers and other crew members struggled to make ends meet. FilmLA, the group that approves filming permits, reported scripted production during the week of October 29 had fallen 77% from the same time a year earlier.

The Hollywood strikes came during a year of other high-profile job actions. The United Auto Workers recently ended six weeks of walkouts at Detroit carmakers. Teachers, nurses and healthcare workers also walked off the job.

Hollywood's work stoppages forced broadcast networks to fill their fall lineups with re-runs, games shows and reality shows. It also led movie studios to delay big releases such as Dune: Part 2 because striking actors could not promote them.

Other major films, including the latest instalment of the Mission: Impossible franchise and Disney's live-action remake of animated classic Snow White, were postponed until 2025.